As we consider New Year’s resolutions, I gladly share a story of Violet Jerome, a family friend who knew the secrets of keeping the Christmas Spirit alive, year round. Come to think of it, with our nation trapped in moral chaos, her story needs to be shared across the land.
Aunt Violet never gave gifts at Christmas — wouldn’t consider it. However, she willingly joined the rest of us as we opened ours and respectfully accepted the ones we devotedly wrapped for her.
The 5-foot Shorty, surprisingly spunky friend, became “family” when I was a young child. She was everyone’s favorite over the decades. My siblings, neighbors and friends, competed for her as a house guest. In the end, I was the fortunate recipient of her last days — a gift that instantly brings on tears when I remember her exceptional kindness.
It’s been nearly 30 years since Violet died. She tried to tell me the end was near, but I wouldn’t hear of it. She was in her late 80s, but still there were no obvious signs that her life was in jeopardy. I’ve learned my lesson. I yearn to apologize to her.
Aunt Violet knew about suffering. Her first husband was abusive, and then she lost her only children, two little boys, to a flu epidemic in the 1920s. It was during her loveless second marriage that my parents and many others adopted her as “family.” I see now that she healed her grief through tending to others in their times of need: cooking, rocking babies, sewing and support of every kind.
Such wisdom: With booze, pills and delicious self-pity available as quick escapes, she, instead, chose the long-term, often dull, remedy of service.
Fate miserly allowed Violet one brief spell of happiness. Finally, as a senior widow, she rediscovered her one and only love from her youth and married him, but that union lasted only five years, ending at his death. Again, she was alone. “It just doesn’t seem fair,” she told my mother.
But, she knew what to do: She quietly resumed her regimen of service.
Soon after, I invited her to live with us. As a working mom, I knew my adolescent children would be blessed by her presence in our Tempe home. Within a few months she sold her small house in Wenatchee, Wash., and became our newest family member, not as a servant, but as a cherished companion.
Don’t misunderstand. Violet was no pushover. The kids knew never to cross her. I learned that at an early age as well. She never hesitated to point out which side was up or for that matter down. And — as for Christmas: “I give when people need — I certainly don’t wait for Christmas!”
And, so it was that she rarely wrapped a gift. But, should she know of someone’s need, she’d most likely fulfill it, despite her humble circumstances. Thus, in her last years of life, Violet implanted her exceptional love and spirit into my family. Her giving is still alive within us.
Her example is a tough sell. Service doesn’t offer the adrenaline of video games or cruises to the Bahamas. It requires humility. It’s often tedious and rarely acknowledged. It’s definitely not sexy.
I know not the author of the saying, “Service is the rent we pay to dwell in someone’s heart,” but it’s a fact. Several years after Violet’s death, I found one of her blankets in the back of a closet. The children and I gathered around the years-worn item and buried our faces in the smell of our friend — a smell so wonderful that we couldn’t pull ourselves away. She is part of us. She lives within us.
Because of Violet — my children and I have been forever blessed. Her selflessness and love never stop giving.
Turley Hansen is a syndicated columnist and former Phoenix television newscaster and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.