The “Greatest” Aunt


This week, we lost my “Greatest” Aunt Natalie, Nana Hall’s sister, the youngest of eight, born four days shy of my grandmother’s 21st birthday.  My grandmother, the eldest, married at 22 and had a child about a year later.  I suspect three-year old Natalie got a kick out of having a nephew, perhaps requiring him to address her as “auntie” amongst their classmates, when they reached school age. She was seven when my dad was born, and adored “little Bobby”.

Life wasn’t easy. The Great Depression began when she was a babe. The family struggled; being unable to afford blankets, they used coats to keep warm while they slept. They moved frequently and Natalie’s father, John Galatis Haines, held many different jobs (read about them here).  Natalie lost her dad at fourteen, just before Christmas, and her mom, Edith Bernice (Lansil) Haines, just eight years later.

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July 13, 1935, 228 Main St., Malden, Massachusetts
Joan Newhall, Natalie (Haines) Thomson, Charles G. Hall Jr.

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Aunt Natalie and Nana, Edith Haines Hall 

My grandmother married into a wealthier family and initially had little contact with her kin. Likely her new husband feared that the financial burden of Natalie’s struggling family  (during the era of the Great Depression) would fall into his hands. Despite this inequity and the vast age difference, Ede and Natalie were close.  Aunt Natalie was the only of my grandmother’s siblings who was with us on holidays, birthdays and special occasions. She was our fun, wild, outgoing and crazy (in a good way) great-aunt who we jokingly referred to as our “Greatest” Aunt Natalie – she got a kick out of the pun.  Christmas gifts were delivered with the “wrong” labels –  Linda got David’s, David got Nancy’s and Nancy got Linda’s.  It was the same every year; she would claim exasperatingly, “I can’t believed I mixed things up again!!!”. We unwittingly believed, and laughed at her foolishness (while she likely had a good laugh at our gullibility).

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On Christmas she came armed with handouts for our annual sing-along; poems she crafted from family history, set to familiar Christmas tunes.

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Natalie, an avid genealogist, planned vacations around our heritage.  She tracked the Lansil’s in Bangor, Maine, dragged her husband and children through cemeteries and visited our homelands of Llanfairfechan, Wales and Richibucto, New Brunswick, Canada.  She spoke of Stephen Hopkins, our Mayflower ancestor and William Grout, our Revolutionary War hero – she “hooked” me and I became a genea-adict!  Several years ago, I was overjoyed to become the recipient of the Roots Research Books – Lansil & Haines  full of letters from many long deceased (and living) cousins, photos and other fascinating documents (such as”Mary Haines Diary” and the record of seaman Charles V. Lansil’s drowning off Bar Harbor) rich with details of our heritage, captured in the 1970’s, long before the public Internet.

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This past summer, on a trip to New Brunswick, my husband and I followed her footsteps with hopes to locate the, “Welcome to Richibucto”, signs Natalie had visited in the 1970’s when she was about my age, and to FINALLY locate the “long lost” family of Jennie Ferguson, Natalie’s paternal grandmother and my g-g-grandmother  (her story here). Alas, we succeeded at neither.

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Natalie was ahead of her time and a “blogger” in 1999, long before the term blogger was coined.  She left a wonderful array of posts with touching family stories and experiences: click here for her BLOG and here for a post I wrote of her blog.

Natalie’s self-written bio reads:

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Melrose, Massachusetts welcomed me on September 26, 1928. Of the two boys and five girls, I was the baby of the Haines family. That family moved to the next town, Malden, in 1931. My claim to fame was portraying the princess in the 5th grade operetta at the Glenwood School. I graduated in 1946 from Malden High School’s Commercial Course. Then, at a bank in Boston, learned how to wire the control boards for IBM computers.

Ed Thomson, a returned combat veteran of WWII, and I married in October, 1947, and had two outstanding children, Joanne, born 1953 and Edward, born 1958. Later, they further enriched the family by marrying Don and Patty and parenting five wonderful grandchildren.

For about a decade, I taught Sunday School while my children were growing. Ed served as a Deacon and we both worked on varied committees at church. In addition to our careers, our interests centered around our children’s activities. Starting in 1965, I helped organize the Central Little League Auxiliary in Malden. My husband coached a winning team. For many years I took various courses at local colleges. Ed died of cancer-from-smoking in April 1983.

It took a lot of money and several futile attempts for me to give up smoking. Then, by chance, I learned about a group called Nicotine Anonymous. I faithfully attended meetings, absorbed the message, and now it is eleven years since I’ve smoked a killer-cigarette.

For twenty years I worked for Intercity Homemaker/Home Health Aide Service. I retired as Administrative Assistant after years as a Caseload Manager.

In 1993, I moved back to Melrose. My stride has become comparatively a stroll, but retirement continues to be pleasant, productive and poetically progressive.

Rest in Peace my Greatest Aunt Natalie and thanks for the wonderful legacy….AND if you can hear me, please send a SIGN to help us FINALLY find Jennie Ferguson’s parents John and Elizabeth!!!!

Natalie Haines Thomson – Obituary

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Natalie Haines Thomson, longtime resident of Malden and Melrose, died Friday, March 13, 2015. She is survived by her daughter the Rev. Joanne Thomson (Donald Hausch) of Madison, WI; her son Edward M. Thomson of Malden; by grandchildren Patrick Kelley, Paul Hausch, and Jessie Hausch; by her step-grandson Justin Maggs; and nephew Charles (Ann) Hall. She was preceded in death by her husband Edward Joseph Thomson; by her daughter-in-law Patricia (Carrico) Thomson; by her step-grandson Richard Maggs; by her parents Edith (Lansil) and John Haines; and by seven brothers and sisters (Edith, John, William, Doris, Walter, Marion, and Bernice).

Natalie was for many years a case manager at Intercity Homemaker Service in Malden, and through her work she became acquainted with almost everyone in the area who needed help caring for an elderly or disabled loved one. She thrived on the many relationships she made while matching home health aides and homemakers with her clients. In addition to her work at Intercity, Natalie worked throughout her life at a variety of jobs in Malden and Boston as a bookkeeper or as an administrative assistant.

She brought her considerable organizational talents to volunteer and community work. She belonged to the First Congregational Church in Malden, where she taught Sunday School, served on committees, and produced masterful roast beef dinners. She organized one of the first auxiliaries of the Malden Central Little League, raising funds to support players and teams.

But in her family, Natalie was known as a poet, writer and genealogist. Every family event, each birthday, graduation, or anniversary, was marked by a poem created uniquely for the occasion. Natalie kept journals throughout her life, recording her thoughts and observations. She spent years researching her ancestors long before the Internet, creating meticulous documentation for future generations. After retirement she became part of the Silver Stringers at the Melrose Senior Center, which developed an online newspaper for senior citizens, one of the first of its kind.

Natalie loved nothing better than being with people. She was the most extroverted person ever born, had a legendary sense of humor, and was filled with endless curiosity about people and their stories. She made numerous friends among the shopkeepers in and around Melrose Square while on her daily walks for the past 20 years.

Visitation will be held at Weir MacCuish Family Funeral Home at 144 Salem St, Malden on Friday, March 20th from 4:00 to 8:00 PM. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 21 at 11:00 am at the Melrose Highlands Congregational Church (UCC) at 355 Franklin St., Melrose, with the Rev. Beth Horne officiating. Visitation will precede the service at 10:00 AM at the church.

In lieu of flowers the family requests donations be made to The Special Olympics.

Natalie Haines Thomson – Eulogy written and read by her daughter Joanne

Many years ago I swore that I would never, ever, speak at a family funeral.  It’s just way too hard.  But I think that my mother appreciates the fact that I want to try to have the last word.

I want to start with a few thank you’s.  Thank you to all of you who have come today.  You probably have some idea how much it means to my brother Eddie and I that you are here.  I also want to thank  the people of Melrose Highlands Congregational Church for offering us a church home today.  And I want to say thank you to my brother.  He has been there for Natalie through thick and very thin.  His commitment to our mother over these last few years of her dementia and illness has been extraordinary.  I have been proud of him for the way he has taken care of our mother, and I know our father would be proud, too.

By this point in our lives, we’ve all listened to a lot of tributes given at funerals.  Sometimes I’m jealous when I listen to these tributes, because more often than not, the eulogy makes it sound like the person who died was a perfect angel living on earth.  Sitting there listening, I’d envy that family, and I’d wish that my family members were as perfect as those people appeared to be.  Because my family members are not.  Perfect.  With all due respect.

But that’s what I want my last word to be.  My mother was not perfect.  And yet she set an extraordinary example for us.  There are things she did that hurt or confused us.  Some things I will never really completely understand.  And yet she was an incredible woman who loved us and who let us know how much she loved us, right up until the moment when she couldn’t communicate anything anymore.

I think about the values that our mother and father instilled in us, for example.  Hard work, honesty, compassion, laughter, love of family, and of the friends who become your family — I’m incredibly grateful to have grown up with parents who were rock solid committed to values like these.  But our parents’ values went much deeper and much farther.  There was something that led them to roll past other people’s expectations and do what they knew was right.  I mean, Natalie married a Catholic.

Here’s an example of the kind of values I’m talking about.  This is an excerpt from one of her journals.   She wrote this on the Sunday after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.  “I attended church this morning,” she wrote.  “I regretted that (the sermon) bypassed an opportunity to promote brotherhood (and make) inroads (into) some people’s staunch bigotry….   Instead of propounding on God’s law, and reminding us of Jesus’ strength, (it) eloquently and fervently spoke on a theme of ‘America’s strength is in the obedience (she underlined obedience) of her laws.’ (she double underlined this)….Not a word of what Dr. King had accomplished or of what we (double underlined again) should try to accomplish.”   That is a mother to be proud of.  We are indebted to her for values like that.

On a lighter note, let me share that the following page of her journal records that, quote, “Joanne’s essay on ‘How We Can Build A Better Malden’ won at Lincoln Junior High.”  If only this masterpiece had been preserved for future generations, think of the Malden we would have today.

That’s the first last word I have:  a tribute to our mother’s independence of mind and spirit, and the values she passed on to us that go far beyond compassion and fairness and honesty.

The last last word I have is that she was the embodiment of the very deep truth that it is never too late, and that the world and its possibilities are always greater than you think they are.  There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God:  not mistakes; not wounds and scars; not a lack of options; not even our own confusion about how to do our best for the people we love.

Going through my mother’s papers, I found a print out (because she saved every piece of paper; every single piece of paper); of her registration for classes for a human services certificate program at UMass Boston from the early 1990’s.  She should have gone to college.  We all know this.  But at the age of 64 or so, she decided to commute after work on the subway to UMass Boston to take classes for a certificate in human services administration.  So what if she never had the chance to go to college.  She had the chance now.  I think of her finishing her class at UMass probably around nine at night, getting on the Red Line, changing to the Orange, walking back to her car through Malden Square.   It’s never too late.

But what will always be for me the greatest example of her character was that she gave up drinking and gave up smoking.  It would have been great if she’d stopped earlier. But it surely was magnificent that she gave up alcohol in her 50’s and smoking in her 60’s.  I remember when my father was sick, the very first night that he spent in the hospital, at the old New England Memorial.  I was at the hospital with her, and it was finally time to leave.  It was probably about eight o’clock at night, and the sun had gone down since we’d gotten there.  She asked me to follow her in my car from the hospital in Stoneham to her house on Kimball Street because she had never before driven alone after dark.  This is maybe a 10 minute drive.  She was 55 years old.  She had a long, long way to go.  But she brought all of her drive and all of her relentless energy to both of these challenges, and she did it.  I think she was astonishing.  Boy, was she mad at me when I made her smoke outdoors in Wisconsin in January.  And it’s true, she drove us completely crazy with all of the stories from her supposedly “anonymous” groups.  But what she did was pretty incredible.   She changed her life.  She saved her life.  She looked like a completely ordinary person.  She was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.  But she was extraordinary.  

There is far, far more good that is possible than you might at first believe.  So don’t give up.  She never gave up.

 

pedi

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John on March 17, 2015 at 7:24 AM

    Great tribute honey. Luv u

    Like

    Reply

  2. Linda, thank you for letting me know. It was a pleasure to cross paths with your Aunt Natalie and benefit from her research, which she shared graciously.

    Like

    Reply

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