Her real name was “Naomi,” from the Bible, but we kids called her Aunt “Nomi” for short. She was the baby of ten kids in my dad’s family: four sisters and six brothers born to Kern and Josie Peal way back when. She was a hoot with a great sense of humor and not one bit stuffy. We loved her.
I was 15 when my family moved away from Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1945, and we returned about once a year to visit aunts, uncles and cousins. Since there were five of us—Mom, Dad, Bob, Patty and me, we split up and stayed at different homes when we were there. One time I got to stay with Aunt Nomi when Uncle Russ was in the service. We slept in the same bed on a feather tick mattress just like two girls having a sleepover. We talked for a long time about all kinds of things, especially how much she missed Uncle Russ. Right before going to sleep she said, “Betty, don’t be surprised if I cuddle up and hug you in the night, because I’m probably dreaming that Russ is back home again.” I’ll never forget it. Having her share something intimate like that made me feel privileged and grown up.
My brother, Bob, and I live out of state now, and we visited her a few times at the resident home where she lived. The last time we were there, we stopped at her room but it was empty. It kind of scared me, so Bob and I were asking a nurse in the hall where our aunt might be. That’s when we heard Aunt Nomi calling out from the TV room, “Betty, Bobby, is that you kids out there?” It sure enough was us “kids.” It surprised us both that she recognized our voices before seeing our faces.
My aunt was only seven years older than I, and because she used to baby sit us three kids, I always thought of her as a woman even when she was a teenager. It saddens me to say goodbye to her, the youngest of the clan. Now that she’s gone, it means all of us “kids” are the older generation of Peals. It seems strange to think of myself in that way because memories of my childhood are still so strong that it seems they happened only a few years ago. When a loved one dies, part of my sadness is saying goodbye to my own childhood. Those everyday experiences will never happen again. And maybe that’s why I write about them, to preserve us forever. As I’ve said before, leaving family stories behind is another kind of life after death.
Betty Peal Auchard