It is another hot day in Little Egypt. It appears that much of our nation is under a heat dome and thus unprecedented temperatures. As I was taking my daily walk on Campus it felt a bit like a sauna. Tomorrow would have been Neva June’s 93rd birthday. I have heard her state that her birthday was on June 29th, 1928 many times. Once…after I had moved away from home I missed calling her on her birthday…and there was no consoling her and no excuse that was sufficient for my great transgression. Nevertheless…I never forgot again. Mom loved her birthday…I think I must get my habit of relegating my birthday to holiday status…from her. She had nine siblings. She spoke of them on almost a daily basis as if they still were children. One of her sisters died in early childhood, Rosebud, and she missed her and thought of her often. I was born when Mom was 30 years old. I am 63 and she is 93. Mom loved almost everyone that she met. You understood if you were one of the few that she did not appreciate.
Neve June had been raised in the Pentecostal faith…along with her entire family. She had left the church…or what was termed as ‘Back Slid,’ and she desperately wanted to renew her christian faith. If you were downtrodden or in need or hungry or poorly clad…Mom would help you without thought as to her own means or resources. If my Mom had 2 dollars…1 dollar was yours. She befriended the marginalized of Eldorado, Illinois. The poor and disenfranchised people that others made fun of…Mom loved and helped. There was one elderly lady called, ‘One Eye,’ due to her having one eye…that Mom took to the market and to the doctor and welcomed into our home. Another was, Rosy, who talked to herself sometimes and who distrusted most people..but she loved Neva June. Mom by her actions illustrated to me what it meant to be a christian…more than any church ever will.
Mom was so happy to return to church attendance and a faith community in 1969…just after her mother, Grace, passed away. Later she came to live with us in 2001…and attended our church, First Presbyterian, and sang the hymns with gusto and reverence…in spite of her Alzheimer’s Disease. MJ took such good care of her…making her Malto Meal for breakfast and ultimately bathing her and caring for her every need. One morning when Mom and I were pulling out of our driveway on the way to take her to the Adult Senior Care…she saw MJ in the door waving at us and she remarked that she was so pretty…’The Little Dutch Girl.’
Neva June enjoyed kicking up her heels in her youth. She liked to go to Honky Tonks and drink slow gin fizzes. She had no hidden side. What you saw was the genuine article. She worshipped her mother. She almost succumbed when she and my dad divorced. She blamed herself for the rest of her life. She and dad were a World War II couple. The moved to Chicago to find work…and that is where I was born. We lived a happy life…until we did not. Mom enjoyed doing the Twist to Chubby Checker’s dulcet tones. She loved to visit with her best friend, Ivy, who smoked one Salem cigarette after the next. Ivy had a husband named, Bob, who was primarily silent…as Ivy did all of the talking. Ivy and Bob had 2 children, Susie and Steve, I had a crush on Susie and she hugged me every chance that she got. She was a bit older than me. Mom looked at dad with reverence…but she was fiercely jealous of him. He was a good looking gentleman with wavy hair and a devilish grin.
At Shawnee Christian Nursing Home it was often difficult to find Neva when I came to visit. I would finally find her pushing another resident in a wheel chair…or visiting another peer in their room that was far removed from her own. She told me that she did so much for the old folks that the Nursing Home wanted to hire her…but she did not want to be committed to full time employment.