My grandmother had four children in four years. My mother is the oldest, then came my uncle Gary, then my aunt Susan, and last my aunt Inkie.
I give this background to help give an idea of the person that Susan was. The family was a bit compressed — not only in age, but in physical space. It turned my aunt Susan into a toughie. In fact, Lil Toughie was how most people referred to her off and on for most of her life. I can’t think of many people that were more appropriately named. The name Susan has become almost iconic for a tough and practical woman. Her middle name, Parrish, was her mother’s maiden name. This set the stamp, I think, on her for a devotion to family.
My aunt Susan had pretty features and all, but that wasn’t the point. She was an amazingly beautiful woman from force of personality — from the way her soul glowed, if you will. It was something neither age nor illness could touch. One of my cousins commented, “Isn’t she beautiful?” the day before she died. What with how wasted her body was, that might sound like a crazy comment. At first, I thought it was. But Sam was right. Susan was beautiful right to the end. Her beauty was never about the perfections possible in youth, even when she had them, but the beauty that comes from being yourself just as hard as you can. She was that right to the end.
Susan was an artist. While she dabbled in various mediums, probably one of her favorite was to make art from the gifts the Rivah gave her. Shells, tops from crab pots and driftwood found themselves in her hands to be turned into painting. The paintings usually incorporated the textural elements and shape of whatever she found. She turned empty crab shells into Santas (like all my family, she loved Christmas), painted beach scenes on crab pot tops, and took her inspiration from the wind and salt and water.
She loved her family. She was deeply in love and passionately devoted to her husband. Her children were the world to her, and I can remember clearly the joy and pride she took in each one when they were born. She loved more than anything to gather her family in close to her. Over the course of her life, she invited people to the family cottages by the river, hosted an enormous Thanksgiving gathering her entire adult life (a tradition her oldest son has started to carry on), had family parties to celebrate her grandmother’s birthday. For Susan, it was all about the family.
For many years she had a business as a daycare providor out of her home. Children she kept still remember the care she gave them and the lessons she taught. When the kids would get to be a bit too much – too rowdy or misbehaving, she’d always send then out into the yard to pick up stick in their tree-laden lot in preparation for cutting the grass. Years later, one of the children she kept came back and told her he does the same thing with his children when they’re getting rowdy and need to burn off some energy. It’s a great lesson on several levels. When your energy and natural exuberence gets too much and you’re not behaving as well as you could, go do something useful!
Susan was greatly loved and will be deeply missed. She made her corner of the world a better place by her life, and there’s not much better you can say than that.