She wasn't Aunt Geggie or Miss Geggie or Geggie plus whatever her last name was. She was just Geggie and she was always part of our family. Not in the same way that Dorothy and Webby were, who came over from Ireland on same boat as my father's mother. And not in the same way that Aunt Jo was, who was actually my mother's best friend in high school. Mother treated her like a role model, maybe an older sister or a beloved aunt, but she wasn't either of those things either.
In the early 1920s Geggie (short for Gertrude) came to Philadelphia from a small town to find work and somehow ended up renting a room from my mother's parents. She became much more than just a boarder. She ate her meals with the family, listened to the radio with them in the evenings and went to church with them on Sunday morning. She helped my grandmother with the children - including my mother - and used the family sewing machine to make her clothes. Eventually she truly became part of the family.
I probably haven't thought about Geggie in decades but lately I find myself sort of in her position. I separated from my husband at the same time that my church had to cut my salary by 30%, so I had to move from my spacious apartment. I was hoping to find a little studio somewhere and I actually did, but then the man who was living in it needed to stay so the family asked if I'd like to move into their spare room.
I had to think about that. I've never lived with strangers (unless husbands count as strangers). I'd never lived with any family except my own. I haven't shared a kitchen or even a bathroom in decades. And I really, really wanted to live all by myself. But I decided maybe God was trying to get my attention and that maybe I needed to live with this family for a while.
I've been here for a month now. It's different from what I am used to, that's for sure. This is a close family and all the siblings and cousins and in-laws and nieces and nephews and such wander in and out whenever - even when the couple who live here aren't home. I am free to cook for myself if I choose, but I am always welcome to join them for meals. Mostly I feel good being in the middle of a family, but on those occasions when I feel a little outside my comfort zone I can always retreat to my room, my sanctuary, where I keep everything I love. And when I do retreat to my room, no one thinks badly of me.
I don't know whether this is how it felt to Geggie when she first moved in with my mother's family. I'm just glad she did move in and stuck around for so long because now, close to a century later, she gets to teach me, too.