Ena was probably the most influential person in my life. From the time I was three months old until I went to Kindergarten, she and her husband, Nate, took care of me every weekday when my parents went to work. After I went to Kindergarten, they were such a part of our family that they were our "adopted grandparents." In August 2001 she died at age 94. She was a huge part of my life and my families' life. Anyone who knew us, knew Ena. She was at every holiday, birthday, mother's day. And in the end, when she had to go to assisted living it was my mom who served as her care giver and friend and visited her ALL the time. Above all, today I have reflected (and in many years since her death) on how influential she was in my life. It's amazing how one person can make that much impact. But she did. So, I want to share with you some of the most important lessons in life that she taught me that I still carry with me today.
My mom and Ena both always claimed that it was a total blessing that they found each other. Ena and Nate had just moved from Michigan to Florida to retire. In their 60s, they were full of energy and life, but didn't have much to do. A friend of my mom's told her about them because I had just been born and my mom had to go back to teaching that fall.
Nate and Ena (they actually sometimes would call themselves Natena) were a loving and humble couple who had tried for years to have children of their own but to no avail. When they were in their 30s (old back then) they adopted a son Rix. But, he would only live to 19 years old when he was killed in a motorcycle accident. Even as a young child, I would see and feel the devastation that his death had caused in their lives. Ena had wanted children so badly and then to have lost him so young, was just devastating. In fact, when I looked at her last Bible that I kept (from 1985) she had written in it the dates of both Rix and Nate's deaths. Clearly, the two most important people in her life.
What you have to understand about Ena is that she was a devout Baptist who loved God with everything she had. She loved music in all forms…to play piano, sing and watch Lawrence Welk on TV. She would do anything for you. She loved Spring time – maybe because we both had birthdays during April making us both Taurus women (we definitely both were strong and bull-headed at times). She adored Spring flowers, birds playing in her birdbath and graham crackers and milk (my daily snack). She dealt with the devastation and heartbreak in her life with courage, grace and optimism. You never lied to her (because she would know), you never crossed her and yet you always knew she loved you.
My biggest regrets are that she wasn't at my wedding (she died almost exactly two months before I walked down the aisle), she never met Sydney and that she died alone in a hospital (although I guess everyone says that is inevitable). But today I honor her for all that she taught me and all that I hope I can pay forward through the way I live and through my parenting to Sydney.
Ena taught me:
- How to swim
- That you get spanked if you run across the street without looking (and she would always tell me that was the only time she ever spanked me because I had put myself in harm's way)
- To believe in God
- To believe it the good in people
- Sing loudly even if you don't think you have a good voice
- You can do anything you set your mind to
- Be proud of who you are
- Love and respect your family, they really are all you have
- Marry for love, not money
- Sadness and adversity will only make you stronger
- Be thankful for the sun, flowers and butterflies
- Put your American flag out every day and be proud of it
- Only use three squares of toilet paper when you go #1
- Always have a sense of humor
- Children are our future and everyone of them needs a chance (she always donated to the local Children's home and orphanage because they had helped her get Rix)
- Love, love and love
- Be passionate about whatever you do
So, today I sit outside writing this with the sun shining, a blue sky, the breeze blowing, reminiscing about her and being so thankful for her impact in my life. I am so fortunate and thankful to my parents for finding her and allowing her to be such a big part of my life. They chose someone so wonderful to take care of me and I am so lucky for that. They also of course, helped reinforce all these wonderful lessons throughout my life and I am thankful for that, too. As Ena would say when she was saying good-bye and was ready to get off the phone, luv, luv. I wish someone like Ena for everyone. We all would be better people.
April 30, 2010 in loving memory of Ena L. Giddings