It is not unusual to hear people refer to a woman as being "like" a second mother to them.
It is a good way of referring to someone who was important in their lives, and who they feel more connected to than other women they knew growing up.
Edna Haley of Phillipston was my second mother. She was my mother's only sister, my aunt, but I thought of her no differently when I was growing up, and even today, than I do my mother.
My aunt died last Saturday at age 83 after a long, busy life that touched hundreds, if not thousands of people. She may have been my best influence growing up. A strong-minded but kind woman, she never made me feel anything but welcome and accepted in her home. She never let any of us kids make excuses, expected us to be responsible, and treated us all the same. Whether her children, or those of others, we all knew she cared.
I was shy growing up, and it was always difficult for me when I visited homes of my relatives or family friends. I never wanted to overstep or intrude in their homes. I did not want to feel like I was a burden to have around. I never felt that way when I visited my Haley cousins and their parents, Edna and Arnold, on Riley Switch Road in Phillipston. I was at home when I was there.
Some people in my family mostly remember that when they visited Aunt Edna, she put them to work weeding or harvesting the family's extremely large garden. There were eight kids in the family, and the garden was important to them economically. My memory was that she treated me no differently than the kids in the family. They had chores. I had chores. They got to play a lot. I got to play a lot. In the summer, our reward was to go swimming at Queen Lake Beach in Phillipston. The reward included the responsibility of helping to clean up the beach, one of the jobs my aunt took on for the town. We got to keep soda bottles we found on the beach and turn them in for nickles to spend on candy at the Queen Lake Spa, a small restaurant and convenience store that served beachgoers and people who owned camps around the lake.
I am not sure I loved the chores, but today I look back on them with a bit of fondness. I joke that it was character building.
It is part of my aunt's legacy that she never found it difficult to take in other children for sometimes weeklong visits. Some were having tough times at home and found respite at her house. Others just loved being there, playing in her large yard or in the piles of hay in the back of the barn.
I was joking with my brother Charlie the other day that my aunt liked me the best of the five Barnes children. I really don't know that was true. She was more familiar with me than my siblings. I also felt deeply connected to her because she was the Phillipston librarian for 42 years. I loved books and I knew she did too. Her house was often filled with books she was checking out before they landed on the shelves of the tiny town library.
My Aunt Edna had an intuitive sense of what was interesting. Although she ran an ancient and tiny library in a small conservative town, she was always looking for the newest and most interesting books to supply her patrons, who were most often also her friends.
Always ahead of the mark, my aunt owned the first home computer I can remember. I can't recall if it was Texas Instruments, Commodore, or some other first generation home computer. At best it did a little organizing of things, but the knowledge helped her in her other job as one of the town's assessors.
Aunt Edna was one of the group of church ladies that ran the Phillipston Congregational Church and made that church an integral part of the community. At any church event a good portion of the volunteers are from her family. Her public spirtedness was another reason I felt really connected to her. Although she refused over and over to be interviewed by me for stories about Phillipston politics, she was at the center of the town's leadership. "Go ask Edna," was a common statement when someone visiting the town hall needed information. She instilled that sense of community obligation in her children, many of whom are active in town today.
When she retired from both the library and town government, she worked hard to pass on that knowledge to others. What she left behind in all aspects of her life, made life in Phillipston better.
We know some day we will lose the people who raised us. It is sad, but inevitable. Also certain is that the memory of those good people will remain with us as long as we are around.