I’ve shared this story many times in the past, so maybe you’ve heard it before. It’s the story of a very old woman I knew as “Great Aunt Becky.” No, she was not my aunt, great or otherwise. We were not related.
Becky was related to a good friend, although I’m not sure exactly how. Maybe she was his great aunt, or maybe she was his mother’s great aunt. A long time has passed since the day I met Great Aunt Becky.
She lived in a tiny little country town, hundreds of miles from the city. She was truly a woman from another world in many ways, a woman of another generation, another lifetime. When I met Great Aunt Becky, she had recently celebrated her 105th birthday.
Blind, barely able to hear, hardly able to speak, and wholly unable to move about on her own, she lived with two daughters and a houseful of cats. Literally. Dozens of cats roamed the little house, jumping on furniture, getting underfoot, and yes, making cat messes everywhere.
Have you ever seen Hoarders? That’s what Great Aunt Becky’s house was like. Filled with junk, broken furniture, discarded clothes, books, newspapers…and the cats. Yes, the cats. She loved her cats. Oh, the stink! I’ve never seen such a filthy mess before. It didn’t bother Great Aunt Becky, of course. I suspect that along with her eyesight and her hearing, she’d long before lost any sense of smell.
Despite her physical limitations, she was keenly aware that visitors had come calling that summer day. She didn’t know me; she didn’t remember my friend and wouldn’t have recalled how they were related if she had remembered. But she knew we were there, and she was curious — about me. Maybe in some way, she recognized something familiar in my friend, but I was a stranger, a complete “unknown” in her life.
Truthfully, I was hesitant when she indicated that I should approach. Much like a regal queen (seated on a rocking chair with a bedpan beneath her) she motioned me forward. It took a bit of a nudge from my friend, but I pushed my reluctance aside and went to greet Great Aunt Becky.
I had no idea what to say to her. After all, she couldn’t hear me, couldn’t see me. What was I supposed to do?
As soon as I drew near, she sensed my presence. Great Aunt Becky reached out and grabbed my hands. She held on to me with surprising strength, and I knew that she had something important she wanted to share. When her lips began to move, I bent forward, straining to hear the mumbled words. I’ve never forgotten them.
“Hang on to what you’ve got, and keep on going.”
Was it a message for me? A motto to remember? An old adage? All of these, and more? It was much like opening a Chinese fortune cookie and wondering if the little scrap of paper inside somehow had meaning in your life.
In the years since that one brief encounter with Great Aunt Becky, I’ve often pondered those words. I’ve found they do have meaning for me. Especially at times when writing seems to be a challenge, or on days when nothing seems to go quite right, I often look back at Great Aunt Becky and recall her words of wisdom.
If you’re struggling with a writing project, if you’re feeling disappointed in what you’ve accomplished, or if you’re looking for ways to cope with the demands of writing, family responsibilities, and perhaps a full-time day job as well, maybe Great Aunt Becky’s words can inspire you, too.
You’ve been given talent and a desire to use it. Sure, life’s going to throw a few curve balls at you. Don’t give up. Hang on to that talent and that desire. Hold on to the stories in your head, the thoughts in your heart. Do your best with what you’ve got…and above all, keep on going.
Great Aunt Becky would be proud of you.