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July, 2016: Emma & Cynthia

Article submitted by Suzanne Van Dam, staff writer

The self-taught poet Alexander Pope once remarked “Those move easiest who have learned to dance.”  At age 95, our elderly friend Emma still dances through life with an ease many of us would envy, hardships and losses notwithstanding.

The self-taught poet Alexander Pope once remarked “Those move easiest who have learned to dance.”  At age 95, our elderly friend Emma still dances through life with an ease many of us would envy, hardships and losses notwithstanding.emma2

“She’s a winner,” Cynthia, her devoted friend, says wit

h a smile.  “She’s always winning.”  With her positive attitude and willingness to try new things, it’s easy to see why.  On this particular afternoon, Emma was accompanying Cynthia to a Little Brothers outing at the Canal Run.  Along with other elderly friends, she was cheering on our team as they crossed the finish line in Hancock.  At the Little Brothers picnic after the race, Emma filled us in on her past.

She’s lived nearly her whole life in the Copper Country, and though many families struggled to find work during the Depression, her father had steady work as a stonemason.  In fact, he worked on several legendary local landmarks, including the sandstone ship in Kearsarge (now a Veterans Memorial), an ornate fountain in Laurium, and the impressive stone walls on Brockway Mountain.  But best of all, he laid the stone on the fireplace in her own home, and she fondly remembered the neighborhood kids laying out blankets in front of the hearth and roasting hot dogs.

Right after high school, Emma, her sister, and a friend headed south on a Greyhound bus to Detroit to join the war effort.  “We didn’t know anybody in the whole city,” she said, but eventually they found lodging in a boarding house and night-shift work at Packards assembly plant.  For 10 hours a day, four years in a row, she worked on a piston assembly line, examining the pistons for spurs.  “We made good money but we sent it all back home.  Just kept what we needed,” she said.

Though the work must have been strenuous, instead she recalled the camaraderie and practical jokes the young women played on each other.  “We had fun.  We went out dancing, and if a girl on the assembly line was starting to nod off, someone would take a match to a Kleenex and light it on fire.”  The belt would move the flaming tissue along, jolting the sleeper awake.  She chuckled at the memory and added, “Instead of ‘pistol-packing mamas’, we’d call ourselves, ‘Piston-packing mamas.’”

She was married to her first husband Frank for 16 years, but he passed away young, leaving her to raise two teenage children on her own. Her son and daughter started working early, helping with the family income, and paying their own way through college.  Eventually both started their own successful businesses.  “Yes, I’ve had sadness in my life,” she said, “but I have two wonderful kids.”

After more than twenty years a widow she met Willard at age 65.  “We went out for about a week and he said, “Let’s get married.”  She laughed, remembering how she said, “Wait a minute now, just hold on.”

It was meant to be though, for as Emma says, “Twenty seven years of marriage and he never had a cross word.”  She explained that they got married on the 27th of August, and on the 27th of every month for he’d still say, “Happy Anniversary,” letting her know just how much he celebrated being a part of her life.

Cynthia added that she and her own daughters had gotten to know him well, too.  “He was funny,” she said, giving Emma a reassuring pat on the back.  “Funny and sweet.”

Shortly before passing away he told Emma, “The best years of my life were with you.” emma1

“You know, it was probably true,” she said.  “He didn’t do anything besides work before he met me.  I  taught him how to live,” she said, “how to dance, to bowl, to golf—how to enjoy life.”

When asked about the losses and challenges she’s faced over the years, Emma seemed to shrug them off, but Cynthia looked intently at Emma and gently prodded.  “Losing Willard was hard on you, wasn’t it Emma?”

“Yes,” Emma nodded, accepting a difficult truth.  “I’ve had sadness, but other than that I’ve had a good life.”

It’s been said that in youth the days are short and the years are long. In old age, the years are short and the days long.  At Little Brothers, we are so thankful for our donors and volunteers who help shorten those long, lonely days by accompanying our friends at home in times of sadness, and bring our elderly friends out into the world to enjoy the everyday moments—a picnic with burgers on the grill, a slow walk on a sandy beach, a chance to cheer on friends as they cross the finish line.  Thank you for being part of our Little Brothers family.


Cathy Kass-Aten, Executive Director