First, I would like to extend a loving and heartfelt thank you to Johnnie from the entire family. We all know that Johnnie worked unselfishly and tirelessly to help Aunt Loretta over the past few years. I know many of us are amazed that we never, ever heard him complain or a negative word about Aunt Loretta. He shouldered many of the responsibilities over the years in making sure Aunt Loretta’s needs were met and her wishes followed. Johnnie, day in and day out never displayed frustration or anxiety and would say, “that is what she wants.” Johnnie, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Also, thank you to all of the family members who kept in constant contact with Aunt Loretta. She was never alone, because I know she spent hours on the phone every day especially her daily phone buddy, Aunt Irene.
I spent a long time thinking why all of us (I believe every single one of us) had such a special relationship with Aunt Loretta. Whether you were a brother, sister, friend, neighbor, niece, nephew, or great and grand niece and nephew, we all felt that “We, personally were special to Aunt Loretta”, in fact, I am sure many if not most of us thought that we were her favorite.
If you take the time to think about it, that is quite a talent/feat to make everyone feel they are so very special. In thinking how and why she was able to accomplish this, I realize that because she had not married and was not distracted by or committed to raising children, she found an enormous amount of love in her heart to make each and every one of us feel like the most important member of her family.
We all know that Aunt Loretta had wonderful sisters, brothers and sister-in laws and 17 fabulous nieces and nephews. I know I don’t have to list them. However, you might not have ever counted up her great nieces and nephews and her grand nieces and nephews. Aunt Loretta had 29 great nieces and nephews and I think it is important that we all hear their names, because Aunt Loretta at 89 knew each and every one of them: Ryan, Eric, Paul Jr, Kristina, Alexandra, Kristen, Gregory, Christopher, Kevin, Sal, Jr., Melissa, Nichole, Marguerite, Christine, Vincent III, Kevin Jr., Joanie, Mathew, Christopher, T.J., Conlin, Delaney, Harrison, Kevin, Danny, Tracy, Brian and Craig and our beloved Kieran who is probably playing with Aunt Loretta today.
Aunt Loretta also had 12 grand nieces and nephews. They are Abigail, Patrick, Page, Lexi, Britta Mae, Michael, Shawn, Kiera, Emily, Mathew, Nicholas and Michael.
As you all know, until the day she fell, she remembered everyone’s birthday. She would rattle them off to the newest member of the family. She would never forget to send a birthday card. Many of us have received birthday cards for 50 or 60 years and it is going to be very difficult to know that we will no longer be receiving them. Our Aunt Loretta took care of all us in her own way. It was a type of emotional support that was omnipresent. We didn’t have to look for it. It was always “in the air.”
I actually wanted to share Aunt Loretta’s great and grand nieces and nephews names because a lot of what I have to say today is actually directed to them. For Aunt Loretta’s siblings, friends and nieces and nephews many the following are important memories of years gone by. But, I wanted to make sure that the younger Bilms family generation understood the breadth and depth of who she was.
To really know Aunt Loretta I think you have to understand the generation to which she was born. You may not realize that she is considered part of the G.I. Generation (1901-1924) being born in 1921. Aunt Loretta’s generation survived the depression and fought and won World War II, her generation later became what was called the Establishment, and the parents who had the Boomer children. However, more importantly, the generation is also known as the Greatest Generation (after Tom Brokaw’s book), and that is what I would like to focus on. It is the term “greatest generation” that resonates with me when I think of Aunt Loretta.
You will see and feel so much of Aunt Loretta when you read about who the “Greatest generation” actually was. As Tom Brokaw noted: The greatest generation learned early on in life how to be a good team player putting their trust in government, authority, and community. They were a generation of “doers’ and “believers,” many achieved a higher standard of living and education than their parents.
They are the generation in which most Americans of south and east European origin entered the great middle class. Lucky for us that they worked so hard after the depression to keep us from slipping out of the middle class. Aunt Loretta and her generation were stubborn and fearless, but not reckless, patriotic, idealistic, and morally consensus.
Unlike many baby boomers, Aunt Loretta and her generation avoided debt and saved money. That, combined with a traditional pension and Social Security, provided a stable retirement in which she did not have to work. Aunt Loretta’s generation retired at what we now would consider a young age and they stayed retired seeing retirement as a respite that they deserved and enjoyed.
Aunt Loretta’s generation also wanted to stay put. Surveys show that her generation wanted to stay right where they were when they retired. All in all, historians note that no generation more changed the course of American history since the American Revolution. It was the generation that created prosperity in both victors and vanquished countries after World War II; they kept the Cold War from becoming a nuclear war; they presided over the de-colonization of the Third World and the weakening of institutional racism in America and South Africa as well as the almost complete demise of Marxism-Leninism. They also created a firm basis of progress in scientific achievements and in entrepreneurial success which we are all receiving the rewards today.
Aunt Loretta definitely knew that she was part of the “greatest generation”. There was an air of confidence, that was not conceit. She always projected a comfort level with everything she did. After her generation was coined the “Greatest Generation”, whenever we would get into a political discussion, Aunt Loretta would remind me that she was part of the Greatest Generation. And, I would agree and shut my mouth.
However, what most impresses me is that Aunt Loretta, took her “greatest generation” role and responsibilities one additional step. With her sisters and brothers, she built a generation of incredibly strong, resourceful, hardworking, and educated Bilms’ family members. Your last name may not be Bilms, but if you are related to Aunt Loretta you are a BILMs and have a family history of which you can be proud.
So, how does one succeed at molding a generation of nieces, nephews and great and grand nieces and nephews that are special and unique. You many not think that we are unique but I would like to use one simple example
I believe that in order to engender that level of familial love and responsibility, one must have a role model. Aunt Loretta was that model. The Bilms women were an incredibly intelligent, “got it all together” dynasty for their time. They knew how to raise their children to be bright, independent individuals. It seemed that no possession meant more to them and aunt Loretta than the love of and being around her family. Her life was not untouched by adversity or even tragedy. The loss of her sister Miriam at such a young age, the sickness and death of her mother (Grandma) which many of us never knew. However, even in grief, she exhibited strength and hope that only comes from a faith in God. I often asked her how she handled personal and/or world tragedies with such strength, and she repeatedly told me, “when you get older you will understand.” I am not sure that I do understand or ever will, but I hope we can all find that type of peaceful acceptance and faith in life that she constantly exhibited.
But, who was Aunt Loretta as a person? There are a lot of descriptors. Aunt Loretta was full of life – feisty – and fun. She was a sports enthusiast and she loved her New York teams. She loved the Mets and at Christmas my Robert and Aunt Loretta sang the full song “Meet the Mets” at the table. It was impressive. In fact, she loved New York and could never understand why anyone would want to live anywhere else.
When she was in attendance at a family event, you knew she was there. I always thought she was glamorous. She was always well dressed and was just stylish. She had a youthful spring and air about her that was fun and less serious than a lot of her counterparts. To me, when she walked into a room, it was like someone turned on a light. She had a pride and stature. Almost an elegance.
Everyone wanted Aunt Loretta at their social or family function. She was important, she made it fun and with her the family felt complete.
She always acted like there was no one like her family. She would often tell us how much she missed her sisters and brother, but how lucky she was to have all of us. Of course, she could never believe “the kids” were now in their 60’s. She always spoke about Tom, you were always considered part of the family. You may not know us, but we know you and thank you for shoveling her walkways for the past 50 years.
One would never have typecast Aunt Loretta as the “matriarch” of the Bilms’ clan. But that is what she became. We could always envision our Aunt Mad as the matriarch of the family, but not the eternally young and vibrant Aunt Loretta. She did an incredible job as the matriarch. Our Aunt Irene and Aunt Eileen are now the matriarchs of the family, and of course, we have our wonderful Patriarch, Uncle Vinnie.
If you remember, Aunt Loretta had a way that she looked at you when you spoke with her. She listened intently to everything that you said. You knew, she really cared.
Many of us stayed clear of Aunt Loretta when it came to politics. It was an area in which she was most opinionated and passionate. I still remember a conversation I had with her in late early December 2008 shortly after the Presidential election. She started telling me how Obama was ruining the country and I reminded her that he would not be inaugurated as President for another 45 days so how was he destroying the country. I just decided to give up.
None of us will ever forget the wonderful gatherings and holidays at first Grand Pa’s and then Aunt Mad’s and Aunt Loretta’s house. 173-42 8nd Ave. will always be an important part of our childhood memories. The highlight of the week for many of us growing up were the extended visits to Grandpa’s house. We would all fight to sleep in the same room with Aunt Loretta. Never with Grand Pa because he snored. In her room we would love to be in bed and listen to the buses go by the house and smell the gas fumes. She would take us food shopping on Saturday mornings. I always thought she was so wealthy because she would purchase one of those large bags of M&Ms’s. Only rich people would buy those packages. And, who could ever forget the endless cases of soda, especially cream soda that flowed like water. The Bilms were truly blessed!
We all know that Aunt Loretta was not perfect. In fact, she was downright “stubborn to the point that she would drive most of us to drink, except for Johnnie of course. However, I am told that stubbornness is actually a Bilms gene that has passed down from generation to generation so we really can’t blame her.
Where we are today is such a far cry from the days at Grand Pa’s house when we all watched TV shows like I remember Mama (which was one of her favorites), the Ed Sullivan Show, Charlie Chan and Shirley Temple movies. Aunt Loretta loved to sing and dance.
Cathy and many of us remember listening to Connie Francis with Aunt Loretta and singing along to: “He wore tan shoes and pink shoe laces” or Frank Sinatra on the vinyl 78 records. Or, the reel to reel tape recorder, which for younger family members who are here today was “Hi tech.” We would be thrilled that she would let each of us talk or sing into the tape recorder and then play it back so we could hear our voices.
We all remember wonderful excursions with Aunt Loretta. Paul remembers going to Coney Island every year for his birthday with Aunt Loretta and most of us remember joining the family trips with her to Coney Island, Jones Beach, Atlantic City and Niagara Falls. Everyone wanted to sit next to Aunt Loretta in the car and she would make sure that we would all be accommodated.
Vincent told me a story that I surly don’t remember, whenever Aunt Loretta and Aunt Mad would come to their house to visit and they were leaving Vincent, Kevin and Kathleen would line up at the door and both of them would each hand them a $10 bill that would soon after be confiscated by who did you say Vincent.?
We also all remember playing bartender in the basement and the wonderful chemistry experiments at the dressing tables up stairs.
Vincent also reminded me of how calm Aunt Loretta was when Nancy and he pulled the fire alarm at GranPa’s house. I guess Nancy and Vincent took Kenny’s toy tractor down the block. Either Nancy or Vincent stood on it and pulled the alarm(Vincent thinks it was him but that Nancy was blamed because she was older). All the fire trucks came and Grandpa went outside to deal with them. Nancy and Vincent were hiding somewhere in the house, because they thought they were going to jail.
Those were truly memorable days. I would be remiss if I did not mention another favorite Aunt Loretta saying which was: “Just wait till you get to be my age”!
Aunt Loretta witnessed so much in her 89 years. Her comment “Just wait till you get to be my age” always stopped you in your tracks because we could not know what it was like to be her age and consequently there was no “comeback”.
However, in thinking about this retort, I believe that is was a delightfully wise and funny way of telling us without bitterness that getting old isn’t easy. Maybe sometimes she just wanted to tell us what she seemed to be so aware of – that LIVING means accepting CHANGE. And that we have little control over those changes. So in some ways, “JUST WAIT TILL YOU GET TO BE MY AGE!” was her way of telling us without lecturing that change is inevitable And, that What is within our power is how we deal with change.
So, how did she deal with all of the changes she experienced in her 89 years? And, from this, I believe we can learn so much from her. For the most part, she accepted change with grace, understanding, and a certain type of innate wisdom. I never heard her long for a better life in some distant future. She was rooted in the present. The “present” gave her peace and happiness.
In trying to understand her comment, “Wait until you get to be my age!” I believe Aunt Loretta pointed us in the right direction, the important thing is not WHAT happens, but how we deal with what happens and who we have around us during those “what happen” times. Aunt Loretta showed us that it is the love of an “extended” family and friends that will support us through difficult times. These words are often voiced but it is critically important to lead by example.
Aunt Loretta led by example. She quietly provided us with an invaluable example of how to focus on family and to live and treat others. A day never passed that we did not feel her unconditional love.
Finally, Aunt Loretta was religious in a very quiet way, almost a cool way. She was not overly demonstrative in her faith but was very, very strong in its beliefs. Aunt Loretta would want all her family and friends to know that Jesus, her four sisters, Uncle Harold, Aunt Mad, Grandma and Grandpa were waiting for her when she passed from this life. And she would tell you that those happy reunions for which she so longed have taken place, and are still taking place, and will keep taking place eternally.
A hopeless world may look at Aunt Loretta and think that an awful fall claimed another hapless victim. But I believe that because of her faith that she would tell a different story. She would say, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.”
I know that no one who knew Aunt Loretta will ever forget her.
Rest well, Aunt Loretta. We will carry you forever in our hearts. We love you. Thank you for all you gave to us.