March 2, 2011 | Posted in: Family

With the exception of a few short years of my life, I’m naturally inclined to have a sunny disposition and a positive attitude.  My beloved aunt reminded me of this recently when she recounted the first time she met me.

I was four years old and had lived in the Philippines until my [Kentucky born] father was able to get his young family transported to America via the USS Patrick. Back in Indiana, crossing each day off the calendar in anticipation of getting her hands on us, my father’s loving sister, my priceless Aunt Millie, was anxiously awaiting our arrival. The journey took three very long weeks.

My mother, who’d never been on a boat, suddenly found herself on a warship. My father had gone on ahead, leaving my seven months pregnant mother to travel with two little girls in tow, my sister, 16 months, and me. My only question is, “Who thought up THAT [travel] plan?!”

Not surprisingly Mom was sea sick the entire time it took us to sail from Manila to San Francisco. So sick, my little sister was confined to her crib for most of the day. With the lights out, Mom stayed in bed in our tiny cabin rolling over only to vomit in a bucket placed by her side. She couldn’t tolerate even the thought of eating let alone going to the mess hall so, each day, a kindly nurse brought a small amount of food to our cabin just to make sure my sister and I didn’t go hungry.

Under these circumstances, it was all my mother could do to keep the three of us clean and presentable. When I wasn’t emptying her bucket or fetching wet wash towels for her, I spent long periods of time outside our cabin on a walkway perched high above the water. Staring at the endless ocean through a [widely spaced] barrier fence I can remember thinking I could easily slip through and fall several stories to the water below. Imagine. An unattended four year old on a battleship filled with high slippery places, dangerous equipment, and who knows what kind of riffraff!

That said, it was 1961, and Mom never once worried about my safety. It was a day and age where it’s easy to believe I was surrounded, not by riffraff, but by a couple thousand American GI’s each playing Guardian Angel to a Little Girl. I was never afraid. Instead, I enjoyed the solitude. The wind. The warm sun on my face. I was happy. And, I never once got seasick.

After we arrived in San Francisco, we boarded a plane to Chicago, landing at O’Hare in the middle of a

terrible [late] February blizzard. This was especially exciting because my father, who had a habit of not thinking things through, had forgotten to tell my mother to make sure we had warm clothes for our winter arrival in Illinois.  To that end, his three tropical island born women were dressed in sundresses and sandals when we stepped off the plane! I’ll never forget the beautiful woman who swept me up in her fur coat and carried me across the tarmac to the terminal. I learned early in my life that the kindness of strangers is life-giving and angels always appear precisely when you need them.

Within minutes of arriving in the terminal and in the hubbub of my parents being reunited, someone stole my mother’s purse and with it their life-savings of $500. I remember how sad I felt for ‘my mommy’ as I watched her cry and how harried my father looked as he worked to get a handle on getting her settled down.

Despite the theft, my mother’s tears, and the commotion, deep down inside I was abundantly happy. I was in America. The country my mother told me would bring us good fortune and a better life. Life couldn’t get any better than this. How could I not be happy?! Which brings me back to my beloved Aunt Millie.

We drove from Chicago to Lafayette, Indiana, where my Aunt Millie and Uncle Ernie lived with their four children in a beautiful old farm house on Old Romney Road and true to form, the instant I walked through the door, my aunt swept me into her arms, covered me with kisses and danced around the room. Happy tears flowed freely and there were warm hugs and lots of attention from my new found aunt, uncle and cousins alike.

Aunt Millie tells me that at that moment she was filled with all kinds of questions for me. She wanted to know everything about us and our life back in the Philippines but she especially wanted to know about our journey from Manila all the way to Indiana. She said the first thing I ever told her was, “Oh Aunt Millie! Everything about our trip was so wonderful! Everywhere we went! Even on the airplane! The beautiful stewardess was SO nice! She brought me a paper bag every time I needed to throw up!!!”

God bless my Aunt Millie. She loves children beyond measure, she has a memory that doesn’t quit and she’s a wonderful, wonderful story-teller. When telling this particular story her eyes always light up and she softly adds, “Of all the things you could have told me, Cynthie, you picked the story of how kind this stewardess was to you! Isn’t that something?! No matter what happens, you’ve always had a positive outlook on life! From the moment you were born … our Little Miss Sunshine. You have always been so very easy for us to love.”

Of all the Guardian Angels I’ve had in my life … my Aunt Millie has always been there for me and I attribute much of my wonderful life to her love and constant devotion throughout my formative years. She was (and still is) Christmas everyday and the simple thought of her turns my heart round and round and makes me want to dance.

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Thank you, Aunt Millie, for being one of the greatest loves of my life. And, for reminding me that no matter how difficult life got I had the innate ability to see the good in all adversity and setbacks, to keep my chin up, to smile, and to see each and every silver lining in every dark cloud. Would that everyone could have an Aunt Millie all their own.

You are my Little Mrs. Sunshine. I love you! And I know, because of you, I came by my sunshine ways honestly. And, by the way, happy anniversary! I arrived in America and hopped into your arms 50 glorious years ago this very day. Let’s dance! xoxox.