My mother’s sister, Eva, had much tragedy in her life. She lost her first husband in a boating accident when she was in her 20s, leaving her with a young son to raise. She eventually remarried and moved to El Paso with her new husband. He welcomed Donnie, the son from her earlier marriage, and they settled into a military life. (Eva is on the left, my mom on the right – taken in about 1925.)
Donnie was an unusual child, asking questions like, “How big is the sun? Is it as big as a tire or as big as the world?” One day while Lloyd was at work, Donnie got very ill. Eva called for help, but by the time it arrived, her young son was dead. They never knew the cause of death – it was sudden and unexpected. I still have the telegram she sent to her mother saying, “Donnie dead. Body Arriving Thursday.” He was buried next to his father who’d died only a few years earlier.
Eva and Lloyd had two children together – Eva Ann and Charlie. Eva Ann grew up, got married and had two sons. She named the oldest one Donnie, in honor of the brother she had never known. Donnie and his younger brother, Patrick, were very close. Her grandson, Donnie, reminded Eva so much of the son, Donnie, she had lost. He, too, asked, “How big is the sun? Is it as big as a tire or as big as the world?” He also told his grandma one day when she was watching him, “You know I’m not meant to be here long. When I leave you must go on.” He was 5 at the time. She called my mother – her sister – crying, because she knew he wasn’t talking about that afternoon’s play time with grandma.
Less than two years later, on Christmas Eve, both Donnie and Patrick got very ill – sick enough with what seemed the stomach flu to take them to the hospital. By Christmas afternoon, Donnie was dead. No cause of death could be determined, despite an autopsy.
Patrick survived and “saw” Donnie many times after that. Each time he told Patrick that he was not meant to be here long. His time was over. They had to go on. He had done what he was meant to do. Each time Patrick would tell everyone. Each time the adults could not grasp it.
Years after Donnie’s death, my mother told me that her father would ask the same question – “How big is the sun? Is it as big as a tire or as big as the world?” Apparently that question spread over four generations, with three of them asking it, unbeknownst to the others.
My Aunt Eva is gone now, but I think of her often. She is the one who wrote letters back and forth to me when I was a child, instilling in me a love of the written word and the joy of a letter. In her 80 years in this lifetime, she lost both parents, a brother and sister, two husbands, a child and a grandchild. It seems to be a lot of grief for one lifetime. They say God does not give us more than we can bear, and I know that’s true, but I have always thought Eva must have come into the world a little stronger than most of us.