Our “Aunt Florence” (our Daddy’s cousin) had a wonderful sense of humor. In my mind I can hear her laugh whenever I want, and it always makes me laugh too. She got such a kick out of life, herself, and her surroundings. When she’d had one of her strokes and had a little more trouble speaking and getting around she got a letter calling her to jury duty. She was not pleased. It was something she’d always thought she would enjoy, and she was upset that they’d waited until she couldn’t do it to invite her to participate. I helped her write her letter of response, chastising those who sent the letter for not contacting her much sooner. She reported that she’d been watching “Perry Mason” and other shows for a long times, preparing “just in case.”
Finally Florence had to go to a nursing home. It was a very hard thing to do, but there just wasn’t any way to avoid it. She could no longer take care of herself in her little apartment. We kept the apartment for her for a long time. I stayed there alone several times and missed her so much. It was touching to look around in that small, small space and think of all her adventures – about the long and fascinating life of Florence Sperry.
My mother was like a daughter to Aunt Florence. How they loved and enjoyed each other! Mom would travel to the nursing home at least once a week, usually more often, bathing and feeding Florence and visiting with her. She would take some of Florence’s mother’s diaries and read them to Florence and Peggy during a time when both sisters were in the same facility. She even took two of her St. Bernard dogs for a visit, sneaking them in the back door of the facility! (Mom raised St. Bernards for several years).
Once, when Aunt Florence was 84, she got a letter from a company inviting her to come and see their presentation about condominiums in Park City and Hawaii, telling her she’d receive a free gift – a choice between a beautiful 20-piece set of China or a Homelite XEL chain saw.
How could she NOT respond to this offer?? This is her response (with help from me and my Mom):
Dear Mr. Johnston: I just received your marvelous letter about the unique condominiums that you have in Park City and Hawaii. Living as I do in a nursing home, you can imagine how delighted I’d be to live in Park City or Hawaii instead.
I don’t know how I was lucky enough to get on your mailing list, but what a thrill! One thing I’m very excited about is the Homelite XEL chain saw. It’s just what I need here at the nursing home when we work on crafts. Maybe they’ll let me start coming again when they realize I’ve got such a nice saw; I had to quit going because I wasn’t participating. I’ve missed it. Another thing I need to mention is that when you fly me over to Hawaii I’ll have to go First-class. I’ve had several strokes, and I just can’t seem to hold my legs together anymore, so I’ll need the extra space. Thanks again for thinking of me here in the nursing home. I think that’s great! Owning something for “the rest of my life” (as you put it) sounds terrific since I’m only 84!
We can only imagine what it was like for those who received this letter from Aunt Florence.
Some months after Florence had passed away a letter from IRS arrived saying she hadn’t paid her taxes for 1979.
They said that unless she had reasonable cause for delay, she might be liable for penalties. “If you believe you had reasonable cause for filing late and for paying late, please explain. We have enclosed an envelope for your use. Thank you for your cooperation.”
Well, there was NO WAY we were not going to respond to THIS letter. My mother called the minute she got it. As we worked on the reply (which turned out to be one of our all-time favorite Family Home Evenings), it was as if we could hear Florence’s distinctive, infectious laugh mingled with ours:
Under “I did not file the form because,” we checked the “Business was closed” box. In the “remarks” section we wrote the following:
Yes, business was closed permanently on 9 June, 1980. I’d not had an income for quite some years prior to that because I was in a nursing home. I know this is unusual to be getting a letter from me now that I’m dead, but I didn’t want to mess up your records. I know how important that is to you. It was only with very special permission that I was able to send this note from the Other Side. I must say it’s a lot more fun here where there aren’t any taxes, but despite that I do wish you well in your work. I know a lot of people don’t fully appreciate what you do, but now that I’ve got a new perspective (as they say) I know you work hard. By the way, in case anyone there is interested, everything they say is true – you’ve got to work there for what you get here, if you know what I mean. Tell the guys in the office to get with it. Thanks again for your inquiry and for providing the envelope.
I wish we could have watched when the team at the IRS received this letter.
It’s hard to estimate the impact of this great soul in my life and the life of our family. I spoke at her funeral, trying to capture some of the essence of this unique and wonderful woman. Trying to express thanks for her influence in my life. Trying, if inadequately, to pay tribute to dear, delightful, one-of-a-kind Aunt Florence.