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When Someone You Love Turns 100

By Emily-Jane Hills Orford

Emily Jane Hills Orford Aunt Peg “You have a letter in the mail,” Mom announced when I walked in the door at the end of another long day at school. “Who’s it from?” I called out as I quickly grabbed a cookie off the cooling rack. Mom made the best cookies and it was a treat to come home and find some hot and chewy, fresh from the oven. “Aunt Peg,” came the response. Mom walked into the kitchen and handed me the letter. Aunt Peg (Emily Harpham Goodman) is my godmother, an honored role she undertook with passion and excitement. She was (and still is) like a second mother to me in so many ways. She was my mother’s best friend and, over the years, she became mine as well. Aunt Peg lived in Toronto. We had moved a couple times over the years, first to Hamilton and finally to London. Aunt Peg kept in touch, sending letters and gifts at Christmas and on birthdays. We visited her when going to Toronto and she came to visit us as well.

I opened the letter and pulled out the now familiar script. I had started to learn cursive writing and was struggling valiantly to not only write in cursive, but to read it as well. With Aunt Peg’s letter, I gave up after the first line. Her eloquent script was more like stylish hieroglyphics, a work of art, pretty in their scroll across the page, but often difficult to decipher. Even Mom struggled as she took the letter from me and started to read.

“Dear Emily,” it began with the proper greeting. “I expect you are looking forward to the summer break. I know I am. We plan to take a trip to Buffalo soon to visit my family. It is a little out of the way to drop in and see you in London, but we have the whole summer ahead of us and we can make a lovely detour. Tell your mother to expect us on July 7th. We will arrive in time for dinner and stay overnight at the Holiday Inn. We can have a nice long visit then. Looking forward to seeing how much you have grown.”

Mom was thrilled to hear that her best friend was coming for a visit. And bringing her family along. Aunt Peg’s two boys were much older than me and preferred spending time with my older brothers. But a visit with my godmother was always fun.

I couldn’t wait to tell her I had finished reading “Emily of New Moon”. I shared a lot of things with my godmother, including our given names, Emily, even though my godmother insisted on being called Aunt Peg. Mom and Aunt Peg had explained it to me, but I didn’t catch on to the reasoning. I thought it would be nicer to call my godmother, Aunt Emily.

Aunt Peg gave me the most interesting books as Christmas gifts and birthday gifts. Quite often the book had a common theme: Emily. This one was a Christmas gift. Inscribed in the front, in her elaborately floral script, she had written, “To my god-daughter, Emily-Jane, Christmas 1966, Love Aunt Peg (also an Emily J)”. Montgomery’s book was a little old for me yet (I was only 10), but I valiantly read through it, fascinated to have a story whose main character was also an Emily. I had always been the only Emily at school, whereas my classes were full of Jane’s and Susan’s and Mary’s. But only one Emily. Me.

A thought flashed through my mind. Looking at Mom intently, I asked, “Isn’t that Aunt Peg’s birthday?” I seemed to recall her birthday was in the summer. And the number ‘7’ rang a bell. Mom chuckled softly. “No, dear,” she answered. “You have a good memory. It is the 7th, but in August, not July.” “Oh!”

It was a date I would remember for many years to come. And this year, 2019, we celebrate a very special birthday. Aunt Peg turns 100, a milestone worthy of a grand party. We all know how much she loves a good party, one with family and friends around her and tea and cakes. And a party she’ll have.

My memories of Aunt Peg go a long way back. Special visits where I was the centre of attention. I enjoyed sharing tea parties with Aunt Peg and making applesauce and other goodies with her. Letters we exchanged when we were too far apart to visit and the wonderful books we both enjoyed, always a grand topic of conversation. Of the many gifts Aunt Peg gave me over the years, I think it’s love of writing (especially letters) and her love of reading that I have cherished the most.

Happy 100th birthday, Aunt Peg.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford has published several books, creative nonfiction stories mostly about her family. Growing up in Toronto, then Hamilton and finally London, Emily-Jane has lots of family stories to warm the heart. In her most recent novel, “Mrs. Murray’s Ghost: A Piccadilly Street Story” and the recently released “Mrs. Murray’s Hidden Treasure: A Piccadilly Street Story Book 2”, the author returns to her roots and the fond memories and dreams, growing up in a haunted old Victorian mansion in London. For more information about the author, check out her website at: http://emilyjanebooks.ca