This is Aida.
I discovered her in my 20’s when I was working on my family tree. She was my grandfather’s sister. I had heard a little about her during my childhood. She had died young, in her early twenties, and by the time I was that age, and found myself looking at a photograph of her, I couldn’t stop thinking about her legacy.
She had never married or had children. Who, I wondered, would remember her? Who would keep her memory alive?
Even at that young age, I remember fearing such a fate. If you are a woman who doesn’t have children, who will remember you? Who are you and what does your life mean if you leave no descendants, or if your descendants leave this earth before you do?
And twenty years later, I find myself facing those very same questions all over again, as a woman who did not have children (by circumstance, not by choice).
Even in my youth, I recognized how important it is to remember the women who came before us. But now I realize why. Our ancestors, mothers or not, leave an impact on their family members – cousins, sisters, nieces. Aida might not have had her own children, and might have died long before I ever had the chance to know her, but as my grand-aunt, she is still part of my DNA. And it’s important to me to remember her and share her story.
Like me, she was the eldest of four children (though unlike her, I have two older half-siblings, as well). Also similar to my family, the older two children were girls, the younger two, boys. Aida, my grandfather, and their siblings were born in Copenhagen, Denmark. They spoke Danish and English, and a smattering of French and Latin. All four of the siblings were fierce kayakers. They loved to be in the water. They came from a long line of Scandinavian intellects, philosophers, and craftsmen.
That is, I’m sorry to say, most of what I know of Aida. My grandfather didn’t share much about his family when I was little – and I was probably too young to have appreciated (or retained) what he did tell me. Any other information I have beyond this is based only on my intuition. I have a feeling Aida was a bit of a loner – perhaps her health problems set her apart from others. I believe she loved her siblings, and most especially, her sister, but that she never felt like she truly belonged. And most of all, I believe she loved life, and didn’t want to leave it so soon. I suspect it pained her, in the end, to face leaving her family, knowing they would go on to live full lives while she would never realize her dreams.
Aida was the only one in the family who never left Denmark. She was buried there. Soon after her death, the entire family – Grandpa, his remaining siblings, and his parents – gave up their lives in Denmark and immigrated to New York. None of them, to my knowledge, ever returned to their homeland.
What happened to Aida seems so brutally unfair - to die so young, without the chance to experience love, motherhood, life. I have an especially deep compassion for women who have lost the chance at motherhood – in any way that might have happened. For some, it might be the death of their child. For others, infertility or other circumstances. And for some, like Aida, it might be their own early death.
It’s so important to tell the stories of the unheard women. We don’t have the voices of our daughters to echo our story to the world. But these stories need to be told. We need to be remembered, too.
To that end, I dedicated The Fox at the Door to two of my "great-aunts": Grand-aunt Aida, and Great-grand-aunt, Ruth. I will be the daughter they did not have, making sure their legacy lives on. I will share their story, and even join hands with them, as a fellow childless woman.
Now it’s your turn. Please leave a comment sharing the story of a childless relative (or friend) that you want the world to remember.