Aunt Ellie appears as herself (woman in red) in my Uncle Emel's painting of the Parthenon in Athens
I am reflecting upon the gifts I have received from the past year.
This month, we lost the matriarch of our family, our 97 year old Aunt Ellie. I learned so much from her – about positivity and creativity. I am dedicating this blogpost to her and sharing lessons from a life well-lived! There is much to learn from this personal story!
KEYS TO LIVING A FULL CREATIVE LIFE
(What Ellie's life taught – my take)
Can these habits be learned? We learn through example. Ellie consistently demonstrated good habits and joie de vivre.
1) Be open to new things. Try new foods, visit new places, listen…be a lifelong learner.
2) Listen to many forms of music. Blast Pandora on a new channel. I signed up for a free trial with no advertisements and will probably invest! I’m selecting artists from Ellie and Emel’s collection---today Xavier Cugat and Charles Trenet.
3) Study all forms of art. Try something new. Take a class, read books or watch a YouTube videos…sketch, throw pots, paint, weave… After many years of observing and watching my Uncle Emel create, Ellie drew landscapes, trees, my uncle, objects on shelves, bouquets.
4) Keep asking questions to learn AND to encourage curiosity in young people. Let them comb your hair; take them to the theater! Our children adored her, and we are grateful our daughter-in-love had the opportunity to know her!
5) Suspend judgment – listen to all evidence. Research sources.
6) Be brave! Learn a new skill (such as swimming)—skiing, knitting, playing an instrument – whatever you have avoided, but secretly wish to learn! Overcome your fears.
7) Keep joy in your life—maintain a pragmatic, but cheerful attitude, with gratitude for all you have!
8) Clean out your purse once a week (as Ellie’s elementary teacher taught her). This can be symbolic of many areas of your life—review your workspace, to do list, and life often. Discard trash and keep what is truly important!
YOU MAY BE ENCOURAGING OTHERS MORE THAN YOU REALIZE!
(I hope you see some of your own good habits or some to adopt from Ellie’s life!)
Ellie’s positivity and wisdom teaches much!
Eleanor, whom we have always referred to as Ellie, was synonymous with good cheer, pragmatism and great tips. She lived respect – for others and cultures. I do not remember her without a smile—well only once. At eight years old, I turned on the garden hose (an actual firehose because they lived in a fire-prone canyon) full blast instead of off! She met me at the top of the stairs, drenched with that schoolteacher look, hands on hips!
She was my role model as I grew up – always stylish and up-to-date with current events. In her 80s, she continued emeritus classes.
I could publish one of those posters:
Everything I need to know I learned from Aunt Ellie!
She taught by nurturing and individualizing. Teachers will recognize the name of Madeline Hunter at UCLA, and Ellie was in her innovative program. During the 1960s, she created learning centers which spilled out into the halls. My artist/engineer uncle made workable machines for her first graders to build! She visited British “infant schools” and Japanese schools to study innovative techniques.
Her journalist training instilled her mantra, “Suspend judgment.” She looked objectively at all evidence and intelligently made decisions.
Ellie worked for a short time writing copy for the founder of the Gemological Institute of America. I found some of her typed articles ready for release to the September 1948 Jewelers’ Circular Keystone. At UC Berkeley, she babysat for the legendary Berkeley physicist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and when she applied for teaching positions, his letter of recommendation didn’t hurt!
This smart, modern woman met my uncle in the 1950s. She married my mother’s twin when I was four, and they shared a love of life, cooking, travel and art. As you can see her, she inspired art as well:
Ellie Among the Poppies, Janis Commentz Poppy Fields, Emel Smith Stonehenge, Emel Smith
Ever the encourager, she influenced me from an early age. At six, I wanted to be a teacher as she was (and I taught high school for 35 years).
Ellie made those in her life feel extra special.
She was an excellent cook – brightly colored orange and turquoise jars full of pasta, beans and goodies lined her kitchen. Food and music were important. She loved Mexico and Mexican art – especially Nativity figurines and Oaxacan candle holders. I hope to hook up their hi fi and listen to some of the records in their collection--- a random sampling includes Songs of Charles Trenet (Parisian cabaret), the 15th Annual Topanga Banjo & Fiddle Contest, Japanese Koto Classics, Harry Belafonte, Billie Holiday , Andre Previn, Xavier Cugat, Sounds of the Middle East, Herb Alpert, traditional classics….
She and Emel loved to travel and decided to add a new experience! Traveling with a young child. When our son was four, they proposed a vacation with us. What at a memorable, wonderful trip which included an alligator watching boat ride in Louisiana, visits to antebellum plantations and New Orleans! Expecting our 2nd child, I was just too tired to accompany them to hear jazz at Preservation Hall! Alas!
I paid little attention when Ellie skipped the swimming pools. Soon after they retired, we learned Ellie had never learned to swim. She was determined and signed up for lessons in their new retirement community. She overcame her fear!
As a model retiree, she followed directions. During hip replacement, she followed all therapy instructions and had the other hip replaced the next year. She wanted to continue her walks! Although not a pet owner – she noticed how canine friends wanted to speak and was certain they had their own well-developed language.
Of her many treasures, one of the most intriguing is her sketchbook from 2003-14 which she began in her 80’s. Her beloved emeritus instructor, Collette, created new classes each semester. Ellie’s notebook contains trees, people, items on the shelf, a list of the many species of trees in their community, and a section of detailed objects entitled “Things I saw”… an Indian grinding stone, the breakwater at Dana Point, sailboats and women wearing hats….
She and Emel organized senior art field trips. Ellie spent 20 years as a “living history” Victorian schoolteacher at Heritage Hill Historical Park in Lake Forest, CA always answering questions from young people with that sparkle in her eyes and asking questions to them thinking! She was delighted when our son and his bride chose to be married at Heritage Hill State Park in Lake Forest, CA; she kept pinching herself!
Aunt Eleanor was ever-cheerful throughout her long life! A good friend of mine described her as always adorable and animated! She encouraged me to make the most of each day, to travel and do as much as I can while I can. When I painted, she exclaimed that my uncle would be so pleased.
During my youth, Ellie’s other nieces and nephews lived across the US, and I had her “all to myself” on holidays. However, I know she made each of us feel as if we were all very special!
Emel and Eleanor
Note: The last 15 months have challenged us! This month I encourage you to learn from the isolation and I wish you a cautious, but joyous June reopening!
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