Ellie Mae passed away this Tuesday evening, eyes wide-open and glassy, breathing labored and rattling with lung-filling liquids. Her obvious physical distress affected her ability to recognize and acknowledge those present. She was only middle-aged, otherwise-healthy, and the sudden downturn in her condition was a surprise. Medication had seemed to control the symptoms of the recently-diagnosed heart disease, with the expectation that she would have many more years. Thus, her rapid deterioration was a surprise.
Insofar as a death can be said to be good, hers qualified: she died with loved ones holding her gaze and stroking her head.
Ellie Mae came without a family history. Her mother was a runaway and had had her outside wedlock, her father’s identity unknown (and unknowable). It is not a surprise that she and her siblings were placed for adoption. She was not the first to find a family and came close to being the last. Even at that early age, her temperament was unique and already marching to the beat of a different drummer. While others in her position would have yearned for more contact with others, Ellie Mae rarely sought it, and then only on her terms.
Over the years, this standoffish behavior affected her ability to connect with others and the size of her social circle. While one would expect adoptees to be endearing as a matter of self-preservation, Ellie Mae did not compromise, even with family members. Her tolerance of their affection and attention was limited in degree and duration. She was notorious for strolling off in mid-interaction, forcing others to eventually accept her behavior, not as rudeness, but a part of her as outside her control as her natural color. Aloofness and apartness, except on her terms, became her trademarks. This, combined with hot-tempered outbursts towards those too desiring of her acquaintance, made many give her a wide-berth at social gatherings. While she truly never harmed another, it was not for lack of striking out at those who invaded her personal space for too long. Her rebukes were loud and obvious, as she was not afraid to make a scene and mortify her family.
Ellie Mae’s eccentric behavior only increased as years passed. Her fixation with others’ hair-dos was well-known, and while some found it endearing and harmless, others were appalled by her often-intrusive and inappropriate play with their hair. Although gifted with a fine fur-coat, which she wore in all seasons and weathers, she nevertheless coveted Aunt Dot’s cloth coat and never failed to swaddle in it in an embarrassing fashion.
However, in all other ways, Ellie Mae was not vain. She never owned – or wore – any jewelry, particularly detesting anything around her neck. While she was well-groomed, she preferred to do it herself and did not appreciate being fussed over. To my knowledge, she never set foot inside a salon during her entire life. Mascara, eye-liners, powders, creams, and lip-treatments were not her in her vocabulary. She took pride in natural, cosmetic-free looks, which was appreciated by those who saw her. Her lack of vanity also extended to her figure, as she was not at all self-conscious about the clearly visible excess skin folds from a surgical procedure.
Ellie Mae’s hobbies reflected her home-bound life. Some suggest that she suffered from agoraphobia and was afraid both of the outdoors and of open spaces, but that is a subject for debate. Contemplating nature from indoors – particularly birds, rabbits, squirrels, and deer who often came up to the windows she favored – was one of her favorite activities. While she admired birds and pointed them out with great excitement, she could never learn their names, though their chirping always sustained her attention. Her few ventures outdoors were occasions of great apprehension, as she was often confused wandering about outside. On one occasion, she walked across the winter-cover of the swimming pool, which, to everyone’s relief, sustained her weight.
In her middle years, Ellie Mae took up hunting, with surprising skill and results. Though her trophies were never mounted, the stories about her prowess will live on among those who knew her. Mostly, she marched to that same different drummer her entire life, never doing something just to please others, but always being true to herself.
Yet, despite her lack of interest and efforts – and perhaps because her few overtures were so child-like, unexpected, and endearing – she won the hearts of a few, and those few loved her unreservedly and cared for her. Winning her affection was not for the impatient and thus, when won, justifiably prized and valued. It is a regrettable and sorrowful part of her legacy that few were able to and, thus, never experienced how trusting and loving she could be. She will be missed but live on in their memories.