Her name was Irma Lois. (first name pronounced “Ima”) She was born on December 10, 1929 in southeast Texas, the second child of my maternal grandparents. I never saw a photograph of her; no stories were told about her; she was merely mentioned in passing, often by name, always using both given names, but sometimes referred to simply as “the baby.”
Sometimes I tried to picture her in my mind as the baby she was, to imagine her laughing, crawling, playing, but mostly I pictured her as the adult aunt she might have been. Of course, in my childish imagination she was prettier, smarter and more fun than her surviving sisters – the perfect aunt. I don’t want to give the impression that I was obsessed with her or even that I thought about her very often. She was just one of many relatives that I never met but she sparked my curiosity perhaps a bit more than the others.
My grandmother died in the summer of 1976. I was 18. She had lived the last decade of her life in the home of her youngest sister. All her worldly possessions were crammed into her tiny bedroom. I get my pack rat tendencies from her. She saved everything. After the funeral her children and sister spent hours going through all her stuff. Grandchildren, even grandchildren who thought they were no longer children, were expected to keep quiet and stay out of the way so I lurked near the doorway trying to be as unobtrusive as possible.
There were two large trunks which were stuffed full of mementos, including postcards, old books, handwritten journals, newspaper clippings, a few items of children’s clothing from the 1930s and 40s and other small odds and ends from a life of nearly 70 years. Near the bottom of one of the trunks a single page from an old calendar was found – one of those old pulp pages with blue and red print from a feedstore calendar, yellowing and fragile. It was the page for December 1929. There were two dates marked on it. On the 10th, “Irma Lois born” and later on the same page – I can’t remember the date but I think it was after Christmas – “Irma Lois died”.
I was surprised to discover that she lived for less than a month. She never crawled, never played, never even smiled. It also struck me at that moment how these little ones who live only a short time continue to be an important part of the lives of their families. Little Irma Lois’s time in the world was brief but she lived on in the memories of the few who knew her and even in the imagination of some who did not. And now she will live on a little longer on this modern wonder we call the Internet.