The more the merrier at heaven’s gate

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There are special people who walk this earth with such grace and presence, joy and laughter, it is very hard to imagine how the world will keep on spinning without them. My aunt Dee Steigerwalt was such a person.
Large parties. When I was a kid, I thought Aunt Dee had invented the phrase “the more the merrier” because it certainly was her motto. If a family picnic could be scheduled on the spur of the moment and out-of-town friends were visiting, Aunt Dee insisted they come along. “Hey, the more the merrier!” Aunt Dee would say with a smile, and she meant it.
Aunt Dee and Uncle Howard’s farm had grown into a beautiful private campground over the years. A pond was dug in the years before my memory could hold it, so to me it was always there, always welcoming us to swim, dive, fish, boat or raft.
There are some people who manage to make every big event look effortless. Aunt Dee was one of those people. Hosting our large, extended family, I now realize, was a huge undertaking, requiring days of mowing and trimming and food preparation. But at a glance, it appeared that Dee and Howard would set up the volleyball net, get a nice bonfire going, and everything else just seemed to fall into place.
Fire, food and fun. We invented so many great culinary delights over those bonfires! Aunt Dee would pull out the long-handled pie irons and say, “What do you want to try this time – something sweet or something spicy?” She would gather up the required ingredients and set us free to create whatever our little hearts desired. Stories were shared around that campfire, long into those summer nights.
Cousins clamored to spend the night at Aunt Dee and Uncle Howard’s, because it was better than any vacation spot in the free world. As long as I live, I will recall Dee’s wonderful homemade butter on toast as a delicacy to be treasured, and I remember when Dee’s freshly-made sugar doughnuts melted in our mouths as we wiped the sleep from our eyes.
We were blessed to have been born in to such a family, doubly blessed to have been made to feel so welcome. No matter how long we stayed, Aunt Dee would say, “What? You’re leaving? Nah, stay a little longer!”
Givers. There are realizations that strike a person as the years go by. What I realize now is that my aunt and uncle were an incredible loving team who accomplished great things, quietly. They raised a wonderful family, four who were born to them, as well as two more little ones – sisters who needed a loving home.
That would have been a full plate for most people, but Dee and Howard continued to reach out to others in hundreds of ways. Every single person who had the great fortune to know this couple felt embraced by them.
At my aunt’s memorial service this past week, it was said that if we could gather and talk for 40 days and 40 nights endlessly about her charitable works, there still would not be enough time to tell all Dee had done for others.
She believed she lived a blessed life, and wanted to do all she could to offer that same gift to others. For all her 75 years, she gave endlessly to others, always with a smile and an open heart.
Heavenly hostess. To quote from one of my aunt’s favorite poems, she just got a head start on heaven. I feel certain Dee will be there at heaven’s door, welcoming those she loved as eternity unfolds.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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