A Tribute to Auntie Eleanor

Recently for bedtime stories I’ve been reading my treasury of Paddington bear stories aloud to the kids. This book was given to me in 1988 by Auntie Eleanor (Shulz) who lived at the end of our village in Hong Kong. She was a widow – a missionary like my parents and our nearest Western neighbor.

On the long days of summer, when school was out and time was for wasting, I would ride my bike up and down the long driveway in front of all the village houses. After tiring of that I might hike up the mountain behind our house – at the end of the row of houses was a small pathway that led to no-where, but you could take it and blaze your own trail. I would sometimes hike up far enough to get to a little stream where we might catch brine shrimp or tadpoles. On other occasions, if I didn’t feel like hiking up so far, I’d just take a left before starting the mountain path and wander up the steps to Auntie Eleanor’s house. She had a nice courtyard and further steps up her side of the mountain and we’d often go up there hunting for stray dogs that might have a litter of puppies to capture (we got some on more than one occasion, only to have my parents firmly take them to the R.S.P.C.A – much to our great sorrow)! If it was particularly hot, I might not feel like wandering into the mountains, but being thirsty, I might putter around outside until Auntie Eleanor knew I was there and she’d inevitably invite me in for some lemonade and cookies.

She was always very chatty. And I happened to be of like mind – speaking my mind no matter what was on it. (Not much has changed in that regard)! At 9 or 10 years old, not a lot was on my mind, but aimless wonderings and wanderings. Sometimes I’d be upset about something or other and tell her my frustration. She’d listen and then tell me something inconsequential – I think I always left her presence in a better mood – which could also have something to do with the lemonade.

She introduced me to the concept of ‘elevenses’ since it often seemed to be around 11 a.m. that I showed up. She would say, ‘Oh, you’re just in time for elevenses, why don’t you come and sit with me for some cookies and lemonade.’ I don’t think I ever refused. I didn’t know what elevenses were, and she showed me her Paddington book. I wasn’t much for reading at that point. So I took her word for it. Later that year however, I think for Christmas or my birthday (which are around the same time) she gave me my Paddington treasury – 5 books in one – and the fattest book I owned. I took an interest in it, and eventually read it. I would read it alone and then tell her all about the adventures Paddington had. Our elevenses weren’t spiritual in nature. They weren’t formal. They weren’t driven by any agenda. They were built on friendship – pure pleasure and enjoyment and the sharing of simple things.

Tomorrow Caleb turns 10 years old. I don’t think he has a particular ‘Auntie Eleanor’ figure in his life. I am a bit sad about this, so if any of you feel so led, you can invite him for elevenses and share cookies and lemonade with him.

I was a bit of a mis-fit in my youth. Okay, not just in my youth – in most of my life. I have random weird quirks, and often rough edges that just make me stick out like a sore thumb. I’ve had to work at learning social cues, because, to be honest, I just don’t appreciate most of them! Being married to an engineer has helped a lot – helped me to see how obnoxious I can be. (For example, I talk too much – in case you hadn’t guessed – and I just figured that was okay, since I do have a lot to say – but Sam has often helped me see how this is not only a social faux pas, but also a selfish way to conduct myself, dominating conversation and such. A hard thing to learn and something I still struggle with! So bear with me, dear friends…)

I explain this because no matter who we are and how we fit or don’t fit, we all need a friend – an elevenses partner who won’t just push us or ‘help’ us or better us – but someone who will just sit and enjoy lemonade and cookies with us. We need people of different generations to be with, to invite us in – even when unexpected. We need not only to have these people in our lives, but we need to be them. I hope someone will be that for Caleb. I am so glad that I had a friend in Auntie Eleanor.

She graduated to heaven a few years ago. I didn’t keep up with her, but found out through an article in the Missions magazine. She held a special place in my heart and was a great sounding board for me for a few years in my childhood. Children today need these kind of friends. They need to enjoy the simple things of life and they need true companions who are not of their generation. Will you seek to be that kind of friend for a kid you know? I hope so.

And get them to read Paddington too.


  1. Hi Sarah,
    Thank you SO much for this excellent article! The message of it, is something I really need to heed! I've often wished I could be what I thought of as a "cookies and milk" mom, but as a Homeschooling Mom, with all sorts of other "stuff" happening, that seemed to seldom be within my reach. I think it was much more available than I realized... I also realize that I hurt my husband and my children by not being more of an "Auntie Eleanor" to them! As you said, everyone does need to have an "Auntie Eleanor," and my guess is that we could all be much more of "Auntie Eleanor's to one another!

    You are a talented, interesting writer! And, your humble authenticity brings an excellent and very helpful dimension to your writing also! Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Thanks so much for the encouragement! I needed that!

  3. Thanks for writing this :) "Auntie Eleanor" was my Grandma, so it's sweet to hear about how she impacted you :) Carol Carmean


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