Aunt Irene would have been ready for this


My Aunt Irene would have been ready for COVID-19. In fact, she was always prepared for disaster.

Irene (Yonik) Nemeth was born in Toronto, Ohio, in 1924, the daughter of Czech immigrants. Growing up in the post-Great Depression era left a mark on her and many others of her generation.

They always feared the worst, be it another economic crash or a Russian nuclear attack.

She lived her life of 74 years to the fullest and overcame a lot. She lost her husband to leukemia in the 1970s, and she worked at St. John Hospital in Steubenville in the dietary department.

She learned to drive, though not very far or very fast. She balanced her checkbook and was always prompt —in fact, usually early — for any payment or appointment.

But this pandemic got me to thinking about other parts of her life, like her fully stocked pantry and basement.

She maintained rows and rows of canned goods and jars of peanut butter. Not a couple of them either; I’m talking dozens.

Powdered milk was in abundant supply, along with packages of frozen meat in her freezer.

The same went for laundry detergent. She bought the biggest boxes of Tide I’d ever seen, along with bars of soap, paper products (no toilet paper shortage at her house) and other household items.

I know because I often helped her haul these items into her small brick home. She wasn’t going to run short, even if a pandemic struck.

Aunt Irene feared the worst, like a winter blizzard that would prevent her from getting to the grocery store. She didn’t travel in bad weather. Ever.

So being in a stay-at-home situation would not have bothered her all that much. Actually, she probably would have enjoyed these past several weeks in isolation.

She didn’t venture out as much as she got older. A trip to Pittsburgh took most people 35-40 minutes.

It took Aunt Irene a full two hours, opting for the old two-lane U.S. 22 rather than the new four-lane highway. Cars went too fast on that one.

But being quarantined wouldn’t have been that big of a challenge. She was used to a tough life, being raised with eight siblings and not a lot of money.

Irene was a big lady by any measure. During World War II she was among those women who worked in the local steel mill, a true Rosie the Riveter.

She had an even bigger heart. She worked and took care of a sick husband and later an ailing younger sister, my mom.

Her hearty laugh, her smile and her upbeat approach to life were welcoming. She liked people and she was fond of saying that was from her “years of working in the public” at two hospitals.

She loved a few slices of DiCarlo’s Pizza and a cold Stroh’s Beer or a glass of bourbon on a Friday night. She also loved baking and cooking.

Above all, Aunt Irene loved her family and she was like a second mom to me, even before mine passed away in 1990.

But she didn’t like change all that much. This coronavirus might have rocked her world a bit at first and she may have been frightened.

Somehow though I think she’d have fared better than most. She was equipped with plenty of supplies and a strong resolve.

Like the title character in the movie “Rudy” before he took the field for Notre Dame, she may have uttered: “I’ve been ready for this my whole life.”

By Anthony Conchel

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