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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, April 13, 2024
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'Aunt Blanche' Remembered

Blanche Mary Joseph Sasso, my maternal great-aunt, will be 100 years old on Sept. 15. I spoke with her earlier this week and after she again told me how proud she was of me, and how much she loved me (she is a great person to call when you are feeling down), she then lamented that she was feeling so sad and worried.
With a worry in the back of my head I asked why. Aunt Blanche said she was sad because she hated the thought of leaving this world the way it was for us "children." She said the high rise in crime was what made her feel this way. She reminded me of a simpler life, not too far back, that we all enjoyed in the Virgin Islands and many other places.
It may sound really peculiar to many readers that Aunt Blanche, at 99, less than a week or so before her 100th birthday, could be worried about the future of those younger than she. This is one of her many character traits that has endeared her to her family and the scores of children, now adults, who enjoyed, and sometimes suffered, strong disciplinary measures under her tutelage of more than 50 years' experience as a school teacher, both in her own private school and the public schools on St. Croix and St. Thomas, and lastly, but more recently, at the Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School.
No, Aunt Blanche did not attend college, though she did earn a teacher's license many years ago, but I bet that she could hold her own today against many of our better educated elementary education teachers.
During her tenure of teaching kindergarten, first and second grades, she was named Teacher of the Year more than once.
She has been honored over the years by organizations too numerous to mention. Some that come to mind are: the Catholic Daughters of America- VI, the Legislature (Resolution 1375) on her 90th birthday, Gov. Alexander Farrelly, the Catholic Diocese, sororities and civic and community organizations.
Aunt Blanche has lived history as we know it in the Virgin Islands. She was 17 years old and can vividly remember Transfer Day in 1917, when Denmark officially turned "us" over to the United States.
One of her more treasured memories is that she hand-embroidered, along with her sister, my grandmother, Grace Joseph Sparks, the first flag ever of the U.S. Virgin Islands, which was designed by her late brother-in-law, P.W. Sparks, a Naval officer. His superior, Rear Adm. Kitelle, commissioned the design for the flag, they tell me. This piece of history was entered into the Congressional Record in Washington, D.C., on April 30th, 1986, vol.132, No.56, by the congressional delegate, Ron de Lugo.
On a more personal note, family oral history recounts how when my grandmother could not support her five daughters with employment in St. Thomas, she had to leave for New York where she eventually found work and, in the tradition of many mothers before and after her, sent home money to make sure her children had their needs addressed.
I am told that those were hard times, but my mother frequently tells me she did not realize they were so poor because everyone else was poor at the time.
Remember, she assumed this additional responsibility during the days of: the coal pot for cooking, the "goose" for ironing, ice from the ice plant to chill your ice box, no telephones, cruise ships, etc.. There were no food stamps or social programs to ease the hard times. Perhaps this helped to strengthen Aunt Blanche to live 'til 100.
Aunt Blanche figured prominently in their lives, my mother said. She, along with my great-grandparents, lived in one house and shared the responsibility for the care, love, nurturing and guidance all children need. Up to this day my mother and her sisters regard her as their second mother.
I imagine that assuming such great responsibility could not have been easy for a young single woman and it must have taken great personal sacrifice; but Aunt Blanche never complained or begrudged them anything.
As a matter of fact, as a young child she never begrudged me anything either. She was always there when I disagreed with my parents or the world in general, as we so often do in our earlier years. She always made me feel whole again and certainly was adept at putting things in perspective; she would have been a great psychiatrist.
I must add that you might not always have liked her advice, for she had, and continues to have, an uncanny knack for cutting through the fluff and bringing you sharply back into the world of reality. As a footnote, Aunt Blanche is still mentally alert, still full of laughter and still quite able to throw in an acerbic word or two at just the right moment, when the situation warrants it.
I now look at the generations coming after her; I look at the busy lives that we lead, and I wonder who in succeeding generations will take the place of Chief Oral Family Historian? Who among us will be the one to say with that shining love and twinkle in those eyes of hers, that you are wrong (could be said very forcefully, but without intent to hurt) or you are right, and who will say who should do what and when should they do it to remedy a situation?
Are people made like her anymore? Are we, who were brought up in softer times, capable of her inherent wisdom and unwavering love? Would I be capable of "taking in" five children of a sibling and changing my lifestyle drastically?
I don't know, but I do hope that more potential Aunt Blanches are born into our family and others in years to come. More like her would assuredly make this world a more gracious, kinder and loving one.
Aunt Blanche, happy 100th birthday with love from all of us. We hope you enjoy all the activities, parties, mass and visitors coming to share this special occasion with you.
Editor's note: Catherine Lockhart-Mills, a former Human Services commissioner, has a master's degree in social work and writes periodic commentaries for the Source.

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