Remembering Titi Ernie

My aunt’s first name is Ernestina, but I always called her Titi Ernie, a term of endearment I used since I was a small child instead of Tia. She is my mother’s sister, two years younger, the middle daughter of their parents who emigrated to the U.S. from the Portuguese island of Madeira. 

She left us May 31, just months shy of her 99th birthday. That is the photo of her that ran with her obituary.

At her wake Thursday, I shared a few memories, and now I will do that with you.

Titi Ernie was only four feet ten inches tall, so it was always a milestone when my siblings and I were the same height or taller. My own children celebrated that accomplishment.

She and Uncle Louis, and their two sons, Louis and Michael, lived next door to my grandmother Angela, or Avó, their homes separated by a large field that used to contain gardens. We visited them nearly every weekend it seemed, playing with our cousins, mostly Louis for me, since we were only born a month apart. In the summer, we stopped at the ocean-side cottage they owned after spending a full day at the beach.

Titi Ernie was always a gracious and kind person who welcomed us into her home. She remembered us at Christmas and birthdays with cash in a card. Recently, my children, now adults, recalled fondly the pineapple cream puffs she served them, playing on the rocky shoreline of the cottage, and her collection of penguins. I had to remind them to call her Titi Ernie and not Aunt Titi Ernie.

Later in life, when I had moved far away, I tried to visit Titi Ernie when I could, often accompanied by my mother. The sisters were very close.

There is much more I could say about Titi Ernie, but I want to tell you a memory I shared at her wake that no one else knew. I had just graduated from high school and was heading that fall to a state college thanks to the scholarships I received. I was the first of my father’s family to attend college and tied for first with Louis on my mother’s. I was going to major in English because secretly I wanted to be a writer. By the way, neither Titi Ernie or my mother graduated from high school. They were forced to drop out to work in a textile mill or to mind the house so my grandmother could work instead.

That summer, Titi Ernie asked me to tutor my cousin Michael. It was either in French or English, I can’t recall. But I walked to their home or got a ride. I only came a few times. But later that summer, Titi Ernie surprised me with the gift of a new typewriter. I recall it had a light blue plastic cover. The significance of that gift is important because I didn’t have a typewriter to take to college.

I kept that typewriter for many years after I graduated. I even used it when I was a rookie reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, as the correspondent for the hilltown where I lived, Worthington. I wrote my story on that machine then drove it to the newsroom in Northampton for someone else to type into the system. That ended soon when I was given a laptop that transmitted the story via a cord plugged into the phone jack.

I no longer have that typewriter, but I do the memory of that gift and the thoughtfulness of my Titi Ernie.