Wednesday, December 10, 2008

RIP: Hilma Carto

My dear friend Hilma Carto died this weekend in Bloomington, IL where she lived at the Westminster Village Retirement center, she was 93. The obituary told of her family and her remarkable life, living all over the country working for Western Union many times the first woman to hold the postion she filled. The last line, the writer wished to hear her say "God bless you, honey" one more time. She said that to me a lot as well.

What the obituary didn't say is that Hilma was a scream. She had a sense of humor as sharp as a rapier and dry and bubbly as a fine Verve Cliquot.

I got to know her when she attended my church here in KC. One Sunday, as we prepared to sing a hymn, I handed her a hymnal. ", dear", she said with complete seriousness then looking around and lowering her voice even further, "they pay me not to sing..... there were complaints", as she patted my hand and smiled ever so slyly. I split a gasket over that. At Westminster, she said she was on her best behavior as "I am on probation for a repuation preceeded me." She was concerned once that she would be asked to leave, "there is this issue that everyone that takes the apartment across the hall from me soon dies after moving in" she said with a complete straight face, "they suspect me, but so far the evidence is just circumstantial".

Bloomington is just a short drive from Decatur so when I went to visit my sister, a call or visit to Hilma was in order. I told her on the first visit that we'd like to take her to lunch. "Oh, no, first visit it's my treat. But we can eat here at Westminster. It is nice; we have china, printed menus, waiters...just like at the Ritz! But we only get one fork. Put two forks in front of some these old ladies and they'd starve to death trying to figure out why they had two." She paid for our dinner with her "Bingo Bucks", money won at bingo games to be used at the center. "I wait and see who is playing, some are easier to beat than others. I have amassed a small fortune!"

My last call to Hilma was the only one I hung up from feeling sad. It was just before Thanksgiving, she was tired, not feeling well and I think she really did not know who I was. But it was the one of the best in many ways, as she said "God bless you honey for calling".

Hilma Wilson Carto 9/8/1915-12/7/2008


Anonymous said...

I am the person who wrote the obituary - Hilma's nephew. Don was right, of course - Hilma was a hoot. Her remarkable life couldn't be described in an obituary, perhaps a book might not cover it, too. As my mother, her sister, said to me the day after she died, "Hilma was my sister who was always on the go...always working somewhere interesting and maybe even mysterious." Hilma was a remarkably complex person with a simple aura. Way ahead of her time.

She lived life on her terms, but with a caring about people that was really nothing less than extraordinary. I never heard anyone say an unkind word about her and she was diffident about nearly everyone save politicians with whom she had he differences (she was a self-described "yellow dog Democrat" who would vote for a yellow dog before voting for a Republican.) Hilma will be sorely missed, and as Don mentioned, those of us lucky enough to know her will miss her unique, personal colloquialisms. She used to tell me "Honey, I hate to be so much trouble for you."

Oh how I wish she could be trouble for me just one more time. Hilma died with my wife and I holding her hands, and my three young children ("her children" as she used to frequently remind us)by her side. She died as peacefully as a person can, I think. Even the nurse on duty in the Critical Care area where Hilma spent her last two days in this world commented: "I didn't know Hilma but for just this brief time, but I sense that she was quite a lady." Quite a lady, indeed. A celebration of Hilma's life will be held at the Trinity United Methodist Church ("my church" as she fondly termed it) on Sunday, December 21 at the regular 10 am service. Afterwards, we would very much enjoy hearing others' recollections of Hilma's life.

Tom Mellor
Bloomington, IL

Don said...

Tom, thanks for your comment and for your wonderful obituary of Hilma. I think I met you once when I was up to visit at Bloomington. I look forward to seeing you at her service here.

She never failed to show a picture of your children or tell me about them when she would write or we'd talk. They were indeed "her babies".

I was lucky to know her, she was remarkable, complex and charming. Not many like her anymore.

Take care and my condolences to all her family.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps you can recommend a hymn or two for the service? Thanks Don.


Don said...

Tom, send me an email and we can talk about Hilma's service on the 21st.