Hilda J. Backus died last week in her daughter Patricia’s arms, in the house at 34 Pine Street in Vineyard Haven where she lived for 71 years. She was a resident of Tisbury her entire life, growing up in an apartment where the Tisbury police station is now, until she moved to Center Street in 1946. From there it was just a short walk to 34 Pine Street, where she and her husband, Rodman F. Backus, raised a family of four children and started a gardening business and flower shop.
Hilda often talked of an idyllic childhood, fondly reminiscing about going to the beach at Owen Park and sneaking peeks at movies through the open doors at the Capawock Theatre on Main Street, when the exit doors were kept open during the summer because of the heat. Her family did not have much money, but what Hilda and her siblings did have was one another, which turned out to be a wonderful blessing, as they have always remained close.
Hilda was most comfortable around her family and at her house, where from her kitchen table she welcomed visitors and tenants as if they were family. She became a world traveler later in life, following her family wherever their travels took them: Florida, California, Mexico, Guatemala, and India. Above all, Hilda was honest and kind. She could be stern, but never raised her voice. This may seem strange to mention, but she never swore — ever, as attested to by her siblings, and never had a bad thing to say about anyone. This was part of Hilda’s quiet dignity, that she treated everyone with the same care and respect.
I remember one day, as a young man, I sat at her table eating some cookies when she said with excitement, “Look, Roddy, outside, there’s a cardinal!” When I turned my head to look but saw nothing, she filched one of my cookies. When I realized what she had done (and it took me some time to figure it out), I was incredulous. I considered my mother incapable of deceit; this silly practical joke that I remember from 40 years ago was so utterly out of character for my mom, I remember it to this day.
Many people will remember my mom for her Palm Sunday shows at the flower shop in the ’70s, in which she would come up with party themes and have anyone who was willing dress up in what I thought at the time were ridiculous outfits. Mardi Gras, India, and London were some of her themes. I still can’t believe she got me into that beefeater costume. She’ll also be remembered for her card playing — she was a shark at bid whist — and for her freshly made doughnuts, an Island tradition at Halloween that my sister Carol will continue. Her family will always remember her cooking.
My mom scrimped and saved to give her kids everything. Family was her life, for her entire life … whether it was growing up the oldest in a family of eight children, or raising a family of her own. Just before leaving us, Hilda did what she loved, enjoyed some baked scallops, made one last walk around the remnants of her flower shop, and watched with enjoyment as her brother Tom and sisters Flora and Emily got together for one last game of bid whist at her house. She was 91.
Hilda was predeceased by her husband, Rod Backus, whom she loved and adored throughout their marriage. She is survived by her sisters Emily and Flora, and her brothers Manny and Tom; her four children, Carol, Pat, Rhonda, and Rod; and countless other family members and friends who had the pleasure to know her.
I’m especially very grateful to my sister Rhonda, whose love and friendship with my mother gave each of them so much happiness, especially during my mom’s final years. Rhonda is simply the best.
Visiting hours will be held at the Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home in Oak Bluffs on Friday, Sept. 8, from 5 pm to 7 pm. A graveside service will be held at the Oak Grove Cemetery in Tisbury at 11 am on Saturday, Sept. 9. It will be officiated by the Rev. Michael Nagle. A gathering at the American Legion Hall on Martin Road in Tisbury will follow; all are welcome.