September 17, 2008

My Weekly Writing Assignment

I'm really starting to like this Mama Kat lady. Every week I start to worry I've run out of blog fodder. Then her weekly writing assignment pops up and all my worries go away. I have something to blog about!

This week, I've chosen to "...write about a heart that wouldn't quit." It took me all of 3.6 seconds to figure out who housed that heart: my Aunt Joann.

My first memory of her was when I was about five years old and we were in New Jersey for my Uncle Bill's 50th birthday party. She had planned a surprise party and the only thing I remember is her coming out of her bedroom, hair done and HUGE (hey, she lived in New Jersey and it was 1985, it's the perfect recipe for big hair), wearing a Crayola-blue sweater adorned with sequins. Remember folks, it was the '80s. She was the hostess with the mostess and smiling the whole time. I'm pretty sure I got sent to bed directly after the "Surprise!" because it was a grown-up's party and who wants a five-year-old weaving around their legs when they're trying to get their drink on and tell crude jokes?

Aunt Joann was an exceptional woman who had an amazing and exciting life. She was full of stories! She worked for the local police department during my lifetime but when she was young, she was a rollerskating waitress at a drive-in! I didn't discover that until very recently and I think it's awesome. She and Uncle Bill lived and traveled everywhere and managed to have four kids along the way. They settled in New Jersey and really made a terrific life for themselves there.

She was worldly in my eyes and yet the most down-to-earth soul I'd ever known. I could talk to her in a way I could never talk to my mom; she put me at ease and she was that way with everybody. Over the course of about four years, I took one cousin from my dad's family and four different friends with me to visit them in New Jersey and they all came away feeling like part of the family because of Aunt Joann's open-arms demeanor. She was a bright, generous and warm soul that always seemed to have a glow about her. She tried damn hard to never see the negative in anything just to keep people smiling around her; she hated to see people sad or angry.

Aunt Joann passed away in 2001. I was in town that whole week and through the viewings and burial. Second hardest time in my life, hands down. I was dealing with my own loss and at the same time trying to be strong for those around me, like my cousin Bill - with whom I was staying - and his pregnant wife, Debbie. Inside, I was a basket case, but on the outside I stayed as stoic as possible. I did the same thing when I lost my dad. It was easier to shut down and internalize my struggle than burden anyone else with it. She'd have smacked me in the back of the head for it but I also knew she'd understand my reasons.

I never grasped the full scope of her effect on people until the calling hours at the funeral home. Through both sets of calling hours, from start to finish, there was a line out the door of people wishing to pay their respects. Friends, friends of friends, the cashier at the local grocery store, business professionals, former co-workers, neighbors, family from across the country...anybody and everybody she ever came in contact with, it seemed. She talked and welcomed into her circle just about anybody. That's just who she was. She made no apologies for it and even took some good-natured razzing for it but it never slowed her down. She loved hard and loved unfailingly.

Not a day goes by that I don't think of her. I still have all the letters she wrote me during high school and college. We wrote a lot of letters. She didn't have a computer and thus didn't email so snail mail was our thing. When she died, I left a little letter in her casket. It seemed fitting. I wish I had a way to let her know that her effect on me is everlasting: I learned that it's okay to love and it's okay to show your true colors, no matter what people may say. Love who you are and be proud of who you are, but most importantly be happy with who you are.

She is a heart that never quit.


Jo-Jo said...

She sounds like a truly fabulous person to have in your life. How lucky you are!

Mama's Losin' It said...

Awwww, this is a wonderful tribute to your Aunt! She sounds like the kind of lady everyone wants to know.

Princesspeaches said...

I remember going to visit her with you that one time. I don't remember a lot of the details, but I remember having a great time and we went to that place for brunch on Sunday. She was sweet. I also remember Bonnie making come adult remarks about the giant woodchuck in Punxatawny, but that's a whole different story!

Diana said...

it was an awesome trip to new jersey, although the car ride was down right annoying :)

Bill JR said...

Thanks for that Darcie, It's why I love ya, and yes I still miss her everyday,and that she never got to see my son who just turned 7. Bill JR

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