Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass- it is about learning to dance in the rain.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Aunt Lois
Memories larger than life

“I think Target is open until Midnight tonight.” she’d tell me after a long day of shopping. “They have fabric on sale there that I really need.”

So without letting her know how tired I was, how much my feet hurt or what little energy I had left, I’d follow the tiny little lady out the door. I’d help her in the car and drive to the Target.

She was a short lady who liked to tell the world that she was five feet tall, but in reality she was four feet eleven and a half inches tall. Her strength and energy belied her small stature. At seventy-five years old, she could out-shop me, thirty years her junior. She was still an accomplished seamstress. At well past fifty years old, she started making wedding cakes, professional styled ones that always tasted as good as they looked.

Her idiosyncrasies were larger than life. She obsessed about disaster. Every storm was a tornado coming to carry us all off. She regaled us with stories of the tornado in her home town that had leveled several square blocks of the town. She said she was seven at the time and would never forget the rumbling roar of the storm.

Every news story of injury, death or rape would surely happen to us next. Her driving was overly cautious and erratic. As kids we would deliberately startle her by yelling, “Look Out! The wheels are turning!” Invariable she would give a satisfying shriek.

“What? What?” To which we’d giggle while she lectured us about the dangers of such behavior.

She had a system of locks for the sliding glass doors that included a one by four in the slide, a broom stick diagonally across the door, and a bucket of nuts and bolts as an alarm in addition to the usual lock that comes standard on the door. Any item in the newspaper about disaster would add an additional fifteen minutes to her nightly security routine, as she carefully checked each door and window.

Every ache and pain was a symptom of a deadly disease. For as long as I can remember she has taken a complicated combination of pills at varying times of day. Her pills were laid out in plastic boxes labeled by the day and the hour. Sometimes the adults wondered out loud if some of the medication was “sugar pills” given by a long-suffering doctor. For patients like my Aunty the truth in pharmaceutical laws became a detriment to health. She had to be over medicated once the law mandated that the doctors actually give her the medication required for her latest “ailment.”

Yet, she was as devoted to church, community and family as she was primed for disaster. Every church dinner, she baked and cooked with the best of them. Her culinary triumphs included a fruit punch with a frozen pineapple ring, hors d’oeuvres that rivaled the Hyatt and decorated cakes that sported flowing fountains and a myriad of flowers both real and sugared.

She participated in the church music program until well into her sixties. The position of church pianist was wrested from her by a bout of illness resulting in hospitalization. She never quite recovered her dignity from the fall from prominence. It left her feeling, and acting, old.

For years, she cared for a multitude of family and family-connected people. Her three half-brothers, who were of the same generation as her children, all lived with her at one time or another. Both my sister and I resided there for more than a year at different times. Friends of her children came and went at various hours of the day and night. All were fed and cleaned up after. Occasionally conscientiousness would hit us, and we’d pitch in and help, but for the most part she managed the household single-handedly.

For my wedding, she provided the reception. That meant decorating, food, and serving. For months she hoarded cans of fruit, fruit juice, boxes of cake mix and other staples that would be used to feed sandwiches, salads, punch and cake to two hundred people. She recruited family and church members to help serve, provided frilly little aprons and carted china from her house to provide for the guests. At this point she wasn’t yet into baking wedding cakes, so it was purchased from a friend and delivered. All of this activity was juxtapositioned against a background of rumbling about physical complaints and predictions of impending disaster.

For me, Aunt Lois partially filled the void left by my mom who died when I was thirteen. All of those girl things, like buying cologne and jewelry, finding special dresses and getting ready to go to camp, Aunt Lois did for me. She was my mom’s only sister and did her best to be a mother to my sister and I. A few years ago we said our last goodbye. I hope she realized just how important she was in my life.


His Girl said...

lovely, lovely tribute!

Sing4joy said...

Thanks for the encouraging comments on my blog! And thank you for sharing Aunt Lois with me. I feel like I know her!

My Kid's Mom said...

We share a similarity in that my mom died when I was 14. I, too, have been blessed by a "second mom", who by the grace of God is sitll alive at the age of 84. This was a beautiful tribute to your aunt/mom.

MommytoJonah&Jude said...

Aunt Phyll, I found myself laughing all the way through that great description of Grandma. I too remember the little pill boxes that helped her organize all the medications, the "alarm system" - which was passed down to my dad when we still had sliding doors, and the trips to the store. I'm afraid I have inherited many of these humorous qualities. For I too have been heard saying, "I think Target is open until midnight!" and if it isn't, WalMart is always open! What would she have done with a 24 hour WalMart! I love to organize things into containers and I've been called "Little Lois" more times than I can count.

I miss her so much still. I will never forget her Christmas stockings. She never was skimpy on Christmas gifts..they were exactly what we wanted, but her stockings were what I always looked forward to. They were filled with little surprises like cherry chapstick or Blistex, pencils, little notepads, travel sized tissues, and other things. I was also a recipient of many of her Clinique samples. She was such a frequent visitor to the Dillard's cosmetic counters that they knew her by name and she always had samples overflowing from the little travel bags they gave away with purchase. She loved to contribute, be a part, and served so many. She sewed beautiful matching dresses for Julia and Tosha and I that rivaled anything from Strausberg.

Thank you for this post. I needed those sweet memories today. :)

truth said...

Ah, what a special sharing of your aunt. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose my mom so young. So glad you had someone to fill the gap, someone with so much spunk. Even if she did have lots of scare in her.

PJ said...

Isn't it terrific, that after we were married, grown up, (and I moved away), she kept extending herself to the next generation.

And Jen, I'm often accused of being like her as well. My over-stuffed pantry, the organizers under the bathroom sink that still manage to overflow, the myriad bottles of cosmetic "stuff".

Oh yeah, and my shoe collect rivals hers too!!! LOL

Bob even gets in on the act. "What are you doing," I ask. "I'm Aunt Lois putzing," he'll say. (The correct word is puttering.)

Remember how she used to sort of wander through the house and do this and that: put something away, straighten a picture, touch a knick knack, just puttering.

Ann said...

What a precious tribute,PJ!

Still Learning said...

I would have loved Aunt Lois!!! Thanks for sharing.

P.s My mom was "5 feet tall" too ...actually 4'11.25" on a good day.

My maiden initals are husband use to call me that..I miss it-- have to let him know.
Blessings on your day,

Still Learning said...
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Still Learning said...
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Still Learning said...

Sorry, Blogger posted the comment 3 times :-)

Becky said...

She sounds like a very lovely woman...someone I would have loved to have known.

That was a very sweet tribute to her, and I'm sure by the kind of relationship you had with her that she did, in fact, know how much she meant to you. I love that you would tease her, and she'd shriek, lol. She must've had a great sense of humor.

Linda said...

OH, PJ, what a lovely tribute! I almost choked up when i read how early you lost your mother and how your aunt stepped in and tried to be there for you. It seems there aren't many such people in the world any more. Thank you for sharing such a well-written memorial to her.

Linda said...

What a fine tribute to a fine lady! It is hard to come to this stage in life where we lose people. Thank you for sharing her with us.

MommytoJonah&Jude said...

LOL! She did do that so much and I can just hear Grandpa saying "Come on Lois!..we're going to be late!" and she would mumble under her breath as she took her time getting to the car. Putzing or puttering, she did it!

I would LOVE to read any book you would write. I really enjoy your stories about growing up and such; partly because it involves relatives that I knew, and some that I didn't ever get to know. You could write a "Bits and Pieces" book..a compilation of stories, some taken from your blog; about your life and experiences. You've lived such an interesting life thus far anyway! From southeastern Missouri to California to Equador and back! (I'm sure I missed some place in there.)

Anonymous said...

Phyllis, Kim sent me your blog and I have enjoyed reading all about your journey and of course Lois's . We spent some awesome times together with her and Gene and I remember helping with those beautiful cakes she made. She would call me and say Shirley come help me make flowers or make up the icing and so I'd go and she would always have something delicous to eat afterwards so she would ask Jim to come up too.
The camping trips were always fun. Some good and some not so good. LOL.
Love you and your family.
God Bless and we are praying for you. Shirley

PJ said...

Shirley, how great to hear from you. Click on my profile where it says "email me" and send me your email...I'd love to correspond! Or just comment from time to time!!

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