“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.