An Elvis song came on the radio a few days ago.
"Aunt Jeanne saw Elvis in concert once", I told my kids.
"Yes, you tell us that every time you hear an Elvis song", they bemoaned.
"Well, did I ever tell you that she also had a major crush on Tom Jones?"
"Tom Jones! Come on! You know, what's new pussy cat whoah, whoah, whoooah-oh!"
Now I've got them...
"What else did Aunt Jeanne like?!"
And the stories begin.
About my favorite Aunt.
My mom's oldest sister.
Who helped open my eyes and heart to musical theater.
Who fed my love of dance with live performances of Swan Lake and Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.
Who my daughter Zoe and I inherited the strange habit of hair twirling from.
She had the largest collection of return address labels and stickers from all of the subscriptions she had and from the charities she supported.
I think she had lifetime subscriptions to Readers Digest because if they sent a bill, she paid it.
Over and over and over again.
And there was never a bigger donor to the Cherokee National Youth Choir than that lady from Central Illinois.
She was a voracious reader.
Who, I swear on my still beating heart, read 7 books a week.
Cheesy romance novels about pioneer women and men with dusty chaps who hadn't shaved or showered in 4 years.
My Aunt Jeanne.
A woman who never married.
Who never had children of her own.
But who had a deep yearning to be with children so she spoiled her nieces and nephews and became a foster mom to kids who had no one.
She traveled everywhere in the U.S.
And had countless stories to tell.
And she always ended her sentences with her signature laugh.
Her "Ernie from Sesame Street" snicker.
That we often recreate at home.
Because she isn't here to perform live for us anymore.
She had a rich and full life.
I know she wished it had turned out differently, though.
She was a smoking diabetic who suffered greatly because of these two things.
She lost toes.
She suffered from congestive heart failure.
She became someone she didn't want to be.
And she cried.
Especially when she had to leave her home for a senior center.
And she died alone.
Because she contracted something that the doctors said we couldn't be near.
And that's not fair.
It wasn't fair to her at all.
I believe my children marvel at the Aunt Jeanne stories I tell because they don't remember that.
They remember the lady who couldn't walk very well.
Who had dark bruises on her arms from her medications and bumps into walls.
But who always had candy and stickers for them.
Lots of hugs.
She wanted to be cremated when she passed away.
So, that's what happened.
And she has no marker to show the world she existed.
Which I guess she wanted as well.
Our family has a strong ancestral hold in the Cherokee Nation.
She wanted to be spread back into the earth and so my cousin helped her to do that.
Deep in the woods of Southern Illinois.
I have her rocking chair on my porch now.
The chair she sat in for hours and hours.
Watching her soaps and PBS documentaries.
Because she had no where to go and because it was too hard to get up.
She scraped the wood off of the arm.
Scraped it with her fingernails as she sat.
Day after day.
Something she probably didn't even realize she was doing.
Going through her return address labels.
And thinking of Elvis.