Lots of people commented or wrote about my first blog post to show their support, and I send a heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you! I am feeling the love and loving it! Several said reading about my leap into following my dreams inspired them to look at their own lives and their own dreams. I think that’s awesome. We should all do an inventory every now and then to ask where we are and where we want to be.
I think we all want to look back on the life we lived and be happy with the overall picture. But our professions, our possessions and our accomplishments will not define our lives as much as who we were to those around us. What would those who knew me say if they were asked who I was? Was I a good friend? Was I loving and kind? Did I make time for others? Did I help those in need? Did I make people laugh? (hopefully with me, not at me) Did people know I loved them? Was my desk always clean and organized? (Yeah, I figure it’s a gimme that I’m going to fail on some of the questions.)
I want to be remembered like my great-aunt, Zula. She was my grandmother’s sister, therefore my “great-aunt”, and what a great aunt she was! She was the quintessential Southern aunt, complete with quirkly little sayings, endless craft projects, and great recipes.
I still use “Aunt-Zula-isms” in conversations today. The Bible says we are not to covet, so she’d say “Oooooh, I wish I had that, and they had something better!!” She would never open her mouth to gossip about anyone . . . without saying “Bless their heart” first to sweeten the sting. And any news given to her, whether good or bad, was usually answered with “Well, I swannee,” or “Well, doggee.” (With the “well” drawn out in multiple Southern syllables, of course.)
Aunt Zula was always up for the latest crafts–tatting, crocheting, ceramics, gluing. She could find artistic uses for detergent scoops and soda can tabs. And every Christmas, she would bring a prototype of her latest project to my grandmother’s and show everyone what they were going to get from her that year. And then no one ever saw it again. She’d start the project, finish a few, and then find something else that tickled her fancy before she was done with all the gifts. And of course you can’t give gifts to some and not to others, so no one got any. When they tragically lost their house in a fire, my uncle pondered how many unfinished Christmas gifts had burned up in the “junk room”.
Her home was one of my favorite destinations as a kid, a place where playtime was a priority. The camper by the barn was my play house, and she’d come knock on the door to visit. We would play cards until all hours of the night. And then we’d sleep late in the morning, a practice that I still to this day think is a slice of heaven.
She had no children of her own, and no job outside the home, so when I was there, I was her number one priority. (Well, except while “Days of Our Lives” was on.) And it wasn’t just me. When folks visited her for dinner, there was no spending hours to clean the kitchen afterward. “Those dishes will be here tomorrow, and you won’t. Let’s just visit for a while.” She made you feel as though you were very important to her, and that her time with you was precious. And that is an incredible feeling we aren’t able to get from many people in our busy lives. She gave that gift to everyone she loved.
Aunt Zula gave the best hugs and always smelled of the same sweet powder and perfume. She always asked about the things I was doing, genuinely interested, and she always remembered the details. When I moved far away from home after college, she asked me on the phone one night to tell her what I did when I wasn’t working. I asked what she meant. She replied, “Sometimes I miss you so much that my heart hurts, but if I could think–oh, she’s off doing this or she’s seeing that–then I would have to be happy for you, and I wouldn’t be sad anymore.”
When she left this Earth, my heartbroken uncle found she had made all the arrangements and taken care of everything so he wouldn’t have to deal with it in his grief. However, when they showed him the casket that had been chosen, he pointed to a different one, a pretty white one with pale pink satin and pink roses. They told him it would cost more, and he replied, “I don’t care. That pretty coffin is for a lady, and she was a lady.” Boy, was she ever.
As we stood around that lady’s coffin in the dreaded practice that is a funeral, many of us cousins stood together and shared smiling stories of Aunt Zula. One of my cousins mentioned that she had loved us all so much and made everyone feel so loved, that it was like we were all her own kids. I was standing there, agreeing with her, but also lost in my own thoughts when suddenly I heard another of Aunt Zula’s nieces literally speak aloud what I was thinking to myself. She said, “Yes, and all of us are thinking right now — but I was her favorite.”
What an incredible, incredible testament of a life for everyone you loved to feel as though they were your favorite. To have the ability to love people so completely, that they not only knew you loved them, but they were certain that you loved them above all others. I hope I can get better at doing that, and that in the end, my life will be known by love.
I sure do miss my Aunt Zula.