“It stays with me, a bruise in the memory that hurts when I touch.”
–from Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
I’ve been thinking a lot about memories that hurt this week. Memories can hurt for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes it’s because they are terrible–traumatic, even. But other times, it’s not that the memory itself is bad, but it was good, and you mourn for what has been lost–a particularly happy time of your life, a person you loved who is no longer here.
That’s been the nature of my bruised memories this past week.
On December 1, less than two hours after pushing the “Publish” button on my last blog post, I lost someone very dear to me, my ‘aunt’ Linda.
My Aunt Linda was one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met–extraordinarily generous, kind, and loving. And I’m going to miss her… a lot.
She was a great listener. I remember when I was about twelve she asked me about my writing. At the time, I was working on a four-book series (I use the word ‘book’ lightly) that followed a German family to America, and told the story of their descendants settling in my hometown. I had great plans for the series. My brother and his best friend were going to help me make it into a movie in the woods in our backyard. I was writing not only the ‘books’ but also movie scripts. As I was telling Aunt Linda about my concept, I did that thing that every pre-teen ’90’s baby did.
“It’s like about this like family who like emigrates from Germany to the United States, and then once they’re like here, they settle in this fort they like build together and it’s called Niagra.”
I didn’t even spell Niagara right. And I couldn’t stop saying, “Like,” like, a million times an hour.
“Camille, sweetie, why do you keep doing that?” she asked gently. She told me that she wanted to know what I was writing about, actually cared, and that I didn’t have to be nervous to tell her about it. So she made me try again.
I managed with a few less, “likes,” interjected, gaining a little bit of confidence.
Every time I said, “Like,” Aunt Linda quickly said, “Like!” at the same time. It was funny and frustrating, but mostly funny. I tried again, with no likes.
When I look back and think about when I first became really and truly confident about sharing my ideas, I always think back to that conversation–when an adult told me that what I had to say was valuable, and encouraged me to express myself with confidence.
I think of another time, later in life, when I was very ill. Aunt Linda & her husband Uncle Bob invited me to stay with them for two weeks in October. I went, gladly. For two weeks, Aunt Linda invested in me–in my emotional, physical, and spiritual health. She made an appointment for me to see a specialist who had helped her health through a very difficult time. For two weeks, she drove me back and forth to the doctor’s office. For two weeks, she bought whatever I wanted to eat from the grocery store and took me out for fancy Italian and Korean barbecue. For two weeks, I lounged in pj’s by the pool, soaking up the sweet, warm Georgia sunlight. Two weeks, with unnumbered games of Bananagrams around the kitchen table. I’ll never forget those two weeks–two weeks that helped save my health, and possibly saved my life.
Aunt Linda also taught me how to speak the honest truth kindly. Aunt Linda never minced words. She was never afraid to express a contradictory opinion, even to someone important. She told things like they were. Whenever I was having trouble expressing my feelings, she would ask me to describe how I felt, and then say, “That was good. Say it exactly how you said what you were feeling to me.”
Aunt Linda has a huge kitchen table, and a huge kitchen. I remember cooking soup, pork chops, fish, roasted vegetables, and endless bowls of popcorn. Aunt Linda was an entertainer, a hospitable hostess. My mouth waters every time I think about her salad dressing. I always try to recreate it, but somehow, it never seems to come out the same way she as it did when she made it herself.
Aunt Linda’s huge kitchen table, huge kitchen, and huge house could never possibly contain her whole big heart. What’s astonishing to me is that I know that I’m not even close to the only one out there who is going to miss her and remember her acts of service so clearly–not even close. She’s going to be remembered, and will be mourned, by hundreds, by everyone who sat at that kitchen table for even an hour.
I’ll never come close to being as impactful as Aunt Linda, I doubt. But my constant aspiration this past week since learning of her death has been to try. To be as free with my love, as bold with my voice, as open with my hands, as giving with my heart.
Aunt Linda, you are, were, and will always be the best. Ever.