Tuesday, January 04, 2005


My great aunt passed away this summer, and at the funeral, one of her sons-in-law remarked that she was a kind woman. My mother repeated it later, saying how true it was. I was surprised, because if I had to choose one word to describe her it wouldn't be kind. She was honest and outspoken and intelligent and curious and loving, but she could come across as abrasive and critical when she asked you why you weren't dating anyone, or why you had chosen the school or major you had, or why your son couldn't get his act together and stay out of jail. We were afraid of her for most of our childhood. (And yet, near the end, she and that very same imprisoned cousin became great pen-pals. I think he saw in her a strong woman who wouldn't put up with his excuses or apologies and wasn't afraid to tell him what she thought of him.)

The word I would chose to describe her? Joyful. She got the biggest kick out of the happiness of others, especially of children. The last time we visited, one of the youngest neices sat beside her on the sofa, smiling and giggling. The child in our aunt laughed and clapped with her, despite the oxygen tube she wore. I remember a European trip we took together over a decade ago, when my aunt was still in her 70's, a trip that included a tour of Pompeii. A tour guide led us through the ruins, and the group, of varying ages, often struggled to keep up with him. Not our aunt - she stayed right beside him, hungry for everything she could learn. She climbed on rocks and broken ledges to peer inside openings and structures, never stopping, hanging on every word and asking questions. Everything fascinated her. Everything brought her joy.


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