The phone rings. My brother is on the line, Did you read today's obituaries?
No. I hold my breath and stop my heart, Why?
He tells me that Aunt Betty passed away. He's matter of fact, doesn't soft pedal it, but how can you? We discuss the service details, and the phone call ends.
It hits me with the terrific force of a plane dropping in turbulence.
Aunt Betty. I'm not related to her but she and Uncle Willy were such close friends with my parents that I've never known her as anything but my Aunt Betty. My parents being Aunt Betty and Uncle Ed to their children. Growing up, we were as much a fixture in their household as they were in ours. Summers, the families spent together in neighboring cabins in the hill country and I have a pile of memories of evenings spent at Criders Rodeo & Dance - Mom, Dad, Uncle Willy and Aunt Betty sitting at a picnic table drinking their beers and enjoying the music and the darkening blue skies of a Texas evening, while we ran around the area like terrors trying to capture lightening bugs, or pretending to be our parents on the dancefloor.
Aunt Betty was one of those people who refers to you by your first and last names, even when she's just saying hello to you. She always made your name sound like music. She always made me smile when she said my name that way, even the last time.
She had a funny ability to be my friend when I was young, Aunt Betty did, and somehow still be the adult. She did not get mad at us when her daughter Sally and I discovered her mascara one Sunday morning, and applied it again and again to our lashes until we looked something like 7-year old versions of Tammy Faye Baker. Nope, instead she was over-the-top complimentary and told us we were beautiful. And she let us go to church that Sunday as is. It must have pained her to do that but I remember how much it meant to us, how glamorous we felt. I adored her.
As an adult, whenever I saw Aunt Betty, she'd pat the cushion on the seat beside her or point to a chair near her, and say, Sit right down here and tell me how you are. She was always so excited to see you. And she'd always listen.
I think of my father. I think of Uncle Willy, Aunt Betty's husband. I think of Mr. and Mrs. Gaylord. I recall all these giants from my life, now gone. I think of how the best things in life seem to barely brush our awareness when they're going on; we're not in tune to the soft shoe steps of time moving forward. I miss the days when I could never imagine that the cozy magic wouldn't go on and on. I miss the days of life in the Hundred Acre Woods.