My cousin Gary died two weeks ago. Time has been passing “slow-mo” since then, so it seems longer, and still feels unreal. He was such a nice guy, so loved by so many, so easy-going, so successful as a lawyer, the least self-aggrandizing and least materialistic person you’d ever meet. He was only 63, and since he hadn’t told people of the persistence of the cancer he’d gotten 7 years ago, it came as a surprise when he “suddenly” fell seriously ill and a shock when he died several weeks later.
What there was to know about Gary (aside from the fact that he was ill) was out there. Apparently all of the several hundred mourners at his memorial knew the important things. His kindness. His generosity. His dry sense of humor and great story-telling. His love of the Grand Canyon and other adventures. His dis-like of camping. His brilliant mind. His great ability to relax and have fun. His ability to give great advice, which he did freely to anyone who needed it.
In this way, he was like his Aunt Bea, whom he adored. Gary moved out from Brooklyn to Phoenix not long after graduating law school. His mother, Rose and father, Sidney moved out shortly thereafter. Sadly, his father died in his early sixties (emphysema from too many cigarettes) and his mother, Rose died in her early seventies.
Maybe it was the sound of his Aunt Bea’s voice, similar to his mother’s. Maybe it was her steady presence, being there for him in his adopted hometown. Maybe it was their shared common knowledge of the several blocks they both lived in (near Lincoln Terrace Park just the other side of Eastern Parkway) and the stories that went along with the close-knit family of so many cousins with weird nicknames (Football Head, etc). In Phoenix, at family brunches out, Gary and his Aunt Bea vied to pay the bill, no matter how many cousins were present. Both were generous at all times.
Gary often told me, I love your mother. I really love her. And she really loved him. This too was known.
So even though I knew all this, until the memorial on February 7, 2016, I didn’t have much sense of the entity of Aunt Bea. Until about the 50th person who came up to her, saying “Oooh Aunt Bea! I love you so much.” Smiling at her, and kissing her, and thanking her for whatever advice Aunt Bea had offered up over the years, the advice and the compliments.
Apparently she had given a lot of advice on many topics, including the best “tissues” — Scott’s (euphemistically referred to as “tissues” instead of toilet paper). I knew of this advice personally, but was amazed to hear others thanking her and telling her they still use it decades later. People reminisced about other shared conversations more substantial than toilet paper. Aunt Bea offered praise to the women on how pretty they are, and to the men, admiring their height. Being tall herself, she has always appreciated tall men.
After awhile I realized that the phenomenon of Aunt Bea was not simply a family title, but had taken on a life of its own like Dame Edna or Auntie Mame. I started fantasizing running Aunt Bea for President. I could see the particular appeal. She already had a base of support here in Arizona (500 lawyer friends of Gary’s). Others (probably Republicans) might say that 95 is too old, but on the other hand, her 95 years might take the edge of hostility off the fact that she is a pretty liberal Democrat, somewhere between Bernie and Hillary (though I personally heard her applaud much of Bernie’s New Hampshire victory speech last night, especially when he talked about Americans having to pay the highest prices for drugs in the world, and how he would end the major drug companies obscene levels of profits.)
Because Aunt Bea also has a big stake in her grandchildren’s future, not to mention the great grandchildren she might just live to see, if she makes it to 120, which she might —kinohurah — she also has a big stake in the future of America AND the planet.
Of course I’ve had issues with my mother. Who hasn’t? But… this Aunt Bea, she’s something else. I’ll miss my cousin Gary forever, but I’ll always be grateful that he and his friends introduced me to Aunt Bea. (And mom and me? We’re doing fine.) 🙂