Friday, June 02, 2017

my favorite broad

The check came on Monday, and I held it in my hands, staring at the words "The Estate of Sue [redacted]" until my eyes blurred.

Should have kept in touch, should have called, why didn't you at least pick up the fucking phone every once in a while.

Brain, you are correct.  But while I can't go back in time and stay in better touch with her, I can honor her now by sharing this incredible woman with you.

Aunt Sue was actually my great-aunt, but she was only 12 years older than my mom---an "oopsie baby", as Aunt Sue cheerfully called herself---so they were more like sisters, raised only a few miles away from each other in the same small Indiana town until Aunt Sue got married to my Uncle Buck (yes, really) and moved away.

I don't remember my Uncle Buck very well, because he died young after decades of punishing himself with alcohol, red meat, and cigarettes.  My clearest memory of him is when we were spending Christmas with my grandparents, and Aunt Sue and Uncle Buck were also there.  We had recently moved to California, and I had gotten a tiny gray and white kitten named Hollywood, Holly for short, renamed Sprite when the vet told us "she" was actually "he".  I proudly pulled out a photograph to show them, and Uncle Buck squinted at the picture, pointed at the small black smudge under Sprite's nose, and said "Damn cat looks like Hitler!"

"BUCK!" Aunt Sue cried, swatting him on the arm.  To me, she said "He's very sweet, honey."  (Later on, I would overhear her chiding Uncle Buck, saying "You couldn't have said the cat looked like Oliver Hardy or something?", to which Uncle Buck replied "Like she knows who that is?")

Aunt Sue and Uncle Buck never had kids, so she treated my brother R and me like her own.  When we saw her on holidays, she'd always give us handfuls of Brach's candy (my favorites were the Neapolitan coconut squares) and tell us stories about growing up in a small town.  "You couldn't get away with ANYTHING, because everybody knew everybody else.  One day I saw a boy named Rudy down by the creek torturing a crawdad, and I just ran right up and pushed him in the water.  Oh, did we get in a scuffle!  I gave him such a shiner.  I got whaled on by my daddy when I got home because Rudy told on me and I ruined one of my best dresses, but I didn't even care.  Kids, you don't ever let anyone hurt the innocent if you can help it.  I know it was only a crawdad, but it wasn't doing nothing but living its life when some stupid boy decided to mess it up just 'cause he could.   Anyone or anything that's just living its life, not hurting nobody, let 'em be."

When my mom died just a couple of months before her 51st birthday, Aunt Sue didn't come to the funeral, but she sent a beautiful letter to R and me, apologizing for not coming.  "Part of it is that I'm not well enough to travel, but kids, I gotta be honest with you, I really can't come because my heart is so broken knowing that your mom is gone, and it's not goddamn fair, and I know it's stupid but if I don't come to the funeral and know she's gone for sure, I can pretend she's still out there somewhere, beautiful and alive."

A couple of years later, R and I went to Georgia to visit her.  She had a small house, filled with rescue cats and framed photos and knickknacks everywhere.  She was in a melancholy mood, having been ghosted (not that that term existed back then) by a man she'd been dating for several months, and on top of that, she'd been kicked out of her bridge group for attending a pro-choice rally in Atlanta.  "Screw 'em.  They can pretend they forgot what it was like before, but I never will," she said, looking away and lighting another cigarette, and the set of her mouth led me to believe there was more to it than she was willing to say.

But she perked up soon afterwards, excitedly showing us her new computer ("Have you kids SEEN these things?  They're amazing!") and playing Rusty Warren comedy albums for us and giving us shots of alcohol ("Don't tell your dad," she said with a wink, pretending to forget that we were more than legal).  We went to Stone Mountain to see the light show, and at dinner afterwards, she shamelessly flirted with the twentysomething waiter, actually making him blush.  ("There's snow on my roof but fire in my furnace, honey.")

Yes, Aunt Sue was a broad, a sassy, funny, opinionated woman who took no shit, whether it was aimed at her or someone else.  Just one example: at my grandfather's (her brother) funeral, one of his "friends" came up to my weeping mother and asked if he could have my grandfather's riding mower.  Aunt Sue came over, put her hand on his arm, and in a voice as sweet as pie, asked if she could talk to him privately.  Nobody's sure what she said to him, but when he came out of that room, he was paper white and visibly trembling, and he left immediately.

She loved drinking, cigarettes, casinos, and younger men.  She loved all animals, but especially cats, and mystery novels, and tabloid magazines.

She loved us.

So tonight, I'll raise a glass to Aunt Sue and toast my favorite broad with a hearty "Knockers up!"  Always beloved, forever missed.