#52Stories is my attempt to write 52 stories from my life during the year 2020. At least one story a week, in no particular order, to remember and document some of the memories and moments of my life.
Aunt Nan, my mom's younger sister, was one of those people who always had a smile on her face and laughter in her heart. Going to Aunt Nan's house (two hours from where we lived for most of my life) was an adventure. Maybe because she had no children of her own, we were totally indulged when we visited her. From the frosted glasses in the freezer (ready for root beer floats) to the always full candy dish on the kitchen table, her house was an invitation to happiness.
I read a lot while at her house. She had a large red Bible story book that I loved. I liked to imagine myself as the little blonde girl sitting on the lap of Jesus. As I began to read more on my own, I devoured the Reader's Digest Condensed Books on Aunt Nan and Uncle Jim's bookshelves.
I still remember the summer my brother and I visited for a week. We watched more TV than we ever did at home. I have vague memories of watching scary shows that terrified me for a long time. Our favorite sandwich was a fried Spam sandwich (dipped in egg and flour before frying) served on white Wonder bread with ketchup. We took the bus home and I remember Aunt Nan packing lunches for the bus trip back to our hometown.
There was something exotic about Aunt Nan and Uncle Jim. They belonged to fraternal groups and square danced in groups that included matching outfits for everyone. They had a movie camera before anyone else in the family did. Aunt Nan worked at a Chinese restaurant where all the waitresses wore brocade Chinese jackets with frog closures and she made many of them for her fellow workers. There was a small stuffed alligator on the headboard of their bed that used to scare me to death when I'd wake up from a nap.
My aunt used to tell the story of my sister's wedding day (on my fourth birthday!). When she asked my mom how she could help, my mom replied, " Take this whining child (me) off my hands."
So Aunt Nan took me and my brother to a drugstore where she explained that it was my birthday. They stuck a candle in a pink snowball cupcake which just made me even sadder. "I don't want a cupcake with one candle, I want a big birthday cake with four candles."
Sometimes when we visited Aunt Nan and she had a split shift at the Ricsha restaurant, we would go with her to work. Sometimes we visited the Lewis Meyer Bookstore on the corner of 34th and Peoria. Sometimes we went to the movies at the Brookside Theater, where I fondly remember seeing "The Sound of Music." Sometimes we passed the time in the restaurant waiting for Aunt Nan's shift to end. But the big bag of broken fortune cookies was always a favorite take home treat from any visit to Aunt Nan's workplace.
When it was time for my student teaching experience, I was assigned to Jenks, Oklahoma (a suburb of Tulsa). My friend, Julie, was assigned to a Tulsa school. We lived with Aunt Nan and Uncle Jim. Aunt Nan loved watching our busy evenings as Julie prepped for her elementary school classroom and I prepped for a 9th grade English classroom. One problem from this time! I didn't have a car, so Aunt Nan loaned me her pale yellow Cadillac to drive to my teaching assignment. Since I had grown up in a small town in southeastern Oklahoma, I didn't have much experience driving on freeways. I was grateful for Aunt Nan's generosity, but petrified as I set out each day in her mammoth yellow beast. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I pulled into her driveway at the end of each teaching day.
While we were student teaching, Aunt Nan prepared our meals including a breakfast fit for any farmhand. She was always surprised that Julie and I rarely had the time or the appetite to consume the large breakfasts she prepared. It was during this time that we boarded with her that she undertook to teach Julie and me how to cut up a chicken, a skill she saw as necessary for any young woman about to graduate from college and embark in the world. Aunt Nan already had the beginnings of Parkinson's disease, but she pulled and tugged on the chicken and told us where to cut. I believe she felt that she'd done the best she could by us, but I can report that I never cut up another chicken.
My last memory of Aunt Nan occurred shortly before my wedding. I stopped by the nursing home with one of her favorite meals from Long John Silver's. It took a long time, but she loved every tiny morsel that I fed to her. And of course, we laughed as we spent this cherished time together. I was unable to attend her funeral since she died the day before my wedding and I was across the country in Washington DC. Despite the nearly four decades that have passed since then, precious memories linger of my Aunt Nan.