If I remember the story correctly, my oldest brother had a difficult time saying Auntie Lou. My mother’s older sister became Auntie Doo. Even as an adult I slipped into that familiar usage.
Two weeks ago she passed. She was 101. There is a message on my phone from her. It arrived the day before she died. I saw it the day she died.
Louise Turney Reardon was one strong lady. She often compared herself (rightly so) to her grandmother, my great-grandmother, Barbara Roth Flynn who was known as Cese (pronounced ‘cease’) Where that nickname came from I may never know.
Cese was one of the last of the Victorian women. Strong, formidable and smart. It was in a recent conversation with Auntie Doo that I learned that Cese had been a suffragette and had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church for speaking her mind about the women’s right to vote!
I loved Cese very much (she taught me how to count by teaching me Cribbage!). But you did not mess with her.
I loved Auntie Doo but she too was strong and formidable. And you didn’t mess with her.
My earliest memory of her was having dinner at her home in Sacramento. She served a Waldorf salad. I thought that was an elegant salad. It looked beautiful. It had walnuts. I am allergic to walnuts. I couldn’t eat the Waldorf salad.
We seemed to always have Thanksgiving dinner in her home. Uncle Eddie was a marvelous cook and Louise was the organizer.
She started the first school for court reporters in California and kept teaching into her 70’s. She played golf until her arthritic knees gave out. (She always said she got Cese’s knees!) She hosted dinner parties. She went to dinner parties. Her garden was a wonder to behold. I don’t think I have ever seen bigger camellias.
She and I did not get along well. I know now that I was nearly as much like her as she was like Cese. But I knew that she loved me.
That love came home to roost when I started law school. My mother was very ill so when I was accepted at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, I moved to Auntie Doo’s city. It was closer to my parents home of any of the law schools that would accept me.
My mother passed one month before school started. My first year was a blur. My memories are not only of classes and studying but of the little things that Louise did to make sure I made it through that very tough time.
Money was really tight. But near the end of each month I would get a call from Louise. The general line was “gee, I made too much meatloaf (or turkey or hamburger or hotdogs or whatever) and it is just going to spoil here. Come get it and share it at your apartment. Somebody will probably want it.”
Nearly EVERY month. For three years.
When I went to take the bar exam Auntie Doo did something miraculous. She told me to come to her house for lunch. She didn’t want me talking to any of my fellow exam takers.
Her home was maybe a mile from the exam site. She left the house key in its usual hiding place. Lunch was in the refrigerator (with instructions). And she and Uncle Eddie were gone.
I had a safe haven in which to relax, have a bite, even catch a short nap before the afternoon sessions. I spoke to no one.
She and Uncle Eddie did that for all three days of the exam.
I swear, I passed the bar exam because of her.
I got to be a lawyer. Because of her.
I got my chance to be independent. Because of her.
I was able to raise my child to be strong. Because of her.
We weren’t close. We didn’t share confidences. But she was there when I needed her.
As she aged through her nineties, we talked every couple of weeks. Usually about her memories of family and friends. I learned much about my family heritage through her stories.
She had sold the family home and moved into an assisted living facility then later to a full care facility. She still read the paper from front to back every day and complained that the 80 year olds around her were not staying current on the affairs of the world. She liked our conversations because (she said) she could discuss those matters with an intelligent person. (I can hear her voice-even at 100 she could put some force into her message!)
I wove her a couple of scarves that she wore to dinners. I sent her DVDs of the Vocal Arts Ensemble concerts. I asked questions about our family. And she kept on teaching me about who I was and where I had come from.
Only this time, I appreciated it.
Her life was full. I am glad she shared some of it with me.