My Aunt Bonny died today. She of the ever-present smile, the mischievous grin, the jolly attitude. You knew her, right? Many of us have that aunt, the fun one.
She was the last of the Chapman sisters. The middle child. The funny one. The majorette, the first one to marry, the second to have a child. She of the Snowman embellished Christmas towels. The ceramic studio in the basement. The husband who cooked. (Unusual back then.)
She gave birth to four children: two girls, and twin boys. Three out of four had red hair like my sister and I. When the twins came, the whole family celebrated: finally, we had boys!. Double trouble, indeed. Some would say she spoiled Mark and Todd. I will not disagree. They adored their mom and she doted on them.
Visits to her house were easy, relaxed, laid-back. Eat, don’t eat. Stay up late or go to bed early. Eat dessert for dinner. Just don’t burn the house down. You didn’t just take off your shoes when you entered her house. You left your cares and fears on the other side of that threshold.
Her oldest daughter still lives in that house. It’s been renovated many times since then. The cabinets and counters and wall colors have changed, but Christie has kept the welcoming spirit intact. Christie inherited her mother’s ease. Kelli inherited her mother’s humor. The boys, her sweetness.
Aunt Bonny had a stroke when she was my age, in her late 40s. She was wheelchair bound most of the last twenty years of her life. Her speech was slurred and her words difficult to follow. Still, she laughed and made us all laugh. She couldn’t walk and was hard to understand but she still made us laugh and feel warm and welcome.
She and Uncle Bill came to my wedding seven years ago. My mom had been dead for years, as had the oldest Chapman sister, Sue. Aunt Bonny was the matriarch. But – I don’t know how to explain this – she didn’t wear the crown. She was still the same. Exactly the same. Down-to-earth, sweet, kind, funny Aunt Bonny.
It’s impossible to talk about her without talking about Uncle Bill. A love story for the ages. As her health deteriorated, he took care of her, even going so far as to retire early to do so. He never left her side. He never complained. You never got the sense that taking care of her was a burden. To those of who watched with wonder (could I ever be that good?), Uncle Bill just loved her and did what love does.
Are tributes to the dead boring? Probably. But aren’t they also necessary for the living? Don’t answer that. I didn’t write this for you. I wrote it for me. And for my dear, sweet aunt. I’ll miss you and your merry eyes.