When the aunts go marching

by Jonah

I never really had an aunt. My mom and dad each have one brother; one of them never married, and the other did three times. In the late 80’s, when my dad worked for the Christian Booksellers Association,  he befriended a couple who had a book and gift store in Wisconsin. When he introduced his family to Sam and Judy, who didn’t have any kids of their own, they informally adopted me and my sister and brother as honorary niblings and started spoiling us like an uncle and aunt.  Sam and Judy sent us Christmas presents, let us watch PG movies, and took us out for ice cream or frozen custard at any opportunity. Sam taught us how to snow ski and fly a stunt kite. Judy took us for rides in her cool cars and even let me drive around the block in her Camaro, long before I even had a learner’s license.  We got to visit at least once a year in the summer during the annual industry convention and usually at another point in the year as well. 

It was at the convention in Denver, right after yet another trip to get ice cream, that I busted open my shin while trying to balance while walking on a concrete barrier, losing the ice cream off my cone.  A couple days later, Judy, worried that my wound was becoming infected, drew on her experience as an LPN to debride my shin with my foot in the tub while I tried to distract myself by watching the TV in their Embassy Suites bathroom.  


Years later, Dad and I flew to Wisconsin to buy Judy’s Camaro, when she was ready for a new car, and drove back to Alabama with it.  He eventually let me drive it, which I did until I got married and needed something more practical. That might have been the last time I got to see Sam and Judy.  It’s been way too long. 

Now I’m an aunt, and I try my best to spoil my niblings by sending them Christmas presents, suggesting ice cream at every opportunity, and taking them for rides in my cool cars (sometimes letting them shift gears). It’s been way too long since I’ve seen them.


Judy was admitted to the hospital two weeks ago today with COVID-19 pneumonia and passed away the next day.  

During one of our visits, Judy had told me, “I still have that note you wrote me. I keep it in my wallet.” As a young teenager, I had written her a note, probably on notebook paper with a mechanical pencil, about how special she was and handed it to her before she and Sam left to go back to Wisconsin. Honestly, when she mentioned it, I had completely forgotten I had written it or even what I’d written, just that it had just seemed like the thing I needed to do. 


I don’t have any photos with Judy because they’re all safely stored in photo albums at my parents’ house. But I  love this more recent picture of Judy, grinning while looking slightly uncomfortable, with possible ice cream involved.

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