When I was little and all through into my adulthood, I'd say the three biggest role models and figures who shaped me were my maternal grandmother, who passed on to me how to be forgiving, kind to everybody, no matter what, and be charitable and generous. My Mother, who passed on her smart and wise cracking mouth. My mother is soooo Debbie Novotny from Queer as Folk, only more polished. And then my favorite aunt, Barbara, who I think I get my feisty, outspokenness and eccentrics from. Sadly, on Sunday morning I got a call from the mother, telling me my aunt had been taken to the hospital with hernia issues she had been fighting with for some time, had gotten worst. But before the procedure, which was to be on Monday, her blood pressure suddenly dropped drastically, stopping her heart and she sadly passed away late Saturday evening. It came as a complete shock, Needless to say we are all a bit sad. I've had a few good cries already.
For me, as a gay fruitcake, when I say she was Auntie Mame, I mean it! My aunt was nuts, colorful and lively. If Auntie Mame and Maude Findley had a baby the result would be my aunt. I have such fond memories of her since we use to visit them when they lived in a huge Victorian in Westfield NJ. I was always one to hang around her or my grandmothers apron strings while they were in the kitchen. It was probably a miracle she was still here, as when she was young, went sledding in the winter once, and she went right under a car while it was moving and only got a scar from it!!! Not to mention had seven kids. She and my uncle met in Carlise at a dance, even though they were there with other dates. He went to give her his number, but she had left before he could give it to. Weeks later, a good friend gave her the number and they were married the next 65 years. When she entered nursing school, it was there that she and my uncle got married... but kept it secret for two years, as back then, you couldn't be married and in nursing school. But she was determined to stay in school and finish. It wasn't till she graduated that she revealed to all she and my uncle were married. Life then took them to Alaska for two years, with my uncle being in the service. Being cultured she hated it. She always said Alaska is no place for a woman. Once the first babe came, they moved from there to New Jersey and stayed for years till they moved back to Harrisburg after the nest went empty and my uncle retired from teaching physics.
And man could she cook. If you could make it at home, she wouldn't buy it. Store bough baked goods? Piff. She baked bread daily right up to this Thanksgiving. Cakes, cookies, pastries you name, made from scratch. She'd die before buying ready-made pie crust. She had every Julia Child cookbook and Julia was her idol. She aced every recipe, and she even met her twice on two social occasions in NYC. To this day I have many of my aunt's recipes and will always treasure them. It is she who gave me my love of cooking. You can see why I faced with trepidations cooking this year's Thanksgiving dinner for her. But she said it was excellent, so it meant a lot. I am thankful we had this one last dinner together. My aunt is also the family historian on my mother's side. She had the memory of an elephant. And luckily, I do too.
I also credit my aunt for my love of all things culture. My love of art, music and museums, they would often take me into NYC to view such earthly delights. She adored New York City. Right at my teens years, at 13, she was credited as letting me taste my first gin and tonic at the Algonquin Hotel. She created a gin monster kids! She was overjoyed when her youngest, got a position as lead violaist with the New York Philharmonic, before going on to the Philly Orchestra and then the Chattanooga Symphony. She and my uncle were still members of the New York Phil, Philly Orch, and Chattanooga symphonies, The Met, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. They always gave to the local PBS station here and were good members of our local classical radio station. Art was very, very important to her.
As was politics. Oh LORD!!! She could not take even a liberal republican, or even a conservative Democrat. So, I feel as though on the day she passed, the same day as Bob Dole died, she arrived at the pearly gates with him, and gave him a huge rant! She was famous for having a stiffener and going off on Julia Sugarbaker rants. The newspapers loved her. She and my uncle are as liberal as one can get. I mean, I am 90% sure they still smoked weed here and there. She had no time for right wing conservative bullshit and having church or politicians telling anyone what to do with their bodies or how to live. But she would sit and talk to anyone no matter what party. She would love good debate. I think that's why she liked my ex who was in politics. Right up till the end, she was on the fresh tip of everything. And she disregarded anyone who was racist or a bigot.
She and my uncle I also credit as passing on my love for the planet. The environment and nature and gardening were loves of hers. She taught me to slow down and take it all in. She instilled in me and her own children to tend to the earth and give back. I do think like myself, the current condition of the earth got her depressed at times. Of course, another thing... my aunt would never be seen in public in pants. I never saw her in pants. Till she passed on at 90, she only ever wore skirts and medium size heels, flowy blouses, and long tailored dusters. And hats. And she could be eccentric. Some, things were outrageous. It might be a bit much to go to the farmers market with an ostrich feather handbag in one hand and her huge wicker market basket in the other. Or wear about 20 bangles, or wear a man's pork pie hat in the winter! Right before she stopped smoking, she used one of those long cigarette sticks, before moving on to a pipe, and finally cigars. She ended up not smoking anything eventually. The men at the cigar shop must have though she was a hoot. And she was. She loved her happy hour too. To my knowledge she had a gin or two every evening, and also had a scotch as a nightcap before bed. And like auntie Mame never liked a cocktail shaken, she said it bruised the ice. I always called her Auntie Mame and she loved it. Just at Thanksgiving again, she reminded me that when I settle down again, to make sure I pick someone in the arts. She thinks that's why none of the other relationships worked out. She always said, "it will take a creative guy to be with such a fabulous queen" See why I loved her.
Needless to say, these don't even tip the iceberg with my memories of her or even all my traits I get from her. Her last wish was to have her body donated to science, which she is currently enroute to Philly. She said even dead, she hoped if she could be of help with a cause, why not? Science was also very important to her. She will then be cremated and sent back to us. We have a memorial planned for January when all her kids will arrive from Washington, California, Texas, New York, Tennesse, Massachusetts, Colorado, and my dear cousins from Chicago and Boston. Since her stunning rose garden was her pride and joy, my uncle will, with us all present, scatter her ashes through her rose gardens. Her one son has already booked a restaurant for us alone to enjoy a nice dinner in her honor, where no doubt, we will have copious amounts of stiffeners to toast her and talk of art and politics and even maybe enjoy a cigar. But boy, will the holidays be feeling a void without her with us. But she wouldn't want us to be sad. As the song from the movie went and as she would agree, she'd say live life.
Travel a new highway, that's never been tried before.