Easter is almost here, a time of religious resurrection as well as hollow chocolate bunnies. It will be another holiday without Mary Albert Johnson, my Auntie. Auntie was also known at Big Mama, Mama, and AuntieAuntie, but for me she was AUNTIE. And I still miss her.
I think about her each July 26th, her birthday. I remember searching for the loot-filled eggs she hid in my mom’s back yard during Easter. I remember her famous potato salad (THE BEST) that never sent my sensitive stomach into overdrive. I cherish her special nickname for me and remember how she baptized so many others with their special names. I remember her absolute love of Dr Pepper, fresh flowers, and breakfast coffee.
Auntie and I did special things together. She took me to see my first traveling “Broadway” play, EUBIE!, when I was a little girl. I’d never heard of Eubie Blake, never thought I’d see a “Broadway” musical, or an ALL BLACK CAST! No adult had ever taken time out of their busy lives to introduce me to something so new and magical. I realize in retrospect, that she took me on my first date, setting a high bar for my future boyfriends.
We took day trips to see her elderly Uncle Benny and to help him around his house. She’d cook, we’d eat, then water his plants and admire his flowers. We’d eventually leave with a car full of cuttings, seedlings for her front porch garden of eden. Her porch plants eventually exploded into her yard creating a cornucopia of ferns, Asian lilies, and poinsettias that were determined to live past the Christmas season. Her house was also full of flowers and plants from long gone weddings and funerals. She never met a plant or flower that didn’t love her.
Auntie was my aunt through marriage, a fact I never really understood, the aunt by marriage thing. She was married to my mother’s oldest brother so she was my aunt before I was born. But blood, or lack thereof, never defined our relationship. She was my confidant, my shoulder to cry on, she was my oracle when I couldn’t understand the ways of our family or boys. She was at every reunion, celebration, funeral, and family function, even after my uncle died, because she was our family, our aunt. She was MY aunt.
She was mine.
But she wasn’t just mine. Her heart overflowed with love for everyone, all of us. I discovered she had nicknames for other family members and I couldn’t be jealous of that. She bestowed that attention on people because she cared about them and wanted them to feel affirmed and loved. We were all special in her eyes and she was a constant source of encouragement and help.
I aspire to be like Auntie with my nieces and nephews. I love sharing adventures with them, watching their eyes light up at the vision of something new or unusual. And sometimes I have to have a pretty smart imagination to provide them an adventure. I have taken them to the “beach” under the guise of a local lake with sand. We’ve gone hiking in the “woods” which was a local park and one day I hope to take them on a long train trip which will actually be Amtrak from one city to the next. Covid has put the cabbash on our adventuring but we will return to it one day soon.
Two babies were added to our family last year and I know Auntie would have adored them. She’d have pinched their feet, laughed loudly, talked to them in her big voice, and gazed into their eyes, waiting for the sign. Then Auntie would have bestowed their nicknames upon them, welcoming and cementing them into our family. Serenity and Noah will only know Mary Albert Johnson through anecdotes and old photos and I wonder what they would have been, their Auntie monikers. What I know is that they, just like every new person added to our family, will experience the gushing of love Auntie taught us to give. Because she was love.
Grief takes the time it takes and I am coping better. I stopped driving by her old house and I no longer awake to the scent of her perfume. But I can’t yet delete her contact information from my phone. I miss my Auntie, and I’m still not ready to say goodbye.