My Aunt Shirley passed away in June. My mom, sister, and I keep our memories of her fresh by talking about her with each other and with other members of the family. We tell stories, and we laugh at things we think she would find annoying, joking that if we keep talking about her like this, she’ll kick us out of bed while we sleep. We used to say these things with her, in reference to my deceased grandfather, and now we say them about her. It feels strange that she’s not here to laugh with us or scoff at us. But I’m sure she would be glad we’re keeping the humor light.
I keep thinking about lots of things about her, things she would say to me, and things she’s given to me over the years that I’m glad I still have. I have pictures of her, cards written in her hand, and PJs she gave me last winter that I didn’t get a chance to wear yet. But some of my favorite things from her are books that she gave me.
Aunt Shirley was a schoolteacher for much of her life. She knew the importance of reading and enjoyed it herself. (The last book I remember her mentioning was a James Patterson novel she had recently enjoyed.) She facilitated my love of reading too. When I was little, she passed down to me some of the books that she had enjoyed at my age. They were about Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, and Vicki Barr, women who solved mysteries, and in the cases of Ames and Barr, kept careers going as a nurse and a flight stewardess, respectively. These women inspired me. They got into dangerous scrapes, helped people, wore dresses and heels, and traveled a lot. Their lives were thrilling, if not formulaic. I treasured those books, and they have a place on a safe shelf in the family room today.
At that time, she also gave me a collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It had a green and brown cover that was barely keeping together, but I liked the collection. They were the “unedited” stories, with blood and unfortunate endings rather than strictly happy ones. I believe the cover eventually gave out and I threw it away, because I don’t have it anymore. When I bemoaned this, my Mom mentioned it to Aunt Shirley. For my 21st birthday, she gave me a new copy of Han’s Christian Anderson’s tales, with a lovely handwritten message inside about growing up. I’ll treasure it forever.
Some other books I have from her were ones that I was about to give away right before she died. Aunt Shirley liked Amish Christian novels, and she passed five or six on to me a few years back. I never got around to reading them, and upon reading the summary of a few of them, didn’t think I ever would, so I was going to send them to the library. But now, they’re back in my closet with my other books. It feels silly to hang on to books that I’m not sure I even want to read. But they were her books. I might give them another shot.
For my graduation, she gave me some Barnes and Noble gift cards. I’ve used them all by now. I think I pushed myself to do so; I didn’t want to cling to them, as the last things she gave me. But I found myself being very mindful as I picked out books to use them on. I tried to get a mix of things, some fun comics to enjoy, some books offering life or writing advice. I know she wouldn’t have cared how I used them, as long as I enjoyed what I was getting. But I wanted to make her last gift count.