Well, she really isn’t our Aunt, but growing up no one could explain to us four kids that she is one of those far-fetched cousins, so we just called her Aunt Joan. In my childhood she was the closest thing to a cool relative our family had.
She arrived one night at our house when I was about ten or eleven years old. There she stood in our tiny living room in her full height of a few inches short of six feet. Her back was against the fireplace as she faced the room, entertaining my mother and father with another story of her recent traveling adventures. She was a wandering gypsy, full of tales and jokes. And when she laughed, even at my father’s corny jokes, the whole room came to life.
All four of us kids listened in fascination as her voice went up and down to punctuate some of her story’s highlights, much as an opera singer might sing her scales to warm up for a performance. Her light red hair, fun loving spirit and her zest for adventure kept us listening. No wonder even her last name – Lively- described her.
And my sister and I were able to share in her adventures. She lost her husband, a pilot, in a tragic mid-air collision while doing maneuvers during an air show. Because she was a widow without children she “adopted” us kids, especially my sister and I, as traveling companions. Her little red VW Bug zipped along the highway with us exploring scenic parts of California such as Yosemite and Hearst Castle.
Her house, a town away from ours, in Menlo Park, California, had the most up to date modern, sleek decoration and Danish Modern furniture. Adding to her interior decorating were all the knick knacks she and her husband Larry had collected while he was in the service. And when we visited she taught us cooking tips like how to make real spaghetti sauce not out of the can.
I moved away from California early in my marriage and didn’t see Joan much until she moved to North Carolina in the late 1990’s. We were living in Michigan at the time and after a long winter we decided to visit her for Spring Break. It marked the beginning of our losing our second son to North Carolina as he fell in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains. Just to make sure Appalachian State University was his first choice for college, he took another trip down south. It was then he learned the hard way that you don’t ride you brakes when coming down a mountain. Aunt Joan was there to rescue him when he was brakeless and stranded, putting him and his friend up for the night.
And when I came out with my first novel, she was one of my biggest cheerleaders.
Joan is now in her eighties and lives back in Southern California. I don’t do it enough, but every once in a while I call her, marveling at her busy social life. It always makes my day to hear that voice full of enthusiasm and zest for life.
I only wish I could be a cool aunt like her. But I guess coolness just come naturally to some.
Do you have a favorite relative? I’d love to hear about them.