My great-aunt Lilian Vaye Jackson passed away on the 17th, at the age of 89. I am weirdly ambivalent to her passing. As close as I was to her, and we were close. I am more relieved than saddened. It is difficult to see someone whom you respect, who has such spirit and vitality wither before your eyes into something helpless and incoherent. I refuse, though, to dwell on the unpleasant events.
Lilian Vaye Jackson was my own personal Katherine Hepburn. She had a fierce intelligence, a very sharp tongue, and absolutely no filter. Words like "no" or "don't" meant nothing to her - we got along very well. When she was younger, she had already lived a fuller life than most can dream of. She owned and frequently traveled by motorbike, she took pilot lessons, and she worked as a librarian - how much more adventurous a life can one desire? She loved school and learning and constantly encouraged me to get as much of both as I can. She effected my life greatly in a markedly positive way.
Through the eyes of a six year old the world is full of wonder and adventure. It was during this magical age that I went to stay a few weeks with my Aunt Vaye in Oklahoma City. During my time in her ward, she introduced me to a myriad of new sights and experiences, chief among them were horses, goat head burrs, and found treasures. I could tell you stories for minutes about each of these learned life lessons, but I will only captivate you with one aesop's fable-like (minus the talking animals) story this day.
There was an old mare named lady who lived in Vaye's pasture; she was tremendously gentle and wouldn't hurt a flea, or so I thought. One evening, after Vaye had gotten me ready for bed, at around 7:30 - the first mistake - I decided to sneak down to the pond to play with the horse - the second mistake. As I walked up to the infernal beast fully decked out in my glow-in-the-dark Thunder Cat pajamas, at what I felt was a perfectly audible level, she however obviously felt otherwise. As I apparently skulked up behind her like an assassin, Lady took no notice of me until I was no more than a couple of feet away from her. Then she suddenly came to life quite ferociously. She jumped and bucked and kicked and I had no idea what was going on. In the commission, I somehow fell, or more precisely was knocked into the muddy embankment surrounding the pond. Aunt Vaye heard this and came outside to see what was going on. When she saw what had happened, she wasn't a bit angry, she simply laughed hysterically at my predicament. eventually, however, she did come collect me form the mud and begin the whole process of preparing for bed again. I learned from this that you should always make presence evident and that it is perfectly acceptable to laugh at the stupidity of children. Both tenets, that I feel, I will follow for the rest of my life.
To bring this entry to a close, I would like to share with you two of my most favorite exchanges with Vaye:
I was lying in her livingroom floor coloring when Vaye walked through saying words that I had never heard come out of her mouth. I looked up with innocent, questioning and apparently terror-filled eyes. Vaye looked at me and said so cavalierly, "I am saying pitch, pitch, pitch - not bitch, bitch, bitch." Aunt Vaye was deaf as a rock and when she was adjusting her hearing aid, designated pitch as the word to test her adjustments. That story has haunted me all my life. regardless of the occasion, I could always count on Vaye tell it and the above mentioned story to a room full of family members, or passers-bye. Any ear would do.
The other is a far more recent volley of sarcasm and smart-assyness in which I am the victor.
A few Christmases back, in a room filled to capacity with aunts, uncles and distantly related cousins - you know the all that ilk. My dear Aunt Vaye asked me if I had a girlfriend. Since she was so hard of hearing Aunt Vaye was incredibly loud, even her whispers were tremendous - this was no whisper. I felt as if the everyone stopped what they were doing and turned their attention to our conversation. I bashfully said, "no." But mere moments later I asked her if she had a boyfriend. She mustered a rather indignant look and sneered, "I think not." She didn't ask me that question ever again. I know, it's not like winning the Nobel prize, but Aunt Vaye was always the one to do the embarrassing and never the one to be embarrassed. That's how we rolled - making fun of each other as far back as I can remember. I wouldn't change a minute of it.