Monday, September 30, 2013

32...and an Unexpected Rambling Tribute to the Woman That Epitomized "The Cool Aunt"

Oddly enough, rolling into 32, I didn't have the same "oh snap I'm old" moment that I did at 30. In fact, I'm appreciative of my youth now more than ever. Maybe that's because I feel it slipping through my fingers? And I mean that in the least morbid way possible. Andy from The Office said it best in the show’s final episode, I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them.”

I occasionally “feel old,” when I scrunch up my nose in disdain while passing a group of 19-year-olds in the mall -- wearing things 19-year-olds wear and saying things 19-year-olds say.
(And I will stand firmly by my belief that, even at 19, I was never as ditzy and loopy as some of these chicks.)

Thirty-two feels good. I’m comfortable with it, like a favorite pair of well-worn, lived-in jeans that still make your butt look nice. Speaking of looks, sometime while I was 31, I was studying a recently taken picture and I said, appreciatively, I looked my age. My friend was like, “Don’t say that!” Well, why not? And yes, when I glance at photos taken in the last five days, I see a 32-year-old woman (a pretty nice looking one, I might add…).

Ever since I was a very developed pre-teen with an old soul, people thought I was older than my actual age. This continued through my 20s (and by the way, I never minded it).  When I hit 30/31, my disposition finally aligned with my physicality. And I’m cool with that. I’m cool with looking 32.

So, 32 is brand spanking new. Let’s reflect a bit on the year that was 31

By 31, I had finally gotten over the shock of being in my 30s. My brain went into high gear, noting that we are still quite a ways from that next big age milestone, and we need to take advantage of our position.

An evaluation ensued. Not a structured “What am I doing with my life” type handwritten thing, but more of a contemplative existence. I thought long and hard about what I like to do, and what I wish I was able to do more of for myself and my family. Career-wise, I pondered where I am and where I want to be and decided that, while my current path moving between lateral positions is fine and completely respectable, I’ve had enough horizontal movement -- and need to see more vertical. This is why, at the age of 31, thirteen years after I began the first go-round, I decided to pursue a graduate degree.

One day, I was in the midst of explaining my newfound vision for the next 15 to 20 years to my sister. It included riding the wings of the new degree to an executive position with a company whose brand I respect, busting my behind climbing up the corporate ladder for a good decade or so, and then leveraging my accumulated stacks to create my own entrepreneurial freedom.

That’s when my sister asked the question that sisters are there for: “What about husband and kids?”

And that’s when I commenced to stutter.

I don’t have an answer for that. Why? Because my education and my career are, to some degree, within my control. However, I cannot control when a man is going to to come through, sweep me off my feet, and put a ring on it.

One of my good friends put it quite simply: Cross that bridge when you get to it.

The lowest point of 31? The passing of my Aunt Bess to cancer in December 2012.

The death of aunts, uncles, and cousins tend to be met with a more nonchalant reaction from outsiders than moms, dads, brothers, and sisters. After all, most of us have aunts, uncles, and cousins that are distant and that we barely know or never forged a relationship with.

This aunt didn’t fit in that category.

We were kindred spirits. She and I were the most alike of all my female relatives, including my mother.

Her influence on my life was, in a word, titanic.

She lived with flair. I’ve been observing her life of traveling the world, and music, and cool, eccentric friends since I was a little girl. It fascinated me. It spoke to a me I didn’t even know yet.  She’d pack a little cooler of fruit, sandwiches, and water and hit the highway from Atlanta all by herself and drive the seven or eight hours to Delray to visit for a few days every now and then. Growing up, I had never seen anyone -- particularly a woman -- do stuff like that. Traveling by herself and loving every minute of it? You still don’t see women (heck, or men for that matter) doing stuff like that very often.

Her life was unencumbered and interesting. She had just one child – the fewest of all my aunts and uncles, probably on both sides. And by the time I came around, my cousin was grown, and my aunt was doing her thing.

After visiting with her friends in Atlanta the week after she passed, I also learned that Aunt Bess had been doing her thing all along, not waiting for retirement or an empty nest. She had a three-girl crew that ran hard in the 70s, 80s, and beyond, traveling all over to concerts – the Commodores, Teddy Pendergrass, James Brown. They flew to Atlantic City where they donned minks and fancy clothes like they’d seen people do on TV, and they hung out in the casino until the wee hours of the morning while one of their homegirls tried her hand at the blackjack table.

She showed us pictures and told us stories about Switzerland and Italy and a bunch of other places that people I knew just didn’t go. And still don’t. And wouldn’t if the opportunity arose.

Sometimes when Aunt Bess visited Delray when I was a kid, she would invite a friend of hers over to the house, a masseuse from Ft. Lauderdale.  He would set up his table in what we called “the back kitchen,” a curtain went up, and they disappeared for hours. I didn’t know anyone that got massages, let alone from a friend who did house calls. It was neat and mysterious.

My aunt was sexy, classy, confident, real, adventurous, kind, fun, unique, and fully aware of her prowess and power.

While I was in college, she sent me a care package unlike what most students probably receive. It was full of CDs she had made for me of music she was checking out -- Tupac, Trick Daddy, Jay-Z, and more. (For context, at the time she was in her 50s.) Not to mention, my love for Prince stems from this woman.

Our last hurrah -- a week in New Orleans, October 2011. A year before she died. It was her first and last visit to the Crescent City. Her last trip.

Aunt Bess in NOLA, October 2011
Each morning, we set out and Aunt Bess was dressed more fashionably than I could manage on my best day. Her long beautiful dreadlocks were gone, along with much of her prized curves. Yet, she still managed to invoke Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” in every step she took. If it wasn’t for the illness, she wouldn’t have had to retire to the room early each evening to recuperate. Otherwise, she would have been dancing well into the night with me and my sister.  

She is intensely missed.

I take her memory -- and the memory of all the others that have gone on -- into my 32nd year.

Live life.

Love life.

Savor the day.


Check these out too!

Toast to 28

1 comment:

Me said...

Afterthoughts: I had to put the "unexpected" nature of writing about my aunt in the title because when I sat down to write this piece, that is SO not where I expected to go. Afterwards I was thinking...okay, this really isn't about turning 32 anymore...maybe I should make the Aunt Bess narrative into its own thing. Then I was like, bump it. It is what it is. And what it is is raw and real.

Besides, what's the point of having your own blog if you can't do what you want?