The news came this weekend that Dad’s little sister passed away. Sad news for Uncle Clyde and the family, but happy, too, because Aunt Judy is finally restored after years of battling poor health. I have tears in my eyes and a burning lump in my throat as I think about her life-long struggle with the earthly body she was given.
My grandmother told me the story of Judy’s diagnosis only one time. How doctors kept coming into the examination room and frowning. And leaving. Returning with colleagues…and collectively engaging in more frowning. My grandmother, a master storyteller, wove a mother’s pain and worry and agony throughout the story like threads in linen, and at one point, I couldn’t even swallow or blink my tears away. That story was a hard one for Grandma Fowler to tell, and I’m grateful for the gift.
Aunt Judy grew up to be quite a character. She stayed with us in Plymouth, New Hampshire once, much to her nieces’ delight! She was like a third daughter for my mom to supervise…raiding the kitchen cabinets late at night, playing Old Maid and Go Fish and board games until way past our bedtimes (“Mystery Date” was everyone’s favorite! Aunt Judy would cackle hysterically if anyone got The Dud!), dressing and undressing and playing with Barbies...and not always cleaning up afterwards. I don’t *exactly recall* her stealing rhubarb from the neighbor’s garden with us kids…but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if she joined us under the wild grapevine arbor that hid us from the adult world with the fruits of our ill-gotten gains.
One particularly vivid memory from that visit was that Judy would hang her wig on the footboard of the beautiful antique bed we had in the guest room of the parsonage. She often wore a scarf when her wig was off to cover the scars and baldness caused by her childhood surgery…but not always. Karen, two years younger than me, noted that Aunt Judy’s patchwork scalp resembled some of our less fortunate dolls’ heads.
Before she married Uncle Clyde, Aunt Judy worked in a department store (SO GLAMOROUS!) and drove a 1969 muscle car called The Judge. (“The Judge” was actually painted on the side of the car.)
Some TV show back then (“Flip Wilson”? “Laugh In”?) had a catch phrase, “Here come da judge!,” and it quickly caught on in the Fowler Family to describe Aunt Judy driving up.
Judy was a great babysitter--she genuinely liked Disney movies. If you asked to stay in the theater to watch *the same movie* play again, she would actually say yes…UNLIKE ANY OTHER GROWNUP UNDER THE SUN. (I think she may also have had a thing for Kurt Russell, too, because I distinctly remember her taking us to The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes AND Now You See Him, Now You Don’t…really above and beyond the call of Aunt Duty.)
Don’t get me wrong…Aunt Judy was no angel. She had a little bit of a mean streak once in a while, but most kids (and adults who are still kids on the inside) do. Maybe it was the red hair. Brain surgery may have ruined that gorgeous head of red hair, but it couldn’t extinguish the fire in those roots. In our family, we have our fair share of redheads, and the stereotype runs pretty true…but they’re as quick to chuckle or embrace as to spark or flare, so it usually works out in the end…
I’ll never forget the time we girls were sent out to help Aunt Judy and Uncle Clyde unpack their car as the family gathered at Grandma & Grandpa’s “Camelot” home in Maine. We were about fifteen feet from The Judge when we froze in our tracks. Aunt Judy was having a conniption fit and fussing at Uncle Clyde, complete with hissing. HISSING! We had NEVER heard our Sainted Mother have a conniption, and she had certainly never hissed.
Karen and I stared at each other, unsure of how to proceed. To return to the house empty-handed would have been to disobey a direct order from a grownup and would have ensured a spanking…but to take another step towards a fiery bewigged Fowler Woman who apparently spoke Serpent seemed unnecessarily death-defying.
As I recall, we stood like statues until Clyde and Judy made up and smiled at us, loading our skinny, 1970s polyester-clad arms with a bushel of Macintosh apples and Kodak Flash Cubes. (I’m sure we carried other stuff, too, but these two items are seared into my brain for some odd reason.)
In 1989, Baby Bethany and I drove all the way from Texas to Maine to spend some time with Uncle Clyde and Aunt Judy. We had so much fun…Acadia State Park and York and Nubble Light and feeding seagulls and riding “Tony the Pony” and enjoying the lobster dinner Uncle Clyde made.
After Clyde blessed the food and we released each other’s hands, Bethany unexpectedly grabbed one of the red “monsters” from the platter and attacked it with vigor! I’d been afraid she would be scared of the prehistoric-looking creatures, especially since she kept calling them “monsters” instead of “lobsters.” Not to worry…fearless Bessie Lou used her sharp little toddler teeth to crack through a claw!
(Uncle Clyde came to the rescue, as usual, to show us how to *properly* crack and eat the odd-looking creatures.)
And then lots of years went by and an occasional Christmas card or phone call seemed to be all I had time to give. Aunt Judy was a much better *aunt* than I was a *niece*, to my shame. I didn’t write or call as often as I should have.
Oh, and my Uncle Clyde is an amazing man--a model of faithful, steadfast love--a rock! I should have been a better niece to him, as well. Maybe it’s not too late to show him how much we all love and admire him…
If there’s any consolation to be had, my nephews and nieces tell me that I’m a good aunt and that they love me. Maybe having Aunt Judy for a role model made me a better aunt for the precious children God placed in my life…and that would be enough to make her smile down from the Northeast Corner of Heaven…
Goodbye, Aunt Judy. Thank you…and I’ll always love you!