Friday, September 24, 2010

The Jewel in the Family Crown

Beautiful Addie Jewel on her 90th

The phone rang and I reached to answer it.  The voice on the other end of the line was that of my daddy.  Yes I am a grown woman who calls my father Daddy.  He will forever be my Daddy and you can’t make me call him anything else.  We chatted for a few minutes then he said “I wanted to let you know that Aunt Jewel passed away.”   I would like to share a little about my memory of Aunt Jewel.

My grandfather had 5 sisters and two brothers.  Yes FIVE sisters, each with their own personalities and idiosyncrasies.  The other thing is these sisters were old when I was a child and now that I am old, well, they are still old.  My grandfather went to that large cabinet shop in the sky some years ago where he may or may not have had some explaining to do to my grandmother, but that is a story for another day.  These sisters out lasted their brothers by decades.  Sadly now each of them is going out like lights on a pre-lit Christmas tree.  One moment it’s there flashing brightly then it’s forever dark.

Aunt Jewel was one of the sisters.  She was the “flashy” one.  Not that each didn’t have their own style; hers was just a bit more flamboyant.  I think that Matilda takes after her just a bit, but then again that is a story for another day.  What I remember most about Aunt Jewel and the “sisters” was that no matter what, no matter when they would show up for family functions. 
This another of the "Sisters".  Gorgeous isn't she?

This in of itself is a miracle, since our family is more dysfunctional than functional.  When one of the clan died, out of the woodwork the “sisters” would appear with trays of steaming fried chicken and casserole dishes full of macaroni and cheese.  They would regal us children with stories of loading up in a Tin Lizzie and heading to California to work in the fields.  They would share adventures of growing up poor in the country and using grain sacks tied to their feet for shoes. 
Once when I was a wee child my Daddy loaded us up in the family station wagon and took us to Six Flags Over Texas where Matilda promptly came down with smeales or mops or weasels or some childhood disease and they stuck her in the infirmary.  When we finished our fun day at the amusement park we made our way back to my Great Grandmother’s house.  There on her front porch was a myriad of people.  There were old folks and young folks and skinny folks and well in my family there were always plenty of fat folks all sitting on the front porch eating snow cones and laughing and kidding one another.  This was a conglomeration of my Daddy’s kin folk doing what they did best, eat and talk.  Now poor Matilda was ailing and I’m sure I was whining but they didn’t pay us no mind at all.  Those people went on eating and laughing and talking like there was nothing wrong with us.  Aunt Jewel sat on the porch drinking ice tea from a Ball jar smoking one cigarette after another while I sat there and inhaled the deep laughter and spark of life she was. 

Years went by and I grew a little older.  I was working as a surgery aide at the hospital when one night I was dispatched to a patient’s room to prepare them for surgery.  I walked in the room and in the corner sat a woman with a gigantic bee-hive hair-do and a cigarette in her mouth.  I thought she looked familiar but I was a teenager and thought all old people looked alike.  The woman came toward me took me in her arms and squeezed me until I thought I was going to suffocate.  My first thought was that this was a very friendly person then she held me at arms length and declared “GLADYS!  Look at you all growed up!”  Still dazed and a bit confused I mumbled “um yeah and look at you all um old and stuff.”   She slapped me on the back and said “honey, I’m your Aunt Jewel.”  Then it hit me.  This bee-hived, rouged over cigarette smoking woman was related to me.  Her husband, I’m not sure which husband she had several, was having surgery.  I got to spend every evening with her for the next several weeks.  She again filled me full of images of her and her sisters in their teens traveling eighteen hundred miles from home to pick vegetables and make enough money to survive and escape the dust filled skies of the mid-west.  I had my very own John Steinbeck right there in my grasp and I did nothing about it.

As the sands sifted through the hour glass of years I ran into Aunt Jewel here and there.  She and her sisters would appear at funerals and weddings.  It was if they were tucked into hat boxes on the closet shelf and someone would dust them off and send them casseroles in hand to whatever event was taking place.  They would be dressed to the nines but none would be more blinged and ringed than Aunt Jewel.  Her hair was always perfectly coiffed; her jewelry was always heavily layered.  She would come telling stories and spreading her spark and laughter through the crowd.   

I look at pictures of her in her youth and wonder what it was like to be her.  What stories did she have that I didn’t hear?  What secrets would she have shared if I would have just taken the time to prod?  Did she write them down somewhere?  Are they buried forever with her?  All I know for sure is she was always a firecracker and now her spark is out. 



Anonymous said...

ahhh Gladys, you done a good job describing our Auntie Jewel. They don't make 'em like her anymore - she was the epitome of the big haired, loudly dressed, funny, good hearted Texan woman. I am guessing she would have liked Thelma and Louise had she ever met them.
She could sure light up a room and make a family get together much more interesting,like you said...a whirl of hair, lipstick,cigarette and raspy laughter! Rest in peace Aunt Jewel
Quirky cousin

Tracy said...

I had a great aunt who was always old. Now I'm a great aunt and my great nieces and nephews think I'm old and will they think I've always been old when they're my age?
I also regret not asking more questions of my grandparents and other older relatives.

365 Letters said...

Oh, but Gladys! Thanks to you and your wonderful storytelling ability, your Aunt Jewel's spark will never really be out. You and everyone who reads what you've written, everyone who -- after reading your tale -- is inspired to go out into the world and make it just a little brighter, we'll all remember Jewel and her spark!