Aunt Julia

As another Thanksgiving arrives in cycle tomorrow, I think on the threads of ties that expand and contract out from my heart as I grow and change through this life. Family and friends – blood and otherwise – are important anchors to me, relational being that I am.

Reflecting on this, I thought on a stellar lady extraordinaire, my simply wonderful Great-Aunt Julia. She is my dad’s aunt – my beloved Poppop’s sister (she was his best friend) – and she is such a young, spunky 88-year-old.

Aunt Julia lives outside Waco, Texas, in flat Robinson, in a lovely house filled with birds, cats, and roses in a walled garden. Though her extensive adventures are largely over – of hoeing potatoes in Maryland, fending off hurricanes in Port Isabel, teaching English along the border of Mexico, and seeking waterfalls over it – she is still an explorer at heart. Her inquisitive eyes never miss a beat, and it is easy to imagine her as a younger woman traipsing across the desert or keeping rowdy students in line with a quip and a wink. Her whip-smart wit will cut you down grammatically or otherwise, especially if you are a Republican and/or are Donald Trump.

We talk on the phone fairly regularly, but I had been itching to get out to see her again, and so travels for work in California last February seemed like a good enough excuse for a stopover in central Tejas.

For four glorious days, we cruised the dry roads at top Texas speeds; popped into idyllic white churches; feasted on lasagna, shrimp, and fried apple fritters; visited museums about prehistoric man; shouted at the tele while watching MSNBC; dug through old family photos; and cackled at the menagerie of animals in the house.

Sugar and Callie, les chats, were very wary of me and only came out for snacks and lazy lap pets from Aunt Julia. But the birds – oh the birds!

Twinkle the canary would sing when Aunt Julia whistled in duet with him, deftly pecked broccoli florets, and flit about in erratic little flashes of pale yellow. He put on many a laser show for me with his erratic ‘pew pew pew’ tunes. Charlie, an African grey parrot, was very talkative, tried to nip my camera lens, ate whatever we ate, and is probably smarter than all of us.

My aunt has had Charlie for 26 years, and in that time, they have been best buddies. The many stories she has amassed about him in that span are varied and hilarious. Once, when Aunt Julia was spraying out his cage to clean it, he flapped and squawked in discontent, making quite a ruckus. “Oh, come on, Charlie,” she said, “don’t you want a clean cage? . . . Charlie-bird will be clean!” He looked sidelong from her to the neighboring canary’s cage – still dry, still dirty – then back at Aunt Julia before saying, “Little Bird? Little Bird clean?” to stick it to his little brother, too.

As a teacher for many years, Aunt Julia would bring a banana for breakfast every day on her way out the door to school. Once, when she forgot it as she left, Charlie stopped her at the doorknob with a shrill reminder of “Julia-bird – banana!” He loves little tidbits of snacks from the table and mimicking the vacuum.

My Poppop, the smartest, most well-read man in the world.

A young Julia-Bird, as a teen in a dress she nearly ruined in the ocean, and as a teacher in Brownsville.

At left, Aunt Julia, Poppop (the tallest), my Uncle Kent and some friends. At right, the kids with my great-grandparents.

We had such a seriously sweet and gratifying visit together. I wish I could go back, and I wish we lived closer. I miss her. I am going to call her tomorrow. What a gal.

My dears, happy Thanksgiving. I hope you all have Aunt Julias in your lives.

Be well, do not forget your bananas, and I hope your tomorrows are full of many wonderful things.