In my life, i've spent hours and hours trying to fit my Aunt Marilyn into some kind of box that i could then look at and say, "Okay. That's who she is." When we were little, she was the aunt that we were (or at least i was) a little bit afraid of. She was never afraid to scold us or tell us to be quiet. She was stubborn and opinionated and quite a packrat, but was also incredibly generous, kind, and sentimental, and she had a strong love for her family.
Aunt Marilyn and Uncle Billy lived in New York for most of my life. My family visited them for spring break when i was 13. The year before, they had visited us, bringing along Uncle Billy's niece, Monique. And so one of the first things i asked Aunt Marilyn when we got to New York was, "Are we going to see Monique while we're here?" Except i was shy and apparently spoke very quietly. Aunt Marilyn looked at me seriously but kindly and said, "Probably. But it's polite to call them black people now." I nodded (incredibly confused) and walked away. It was only later that she and my mom figured out what i had asked, which was not "Are we going to see more negros while we're here." (Much laughter ensued, mostly not by me. I was too embarrassed.)
When we were in 8th grade, Uncle Billy and Aunt Marilyn paid for us to fly to New York, and she was then our tour guide for a week. My cousin Helene is the same age as me, so the two of us went together. We went to the top of the World Trade Towers, drove through Times Square (back when there were lots and lots of places with peep shows), and...i'm sure we did lots of other fun things that i can't remember right now. The very, very best part was that we were there for the Fourth of July the year that the Statue of Liberty re-opened, and New York did a spectacular fireworks display that was synchronized and with seven (i think) different locations, all set to music. We went downtown and stood in a spot where we could see the Statue of Liberty and at least four or five different fireworks. It was the best fireworks ever, ever. (This was also the trip where i accidentally dropped a watermelon on the kitchen floor. It exploded. Aunt Marilyn was still bringing that up the last time i saw her....)
As a kid, it never struck me as odd that my Iowa-grown aunt had married a black man, way back in 1970 when the civil rights movements were still a very recent memory. That fits with her personality, though. She was the only one of her 8 siblings (as far as i know) who voted Democrat. She knew what she believed, and she stuck to it, but she was always very happy to talk (and talk and talk) with anyone about any subject.
A few months ago, she was seemingly completely healthy, and her health deteriorated so rapidly that it just stunned everyone. She was the one in a million people who gets Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which explains why the doctors couldn't figure out what was going on. In the end, it wasn't a shock when she died, and because it was expected, it's pretty easy to just go on as normal. But whenever i stop to actually think that i won't get to see her or talk with her, and that there won't be any new memories to be made with her, i'm really sad. She will be so very missed.