My great aunt Marie was my father’s mother’s older sister, and the only great aunt I’ve ever really known. As kids, my sister and brother and I used to stay with her or with my grandparents in the retirement home where they lived whenever my parents took us to visit Baltimore, so we got to spend a fair bit of time getting to know her. She could be moody or reserved and sometimes strict with us kids, but she also had wit, warmth, a big cozy hug, and flashes of an attitude that hinted at the strong and funny younger woman she must have been.
Just as I was entering high school, Aunt Marie visited my parents’ house in the Chicago suburbs and noticed some flowers growing in a patch of the yard neglected by the mower, and told us they were resurrection lilies – a flower she’d always loved. After she pointed them out, we realized you could see them from my parents’ screened-in back porch. My dad, once he’d learned their name from his aunt, loved to sit on the back porch each August and point them out, reminding us that Aunt Marie was the one who identified them and how much she loved them.
Six years ago, when my dad was dying from cancer, the resurrection lilies came up and with help, he was just barely able to make it to the back porch for one last viewing of the resurrection lilies. Once again, he reminded us about how Aunt Marie loved those flowers. As I helped him back to bed, he told me that after he died, he wanted me to dig up some of those lilies and plant them in my garden in Nashville, which he never had a chance to see, in memory of Aunt Marie and him.
My dad died November 5th of that year. Even early November in the Chicago area is cold, and the ground was hard, but I got out there and dug up three bulbs, and got them into my garden here where they skip a year now and then but come up occasionally to remind me of my dad and his aunt.
Now that I’m a great aunt, I can’t help feeling like those flowers are my connection with my Great Aunt Marie and my dad in welcoming Sammy to the family and to the world, and recognizing that life does, after all, go on.