It was one of the singular pleasures of my girlhood, a trip out to my Aunt Lil's house. The 30 mile car ride to her little house on Elizabeth Lake was an all day affair, and we'd start out about 10:00, my mother, my grandmother, and my Aunt Lissie. I'd clamber eagerly into the back seat with a book tucked securely under my arm. My grandmother always had a paper grocery sack filled with home baked goodies, because of course one never went visiting without taking something to eat. I remember the ride down Telegraph Road, the parade of stores and restaurants finally giving way to lakefront views and tiny cottage size homes. Occasionally I'd have dozed off in the back seat, the gentle motion of my aunt's big Buick sedan rocking me to sleep. The crunch of tires on Aunt Lil's gravel road always woke me quickly, for I knew we were nearly there.
She usually heard us coming, my aunt did, and would burst through the screen door of the little gray shingled house, untying her faded apron, or wiping her hands on a clean cotton dishtowel. "There you are!" she'd call gaily. "Hurry on in, lunch is on the table!"
I have no idea why those lunches around her big kitchen table were so exceedingly good. Usually they were quite similar to our lunches at home - cold cuts, like boiled ham or that corned beef you get in the can which opens with one of those miniature keys, a dish of crisp lettuce leaves, radiant red garden tomato slices, and sweet bread-n-butter pickles. A loaf of fragrant, fresh baked bread was often sliced at the table, and strongly brewed iced tea was poured into tall, slender glasses with a pattern of leaves stencilled gracefully on the edge. I would sit, happily munching away at my sandwich while the women's voices rose and fell harmoniously around me.
"Wait 'til you see the material I got at Penney's yesterday," someone would say. "I'm going to use it for curtains here in the kitchen."
"Did you talk to Jen yet?" another voice would ask. "Have you heard what that boy of hers is up to now?"
"I swear, I cannot get Carl to stop smoking" - this from my grandmother, who was on an eternal quest to rid my grandfather of the habit that would eventually (as she always promised) be "the death of him."
So I absorbed their conversation along with my lunch, the cadence of their voices nurturing my soul as their food fed my body. By modern standards, their lives were simple and commonplace, yet the ordinary events of their days seemed almost magical to me and certainly filled me with a sense of security and comfort. The memory of those times around the table is as vivid as if it were yesterday, rather than 45 years ago.
Today, a sparkling fall day, with the last of autumns glory clinging to the trees etched golden and ruby red against the brilliant blue sky, my mother and I took the drive out Telegraph road to say our final goodbyes to my Aunt Lil, who died last week at the age of 92.
Much was said today about her ability to cook and her love of "putting on a spread." We all remembered holiday dinners around her table, when she and my grandmother would vie over who could put the most food on one surface and still leave room for plates and silverware. Many people recalled her energetic spirit, her love of "visiting" with her friends and working in her church. Stories were told about her annual car treks back and forth from one daughter's home in Texas to the other daughter's home in Michigan - a journey she made alone each year, driving in her little Plymouth, taking only the back roads and stopping at least 10 times to visit friends and family along the way.
She leaves two daughters, seven grandchildren, and nine great grandchildren - a good legacy, I think. A few years ago, she gave me some advice I've called upon quite often. She was talking about some volunteer work she'd been doing at her church, saying it had become something of a chore because the people she worked with tended to whine and complain about everything.
"Honey, I was coming home every week just mad at the whole place," she said in her Kentucky accent, made even broader by the years she'd lived in Dallas. "And I thought to myself -why, if I'm not getting a blessing from this, I shouldn't be doing it at all."
I've found myself using this criteria for a lot of things in my life, and it's helped me to put some of them in a very different perspective.
And so one more of the old guard in my family is gone. But I'll remember her energy and spirit, the sound of her laugh which rang out over everyone else's. I'll think of her when I go shopping, for she loved to wander the stores and looked forward to getting a new outfit each season. I'll recall her wisdom and strength, her kindness and good humor.
And most of all, I'll remember those summertime lunches around her kitchen table, and the warmth that spread right into the heart of a little girl, to dwell there forever.
I surely got a blessing from that.