Monday, January 31, 2011

Remembering Aunt Jean

Over many years, I have driven passed St. Germaine Church, biked passed it, even once attended a fair in the parking lot. Finally, I stepped inside St. Germaine Church. The reason: to attend a mass in memory of Jean Volkmann. Lots of familiar faces there, most older than I remember them. But then, maybe we are all older than we remember.

Had I been asked to speak, I would have remarked that Aunt Jean was only five feet tall but I refrained from spelling salutations to her: Ant Jean. She preferred AJ.

Aunt Jean was a person who delighted in information and was eager to share what she knew. She usually had an opinion, and was not shy about sharing that either. As I was growing up, we saw each other quite often. Our families got together for Christmas, camping, meals. I had just the one Aunt and her three children were my only cousins. They lived all of a mile away; a five minute bike ride away.

When I was a senior in high school my parents left me and my brother Mark home while they took a vacation commemorating their 25th wedding anniversary. Taking advantage of this chance to be truant without being a truant, I called the school saying I was an official type parental authority and it was OK with me that Lynn didn't go to school that day. My folks had given the school Aunt Jean's number for emergency contact. The school called her and she called me.

"Did you really think you'd get away with it?" AJ asked. I could practically see her rolling her eyes through the phone. "Next time just ask me to call in for you, for crying out loud."

When Aunt Jean and Uncle Paul retired they moved Up North. We didn't see much of each other for years but she never forgot my birthday. When AJ got a hold of my email address, I was regaled with assorted information, jokes, pictures of cute animals and Patriotism. As a kid, I wasn't aware of AJ's political leanings. Via email I learned how much she loved our Country and how well she understood the importance of Freedom.

A few years ago, AJ had a heart attack. I called her at the hospital. I'm not terribly talented at small talk. Even in her weakened state, Aunt Jean took control of the conversation. "So, how many dogs do you have now?" She asked. Not -how's business or have you seen any good movies lately. Aunt Jean cut to the important stuff.

Aunt Jean was a Master Gardener before it became the common achievement of hardcore hobbyists. And she liked her cars. Indeed, you were chastised if you leaned on the paint job- most especially a rust colored Mustang. But the paint color wasn't called rust. It was called something much cooler like Crimson Sunset or Burnt Reality. And she loved Uncle Paul. She said so, often. "I dig Paul."

Yes, Aunt Jean and I agreed on some important things- dogs most decidedly. Dogs are a critical component of life. Oh sure, most people are nice and a handful of them are particularly wonderful but dogs are the most important creatures to grace our existence. For instance, Mayo and Tassie.

My cousin Cory found Mayo in the street. In the classic-he followed me home can we keep him- tradition Mayo joined their family. Mayo was an easy going blond medium sized mutt. He was a stray of unknown history and lineage. He was also one of the nicest dogs there ever was.

Tassie was AJ's favorite. Years after Tassie died, Aunt Jean said she still missed her with that extra heavy ache of separation we save for our most beloved. Tassie was an Australian Cattle Dog. Aunt Jean claimed that unlike most dogs, Cattle Dog saliva was not sticky. When Tassie licked you it was completely free of unpleasant texture. I never really believed that was true but I believe that where AJ and Tassie are now, it is true.

Rest in Peace, AJ.