My Dad called me a little while ago to tell me my godmother died yesterday.
She’s been in hospice for a few weeks, but took a turn for the worse while my parents were up here visiting—they didn’t check their e-mail or phone messages until this afternoon, after Father Bailey had already told them she’d passed.
Aunt Vernice was a wonderful woman, and an integral part of my childhood. When I was four, we moved to a new neighborhood. I don’t remember whether we met her before or during our first visit to the nearby Episcopalian church—she may have been the reason we went in the first place, since we certainly weren’t Episcopalians at the time. Regardless, Aunt Vernice adopted us on the spot and when I was baptized, she was named my godmother.
She babysat us kids every Monday for years while my mother taught her evening class. We always had mock shepherd’s pie—with green beans and hamburger—which was permanently dubbed Monday Night Casserole, a name I’ve taught my own kids to use, even if we have it on a Thursday.
I have a silver charm bracelet in my jewelry box—far too small for my adult wrist—with a little green apple, a mushroom, a button, and many other little memories given to me by Aunt Vernice on birthdays and Christmases until that last tiny diploma was attached to the last empty silver link. I explain the story behind each to Janie whenever she asks and she’s desperate to wear it. . . but even though I know each charm is soldered permanently, I’ve never let her do more than try it on. Someday, maybe, but I’m not ready to see my life on someone else’s wrist just yet.
Aunt Vernice taught me so many things, including kindness, patience, and how to pin quilting squares together without stabbing myself. She taught me the importance of keeping busy and that family can be chosen. She taught me that “Hey!” is for horses and that popcorn is better popped in oil with melted butter drizzled over.
But eventually I was old enough to sit myself on Mondays. I graduated high school, went to college, got married, moved away, moved farther away. Touch was kept through Christmas letters and photographs . . . but mostly though my parents, who kept everyone updated.
I sent flowers when Uncle Bill died. When I came back for a visit a while later, I was stunned by how short and frail Aunt Vernice seemed. I could look her in the eye when I hugged her and my arms enfolded her completely. Janie met her once or twice, but I don’t think Sunny ever did.
Janie calls Aunt Vernice, “Mom’s Grandma Kathy,” which is true—we were lucky enough to be adopted by a woman just like the one who adopted my family thirty-six years ago, and she is Sunny’s godmother. She feeds the kids lasagna on days when we need a sitter and is showing them how to be kind and thoughtful and extremely busy. And also how to count in Greek and Italian and that dry LuckyCharms make an awesome snack.
Isn’t it a wonderful world, to have such special people in it? I don’t know as I would have truly appreciated the gift that is Grandma Kathy without being loved by an Aunt Vernice for so many years.
Goodbye, Aunt Vernice. I love you.