As some of you may know, my lovely Aunt Frannie passed away the day my mom flew back home. My sister emailed me with an urgent message and when I called her back after work, I got the tragic news. Fortunately, mom was already on the plane and did not have to take the 24 hour plane ride with the loss on her shoulders although the reality would be there when she landed in Portland.
After lots of crying I got home from work and tried to wrap my head around the reality of the situation. Not only was this so unexpected, but I was so far away and totally helpless. In my sadness, I began to celebrate Aunt Frannie’s life while here in Malaysia.
I began by making Aunt Frannie broccoli. One Thanksgiving weekend, I was visiting the east coast for one of my best friends weddings and got to spend Thanksgiving with my Aunt and her family. It was a wonderful day filled with a delicious meal, wonderful conversation and my caring and special Aunt. One of the things I remember is helping her cook dinner. I got to make the broccoli dish, which will forever be known to me as Aunt Fran Broccoli. Place broccoli, olive oil, salt, pepper and bread crumbs in a plastic bag, shake to coat and place on a baking sheet in the oven to bake. Easy and delicious and the perfect dish considering the situation I found myself in.
Next, I got on my computer and began to look through all of the photos I had of the times we spent together. I had photos of us in Central Park, when she took me to see the Santa’s in Times Square, teaching her and mom Texas Hold ‘Em one summer in Oregon, us in front of the bridge leaving Staten Island and my 30th birthday party in Las Vegas.
The memories came flooding back. I remembered how she made the visit to Oregon almost every year to visit our family. When she visited during Easter, we would go to church, have Easter egg hunts and play cards. I fondly remember trips to the coast and the mountains, pulling over on the side of the road to take photos of wild flowers. I remember how she pronounced Oregon and how she would leave the house early in the morning for her solo walks to discover the neighborhood.
The memories continued across the country to New York. I remember her taking me on tours of Staten Island, not only to show me the shots she took to win photo contests with her disposable Kodaks, but to show me the homes of well known Mob bosses. I can taste the Italian food that she prepared and the cookies that we would get at the Italian bakery down the street. She not only would show me around Staten Island, but willingly take me to Manhattan at any time of the day to show me something she thought I would be interested in such as ground zero, or Olafur Eliasson’s waterfall project in the East River.
I can vividly see her handwriting on all of the cards I received in the mail from her with photos and news clippings that made her think of me, like the wild turkeys on Staten Island. She was there for my college graduation and threw me an unbelievable 30th birthday party. She made it a day I will always remember. From the doughnut birthday cake and stolen yard high beer vase to the photo collage delivered to my door before I woke and convincing my mother to take a blood test for me, she made it special.
I loved her with all of my heart. I can say that she was the most special woman in my life other than her younger sister, my mother. I expected to see her at my wedding and be there while I raised children. I can feel her hugs and kisses and hear the special way she said my name. I wish I had at least 31 more years with her but since I don’t, I will always remember what made her special to so many people and strive to be more like my Aunt Frannie every day. I have to accept that I have only what I remember, and because Aunt Frannie was such a remarkable woman, luckily I remember a lot.