I adored my Aunt Olive. She was the first person that I encountered as a child that when I was near her, I felt like I was at home. There was something in her spirit that was familiar to me, and I was drawn to her. We were alike, and the things that I valued, she valued. It felt so comfortable and safe to be with her. As a young girl I would suggest reasons to my parents why we should get together so that we could travel the 40 minutes to her home so that I could just be there and feel the warmth of her. Although I loved my older cousins and looked up to them, because I was the baby of the clan and they were busy finding their own way in the world, it was Auntie Olive who I longed to spend time with. She validated who I was.
Growing up, my wiring was so different than anyone else’s under our roof that I knew at a young age that I carried a different gene. Auntie Olive had that same gene. We had the same temperaments – although as a young girl I knew nothing about personality traits or God-given gifts. Auntie Olive’s gift was making people feel loved and welcome. Where I was told that the fun inside me was wrong and needed to be tamed, she nourished it and made me feel like I was blessed to love life. I like to say that love is in the details…and she knew how to go the extra mile in the little details of life to show her family that they were loved. From the extra time she took to hand-crumble the tuna for her tuna sandwiches, to the little notes she wrote, to her willingness to take me go-karting and to sleep under the stars of our outdoor fort, to the big smile and open outstretched arms when she greeted you at the door, to the smiley face that was part of her signature – she was the queen of showing love in the little details.
One of my favorite things about going to Auntie Olive’s house (besides the Nestle’s Quik that we never had in our house) was when you stayed the night there you would always find a “pillow present” under your pillow. Just a little token to say you’re welcome here and valued. It’s something that I’ve adopted now for guests that stay at my house. It’s just a thread of the fun gene that still shows up that reminds me of Auntie Olive.
And Christmas at her house was magical. People with that fun gene tend to decorate their homes to the max for holidays, and Auntie Olive was no exception. That’s probably why there are now ten Christmas boxes up in the rafters of my garage. From the music playing from the stereo, to the candles brightly lit, to the delicious appetizers (this is also where I got my love for onion dip and potato chips)….these are the memories that I cherish and miss the most about Christmas. Our home was bigger and considered nicer than hers, but I would have much prefered Christmas Eve at her house over mine because of how inviting it was. Don’t get me wrong – I loved my home and my family…but Auntie Olive wasn’t there to make me feel like being who I was created to be was OK.
And camping trips were turned into a party, where we would perform plays for our parents on huge boulders, and sing songs for their entertainment. And she made the best guacamole! Half the fun of a camping trip was waiting around for “happy hour” where the appetizers were brought out with our special lemonade and we would husk corn and recount the moments of the day by the water. Fourth of July meant hand-cranked homemade ice cream, and Thanksgiving meant the smell of delicious food she was preparing in the kitchen. I can still see her now with her frilly apron on and her beautiful smile. These were all favorite moments that are forever etched into my memory. Love was in the details.
And boy howdy did she have a sense of humor and a great giggle! During one of my over-night visits Aunt Olive and Uncle Rex served me pancakes at their little kitchen table the next morning. Since my uncle was from the Ozarks, sorghum was a staple in their home and so Auntie Olive slipped some sorghum into the syrup pitcher and laughed so hard when I tasted it for the first time. It was something akin to biting into a lemon for me. Ugh!
There is another profound way that Auntie Olive and I are alike. She was flawed and broken…just as I am. People with our gene, if not plugged in to the Holy Spirit think their wisdom needs to be shared with everyone around them. They tend to let words flow out of their mouths without the Holy Spirit’s filter. You get the picture? We can be annoying. But in the best way she knew how she pursued God. She pursued him by loving his people. She didn’t always get it right. She made mistakes. She was prejudiced and judgemental. She could be bossy and overbearing. Sounds a bit like me when I’m not plugged in to the source of grace. But the saving grace and good news is that there’s redemption to her story.
Because I watched and learned from both the good and the bad of her story, I made adjustments in my gene where I knew they needed to be made, and I capitalized on the stuff that blessed others – all because of her example to me. Often we learn more from our mentors and loved ones from their mistakes than we do from their successes. But that doesn’t make them any less valued or loved – it only makes them human. But because God offers me his unconditional love and grace, I offer and hold on to the same for her.
After I married and moved away from the area, I would send Auntie Olive cards to remind her how special she was to me That was the kind of thing she did for others. I’m glad I learned that from her. The last card I sent her was an Easter card in 2008 thanking her for the part she played in my life. Shortly after, my husband and I went away to celebrate our anniversary in Mendocino. I got the call from my brother on April 19th, our 27th Anniversary – Auntie Olive had died. She died while we rode horses on the beach and as I loped my horse across the sand and the bitter cold wind blew in my face, I let the tears come. I cried for what I had lost. One of the few people who made me most feel at home on this earth was gone. I missed her warmth and I wish I could have been there to say goodbye. To remind her what she meant to me, and to assure her that because she had put her trust in the one who put the fun gene within her, she was going to join the biggest and best party E.V.E.R. But I suspect she knew. And I suspect she knows I still have a mad crush on her.
Love is in the details. But don’t forget that grace also shows up with it. They go hand-in-hand. So party-on, Auntie Olive. But save some guacamole for me!