Dear Uncle George,
I wish I could have returned to Indiana for Aunt JoAnne’s funeral. But more than that, I wish I could have been there to spend time with her and with all of you before she died. She was very special to me.
My earliest memories of Aunt Jo were at the time when she lived in a handsome brick apartment building on Park Avenue in Indianapolis , before she married Uncle Lee. I thought it the most elegant place. One rode up in an elevator. Her apartment spread over an entire floor with bay windows in front and a back porch with stairs down to the alley. It sat on a quiet street lined with stately elms. It was a palace in my young imagination, a romantic place filled with history and elegance.
Aunt Jo was the Princess and Indianapolis was my Camelot. Major streets converged at Memorial Circle where the Soldiers and Sailors Monument reigned. We rode the trolley downtown to view this towering bronze and limestone memorial, built specifically to honor Civil War dead, but which included the names of Indiana men who had fought in our countries wars. I remember how proud I felt to find the bronze plaque from World War II with my father’s name embossed.
From the Circle we would walk to LS Ayers Department Store, eight stories of city treasures. Aunt JoAnne always bought me a special dress or sweater set, all the more special for being “store bought”. She then purchased a pound of assorted pastel bonbons with coconut centers, still my favorite candy. After shopping we would eat open-faced sandwiches in the Tea Room where the linen-covered tables sparkled with china and silver. I sat primly on the plush chair, partly in wonder, partly terrified of using the wrong fork.
Jo would admonish me to stand up straight. I was the tallest girl I knew and tried to slump. She eased me into some of the mysteries of female life, including how to shave my arm pits, roll on deodorant, launder undergarments by hand, and to always wear a freshly ironed blouse. I also learned the importance of clean underwear in case of being hit by a car.
Once we took the train all the way to Cincinnati to go to the Zoo. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. It was summer and the snake house reeked and the rhinos were the most impressive animals I had ever seen.
But the Museum in Indianapolis was my favorite place, with a labyrinth of rooms, thousands of exhibits. I fell in love with the paintings of the French Impressionists, whom I still love. I wanted to live in the Museum. Instead, we moved to Montana .
Years went by. JoAnne visited me at the ranch in Dodson and held my six month old daughter. She told me stories about my Mom and about the time when I was a baby. It was the first time anyone had ever talked to me about my mother. She answered many questions for me; made me feel like my blank early years had some substance. When Jo had to leave, I drove her to the train station in Malta . I was crying so hard, I backed our old Chevy pick-up into a lamp post.
When Uncle Lee retired, he and Jo built a cabin on Kentucky Lake . She continued to live there many years after his death. Whenever I visited Aunt Jo, I could see why she loved it so much. We spent many hours on the lake, rowing, casting our lines, pulling in sunfish and croppies. I felt sad when Jo chose to sell the place and move closer to you, Uncle George, but I understood the necessity.
Uncle George, when I visit you in Indiana , I love to amble with you along the paths in the cemeteries, stopping at each family grave to tell stories, to reflect, to draw more closely together. Now we will have another place for remembering.
I’ll miss Aunt JoAnne but I have rich memories.
I love you, Uncle George.
Havre Daily News: Looking out my back door
February 18, 2010