Yesterday was March 5th, which means it was my Uncle Bobby's birthday. Happy birthday, Uncle Bobby! It also means that it would have been the birthday of his twin sister, my Aunt Bert--short for Bertha Jean--who is my Mom's sister, and Cousin Shane's Mom.
Aunt Bert was something special. A gorgeous, long-legged blonde (not a natural blonde, but she looked great as one!), she did indeed own a pink Mustang. How cool is that? Her beauty went much deeper than the surface, though. She was one of the kindest, most gentle-hearted people I've ever known. She also had that goofy sense of humor that seems to run in my family. One of my Mom and Dad's favorite stories about her is while they were sitting around talking one day, Aunt Bert was cutting the "pills" off of a sport coat. She was snipping away while she talked, and when she held up the coat, she'd cut a big chunk out of it. She looked at Mom and Dad, and they all just burst into laughter, and believe me, when Aunt Bert laughed, she gave it her all! Shane and I still chuckle about that laugh that she had, and all the sisters had similar laughs. We used to wonder when one of them was going to lay an egg. Like her and Uncle Bobby, I am the youngest sibling, and maybe that's why we got along so well--as the baby of the family, we both have that "class clown" attitude. She loved to laugh.
Aunt June, Aunt Liz, Aunt Bert, Mom
When we were kids, a lot of the families would go out to a local campground and have a cookout. At night, we'd sit around a fire, and Shane's stepdad would play guitar and sing. I still remember him singing "Long Tall Texan," and when he sang, "And when people look at me, they say..." and Aunt Bert would say the line, "Hoo-raw! Is that your horse?" Sounds corny, doesn't it? It was, but it's something I've never forgotten, and I'm smiling as I write.
When I went off to college in Indiana, my parents were living in Georgia. I spent my summers with them, of course, but during the school year, I'd often come up for a weekend visit with family. Sometimes I'd stay with one of my sisters, sometimes with my cousin Greg and his Mom, but 9 times out of 10, Shane would pick me up (or I'd catch a ride), and I'd stay with him and Aunt Bert and his stepdad. They took me in as part of the family, and that's where I spent Christmases. It was good to know that I had a place--a home--where I could spend a weekend and be with family and have homecooked meals. (Aunt Bert was also a great Southern cook, just like her Mom and her sisters.) It meant a lot to me to have that kind of atmosphere, instead of being stuck at school all the time.
Aunt Bert, Shane, me
When I finished school, I got married shortly afterward. Aunt Bert put together a photo album for me, with pictures of me and my cousins when we were little, pictures of family, pictures of our Christmases together, etc. She wrote inside, "I will always cherish our times together, for you are like my very own." Aunt Bert died of cervical cancer about a year and a half after that, and it gave me a little shiver to look at the dates...I wonder if she knew by that time that she wasn't going to make it? She was 46 when she died, not even a year older than I am right now. I still miss the heck out of her (all of us do), and I always get emotional around her birthday. She once gave me one of her lounging robes, a hoodie sweatshirt thing with BJ (Bertha Jean) monogrammed on it. It's pretty ratty by now and I haven't worn it for years, but I can't bring myself to throw it out, so it still hangs in the closet.
A few years after she died--I was divorced by that time--I had a dream that I was terribly sad about something. Aunt Bert was there, held out her arms, and said, "Let me give you a hug, honey." She hugged me and told me everything was going to be okay. I woke up in tears, feeling like my Aunt Bert had just been there to give me a hug. I called Shane and we talked about it, and while I'm not a big believer in "things happen for a reason" (how can the loss of such a wonderful person have any rhyme or reason?), Shane and I probably connected on a deeper, more mature level than we ever had, and we've been that close ever since.
I wonder what she'd be like today? She'd be 68 years old! Wow, that's hard to believe. I think she'd be the same beautiful, fun-loving person that she was 22 years ago. I think she'd be happy for me, and proud of me--I know she'd be proud of Shane, who is an utterly great guy--and I also know that she would love Ken to pieces. While I still wonder sometimes why she, of all people, was taken from us, I'm grateful that she was a light in our lives for the time we had her. Love you, Aunt Bert.