“Sweetie, you need to start watching where you’re going”, my soft spoken, beautiful North CarolinaGrandmother, Ma-Maw tells me on my hot summer afternoon day.
Earlier that day I had fallen and busted my head wide open at my Aunt Patti’s house. The result of an attempt to grab a wayward basketball pass, from my
cousin Deanna, led me straight into the edge of a brick wall and left me with a crack in my head from my eyebrow to the top of my forehead.
My cousin Kim, ran up to get help, while my cousin Eric held his t-shirt on my profusely bleeding forehead, Eric keeps telling me to stay calm as he walks me up the hill to his Mom and Dad’s house. And though it hurt like awful and I’m crying like crazy, Eric keeps telling me with a smile and a wink, he thinks I might get to ride in another ambulance.
You see, I rode in an ambulance about three years ago, when I was five, after a thirty five foot willow oak fell on me and three other people at the VA baseball field where my brother plays T-ball. Robie Sykes, my brother’s t-ball friend, bet me he could beat me to the waterfountain and I took his challenge. As I slowly pulled ahead of Robie, a thunderous koo-boom with a crackle and pop started to happen above my head and just as quickly as the falling willow had sounded its siren, the willow oak fell on Robie and me. Luckily no one was hurt seriously and I got to ride to the hospital, with Mommy Gah in the back of an
ambulance. It was the coolest ride ever!
My childhood summers are spent shuffling between my Aunt Patti’s house outside Elizabethton, TN and my Nonnie’s cabin outside the Cherokee National Forest (Rock Creek) and my MaMaw’s trailer in downtown Johnson City.
My childhood companions are my Pickel cousins and my brother. And although adults are always around, typically my oldest cousin Kim is in charge.
My Aunt Patti is the sweetest, prettiest, most generous mommy I know. And her house is full of the smell of a wonderful spring day and she has my favorite Little Debbie treats on her counter, unlike my house where they are hidden and it takes me forever to find them. And unlike my Daddy-O, my Aunt Patti (my Daddy O’s sister) encourages me to have as many as I want.
The mission statement at the Pickel’s house reads just like the Peterson’s, “Our mission is to keep our children safe from the outside world, no matter what the price tag to us”,
And like the Peterson house, money is the least desired topic between our folks.
“Don’t spoil your dinner”, my Aunt Patti smiles and winks at me as I grab my second Swiss cake roll.
“I need a snack to help the throbbing pain coming from my forehead”, I say back to my aunt Patti.
“You go ahead and have one, you’re so sweet and precious, come here and give your Aunt Patti a hug”, she says back to me.
My Aunt Patti, my Uncle Freddie, my Daddy-O and my Mommy Gah are the best of friends. They are sitting outside talking about anything and everything as my Aunt Patti moves between the kitchen and the front lawn, offering everyone a cup of homemade ice tea or Coca-Cola and asking my Uncle Freddie to start the grill because it’s getting late and we have to go to church in the morning.
And even though my Monmy Gah and Daddy O do not take us to church, my Aunt Patti insist my brother and I stay the night and go to church with them.
My Uncle Freddie jumps to his feet with his Andy Griffith sense of knowledge and confidence, and heads over to the charcoal grill just as my Daddy-O snatches the burger trey from Mommy Gah and says,
“Let the men handle the grill”,
My Mommy Gah stops for a second , rolls her eyes back at my father and then slowly doesn’t seem to mind.
My Uncle Freddie is always laughing when he is talking to my Daddy O. Just like Andy’s always laughing with Barney Fife, on my Daddy O’s favorite tv show.
My Daddy O leans forward to say something he doesn’t want the rest of us to hear and my Uncle Freddie launches back in his white Rubbermaid chair and howls laughing at whatever Daddy O just said.
My mother on the other hand tries to keep my ants in the pants father in check, by leaning towards my Daddy O and saying,
” Garrrrreeey, don’t be so loud, you’ll bother the neighbors”‘, And with that, my Daddy O sways backwards like George Jefferson telling Weezie and says,
“Emily, mind your own business!” and to date this remains the theme song of my parent’s marriage.
My Aunt Patti always knew how to make a party festive and she was the hostess of my childhood. My Aunt Patti was a hairdresser and she was the person who fixed my hair after the unfortunate haircut incident of 1976. I will forever remember her wisdom and grace as she pulled me into her always ready for a hug arms and said, “now, now you come over here and let me fix it, everything will be fine when I get through with you”.
And just like that all my troubles seemed to be gone with her embrace.
My Aunt Patti died in 2009 from the swine flu. I miss her everyday and I pray for peace for my cousins as they move through life without her, she truly was a gem among stones.
Church on Sunday’s at the Pickel house is no small time affair. Bath time means a line outside the door and positioning is key in order to get hot water. Elbows and fingers are weapons of choice and as soon as the bathtub is empty, and after my Aunt Patti’s long fingernails scalp my head and her quick solo cup waterfall rinses my hair, my cousin Deanna and I get in our pajamas jump into her twin bed and the light is turned off.
Tonight like every other night I spend at the Pickels, my Aunt Patti is not far behind the darkness asking us if we have said our prayers.
But tonight is different, my Aunt Patti asks Deanna and I to get down out of our bed and kneel on our knees beside her at the bed’s edge. My Aunt Patti asks me to take Jesus into my heart, and then my Aunt Patti says with such conviction of knowledge,
In Colossians 3:16-17 the apostle Paul wrote, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
And as she finishes reading, my Aunt Patti looks down at me with her beautiful blond hair, her high cheek bones and her always red lips and asks,
“Michele, will you accept Jesus Christ in your heart as your lord and savior?”
Funny how death always takes you back to childhood memories and how life never seems to go there unless something bad happens.
My Aunt Patti is and always will be my spiritual life partner.