Since my Aunt Katie died a week ago, I’ve had many people come to me to offer their sympathy, and to tell me a memory or an impression she left. There was the baseball cap she often wore, or the big truck she drove, or the dog that waited in the car while Aunt Katie attended mass. Always, though appreciative of the thought, I was left thinking, “There was so much more to her than that!” I was anxious for the chance to honor her for all that she meant to so many of us.
I thought I’d talk about Katherine’s life, and how she lived it: her work, the sports she loved, her garden…then Deacon Paul came to talk to me, to prepare for his homily…and I gave away all my best material. I was planning to interview all the cousins gathered here, to get specifics about how Aunt Katie influenced each of their lives…but there was a lot going on yesterday, and I didn’t get the chance. So, I’m speaking from my perspective alone in hopes that, by doing so, maybe others will identify with Katherine as I knew her.
My first memory of Aunt Katie goes back 60 years. I’m sure she was around before that, to hold me when I was a baby, and to try to hold me once I decided I was shy, and wouldn’t allow it. On this particular day, though, when she stopped in for a visit, my mother was giving baths and shampooing hair. The house was in an uproar. I was sitting naked in the middle of the living room, wailing. Aunt Katie swooped me up into her arms…and I let her. And I stopped crying. She did a little pointing to my dad, who was just as surprised as she was that I was allowing it. She said, “See, I’m not so bad…we could be friends…”
She was right. Aunt Katie was a consistent presence through my life. As a child, I looked forward to her Sunday visits for the cookies she often brought, and for the lively conversations that took place when she was around. As an adult, I appreciated my aunt as a mentor, a teacher, and a wonderful friend.
Aunt Katie was an example of a strong, independent working woman, when role-models like that were extremely scarce. She had a good job, and owned her own home. She always drove a nice car. She traveled around the state, and then around the country. When she came to Beaver Island on vacation, she almost always brought some of her nieces and nephews along with her. Once, stuck in traffic on the way back to Pontiac on a sweltering hot day, she said all four of the Evans boys had their long legs dangling out the windows!
Aunt Katie taught me how to get along with my Dad. “Don’t forget: I grew up with him, and three other stubborn brothers,” she told me. “It won’t do you any good to argue; you will never win. Instead, do this: drop your chin, bring your arms to your sides. Say ‘you are absolutely right.’ Don’t say ‘you could be right’ or ‘you might have a point’ because the argument will just continue on. Say ‘you are absolutely right.’ Then, just do what you want.”
I watched her put this into practice. My dad would rail on and on about the stupidity of the game of golf, and how foolish it was to go chasing a little ball across a field. Aunt Katie would nod, drop her chin, and say, “You’re absolutely right, Bob.” Then, next chance she got, she’d load up her clubs and go to the golf course. Dad would talk about how ridiculous it was to grow flowers. “If you can’t eat it, it’s just a waste of time,” he’d say. “You’re right,” she’d say…but she’d still run twine along the porch for her morning glories to climb.
Once, over dinner, Uncle Henry was talking about smoking, and what a nasty habit it was. “You’re absolutely right, Henry,” Aunt Katie said. Still, when she got up from the table, she closed herself in the bathroom and lit up.”She thinks I don’t know what she’s doing in there,” he said…as if she weren’t less than ten feet away. “It’s none of Henry’s business,” Aunt Katie spoke to herself…as if the walls weren’t paper thin. When she came out of the bathroom, in a cloud of smoke, neither one of them said a word about it.
And when my dad was on his deathbed, and he bellowed and sent us all, crying, from the room, Aunt Katie quietly kept her seat. No matter what he wanted, or thought he wanted, she wasn’t going to let him die alone.
Aunt Katie didn’t always shy away from an argument, though. There are a couple of people that she seemed to truly enjoy sparring with. There were others that she’d talk history with, or finance, politics, the stock market, gardening, dogs, or baseball. Katherine was an intelligent woman who could speak with great knowledge on any number of subjects. She wouldn’t waste her time, though, if she didn’t think you were interested.
She was always tuned in to what others cared about. She kept that in mind, too, when she asked for assistance. One niece helped with her taxes, because that was her strong suit. A couple nephews helped with remodeling projects. Aunt Katie called me if she needed something from the store; she called Bob for help with dinner. When Deacon Paul asked if I took care of Aunt Katie, I was stunned. “She took care of herself,” I told him. She was careful to spread out the help she needed, so that it seemed like she was asking nothing at all. Truly, in comparison to all that she gave, it was absolutely nothing.
With that being said, I do want to thank the many people that helped Katherine as her health failed, to make it possible for her to live a good life, in her own home. Thank you to the priests that have stopped to visit, to Deacon Jim, and the ladies that brought Communion. Thanks to Bob Evans, who was always there for Aunt Katie, whether it was doctor visits, meals, or just good companionship. Thanks to Eileen, who was Katherine’s helper and, most importantly, her friend. Thanks to Greg, who was always close by, and checked in regularly. Thanks to Keith, who brightened Aunt Katie’s hospital stay with regular visits…and to all the others that came, called, or sent cards. And many thanks to the hospice nurses, Sue Solle and Donna Kubik, for all their help and encouragement in Katherine’s last days.
My Aunt Katie lived a good life; my life has been better for having her in it.