There is one aunt left in our family. It is my Dad’s baby sister, my Aunt Jo. She is about 85 now and has been the matriarch of our family since our grandma died about 25 years ago. To me she is affectionately called Mrs. Auntie Jo.
When I was about 11, my mom got cancer and was in the hospital and then out and undergoing radiation and stuff as an 11 year old kid, I, knew nothing about. The only thing I remember was that I would spend my summer vacation days at my aunt BC’s or Mrs. Auntie Jo’s. Either place was a great day as both ran a daycare out of their homes and there were cousins and other kids to play with.
The days at Mrs. Auntie Jo’s were filled with running and playing with all my cousins and their friends who lived in the neighborhood. While my cousins would call her Mom, the neighbor kids would all call her Mrs. Retter. Back in those days you always called your elders Mr or Mrs. To this day I call all my friends’ parents Mr or Mrs. Old habits die hard.
Everyone had a name for my aunt and so I decided that I would call her Mrs. Auntie Jo since she wasn’t my mom, but she was taking care of me like I was going to her day care. Yep Mrs. Auntie Jo it was. Well that name stuck with her and to this day, 55 years later she is still my Mrs. Auntie Jo. And she still answers to it and signs her cards to me, `` Love, Mrs. Auntie Jo”. Those were some of the best times ever as a kid. She would take us to the park for picnics, have homemade cookies and treats for snacks, much of what I was missing at the time with my mom being sick and my dad working and taking her to radiation every day. Mrs. Auntie Jo kept my life normal through what could have been a pretty scary time for an 11 year old kid.
When my mom got better, I didn’t see Mrs. Auntie Jo daily, but there still were all the family functions and get-togethers. Life and time marched on. She and my uncle Rich were there for all the milestones, graduation, my wedding, the birth of all 4 of our kids, the graduations and weddings of all our kids. My parents died when I was in my early 20’s and Mrs. Auntie Jo was there to help fill that enormous gap of my parents being gone.
As time went on, my uncle Rich was struck with Alzhemer’s. He was only in his late 50’s when the changes started and within a few years he had full blown Alzhiemers. Mrs. Auntie Jo stayed home and cared for him better than any institution could have. Every day for several years, she was by his side caring for him. I remember her wearing wrist braces on her arms. When I asked how she hurt herself, she laughed and said , “Your uncle Rich grips a little harder these days”. She wore them to prevent getting hurt when uncle Rich didn't want to do something and would squeeze her arm.
The funniest thing ever was how Mrs. Auntie Jo got my uncle Rich to quit smoking after decades of daily smoking. She was afraid he would catch something on fire with his Alzhiemers affecting his thinking. So she replaced the pack of cigarettes he carried in his shirt pocket with some Dum Dum lollipops. Uncle Rich would out of habit reach to his pocket for a cigarette. And there would be a sucker waiting for him. Each and every time he was amazed it was there. He had quite a sweet tooth so that sweet sucker did the trick. She once in a while would remind him he never smoked. She had a way of making him believe he never smoked, he just ate lollipops that were in his shirt pocket.
TIme has passed, and Mrs. Auntie Jo has outlived her husband, parents and 2 brothers and her youngest daughter. She is the last of the generation that goes before me and my siblings and cousins. She is our matriarch and the keeper of the stories from the past. They are always good stories of her growing up years when she was a kid on the farm. Of time spent with her grandparents. Of her pet pig that lived in the house on the farm. Of living in San Francisco when she was 18 and Uncle Rich was in the service..
While last year my sister-in-law and I would take Mrs. Auntie Jo out for lunch, it became necessary to meet at her house and eat there. So once a month my brother, sister-in-law, a few of my cousins and me and my best half get together for lunch over at Mrs. Auntie Jo’s house.
Word got out and pretty soon more people have been coming to her house on those days. Covid locked her up in her house for most of the past year. But she now has gotten her second vaccination. She has more of a “bring it on” attitude these days. The monthly lunch has become pretty special for all of us because we get to see Mrs. Auntie Jo. We all bring some kind of food and we have a great time. We get there, visit with everyone, hear some stories from Mrs. Auntie Jo, get caught up on all the family news and then eat. It is always fun to sit around the table and visit. Mrs. Auntie Jo, our matriarch and keeper of the stories and connection to the past and where we come from....
Mrs. Auntie Jo, the legend.