Columns

2006.03.22 Goodbye to family matriarch

on . Posted in Nowhere Road

By RICH FOLEY

My annual trip to Missouri has come to an end with a final visit to commemorate the death of my beloved Aunt Sue. She made it to 99 years, four months and two days and spent only four days in the hospital at the end due to pneumonia. She lived the last three years on her own, determined to stay in her own home.

She had slowed down just a bit in the last few months. She had told my sister last Christmas that she was mad at herself because she had only gotten around to baking eight different kinds of Christmas cookies. Yeah, a 99-year-old woman baked “only” eight kinds.

One of those fancy obits probably would have said “she loved working in her yard, was famous for her cookie baking prowess, and was an avid fan of NFL quarterback Kurt Warner.”

Some of the anecdotes about her probably tell her story best. Back during the Great Depression, she was finding it hard to get a job in the restaurant business, where she spent most of her working life. She finally hit on the idea of asking if a restaurant would hire her to fill in on the day the waitress took off.

One restaurant agreed to hire her one day a week and she continued until she found four more to hire her on other days. She had created her own full-time position, each day of the week at a different restaurant.

She knew her way around the kitchen, too. Back in 1988, I was visiting and the muffler on my Ford Tempo rusted off on one end and fell to the pavement. The other end was stuck inside a thick rubber hanger and I couldn’t get it loose no matter what I did. Aunt Sue excused herself for a minute and came back with a huge butcher knife. “Try this,” she said, and the muffler was free in seconds.

When I visited last year for her 99th birthday, she offered me a set of Pyrex plates and related items that I suspect are probably as old as me. She bought them as gifts, but never used them, so I ended up the recipient of the now fashionably retro dinnerware.

She spent a long time wrapping each piece individually and sealing them in boxes. She said if I were stopped by the police and asked what was in the boxes, just tell them I didn’t know because my crazy aunt packed them. They were packed so well, I figured if I hit a land mine on I-70, all that would be left would be a few pieces of shrapnel and the three boxes of Pyrex. Yes, Aunt Sue, I’m using the dishes.

Two years ago, I had just bought my Buick, which she was happy to see after the problems I had had with several older vehicles. She really got a kick out of all the gadgets on the Buick, but I forgot to show her the power sunroof, which is hidden by a shade.

Last November, when I took her grocery shopping,  I opened the shade and hit the button to open the sunroof. She looked at it for a second and said, “That’s nice, Richie. Now close it, I’m freezing!”

One of my gifts to her on that trip was a scrapbook of some of my previous columns. She really seemed to enjoy reading it and showing her favorites to the neighbors.

She especially got a kick out of the story of the box of donuts that have been at the Observer office since 1999. “You don’t clean your office very often, do you?” was her question to me after she read the column. She kept encouraging me to publish a real book. If that were to ever happen, there’s no doubt who it would be dedicated to.

Plans were already being made for a 100th birthday celebration. When asked last year, she expressed an interest in going to the top of the St. Louis Arch on her birthday. That’s not that tough, all we needed to do was buy tickets.

I was given the assignment of getting an autographed photo or signed greeting card from Kurt Warner (I had already got one from the White House for her 98th). She often mentioned how she liked all the things Warner and his wife did for the community off the field. She never forgave the St. Louis Rams for getting rid of him. Her fall Sundays were spent rooting for both Kurt’s current team and whoever was playing the Rams that week.

I usually called her on Sunday nights around 7:45. She would be patient until 8 p.m. or so, but if I hadn’t called by 8:15, she’d call to see if I was all right. Now who’s going to be in charge of checking up on me?

– March 22, 2006 

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