GAYS MILLS - Over the weekend, I spent the day with my Aunt Barb. We usually hook up and hang out on her weekends off.
I’ve always spent a lot of time with my Aunt Barb because she and my mom were always so close.
Growing up, we’d trek across town, my mom and I, for some girls’ time. Aunt Barb and my mom would sit inside and gossip about their husbands or the shared profession of nursing, while Barb’s daughter, Amber, and I would venture around the yard on our own or next door to the neighbor girl’s house.
As an adult, I’ve always loved spending time with my aunts, all of them but over the past couple of years I’ve really gotten close to my Aunt Barb.
Going through the major life experiences of a serious relationship, my mom dying, and a new baby was a whirlwind of four years.
When I didn’t know what to do, the logical thing seemed to be to call Aunt Barb. Even when she didn’t have a good answer for me, it still helped to just call and air out my concerns.
After I found out I was pregnant, Aunt Barb was one of the first people I told, even before my own dad. She was in the middle of the pharmacy at Wal-Mart receiving my texts, and later told me she busted out into tears of joy.
When my mom was dying, she’d stop in the room and be a source of strength and reality, telling us what to expect of the situation and the medical staff. She was always a source of strength for us, and her own sisters. When her sisters would cry, she would get choked up and tell them “Nope, we can’t start that,” while handing them tissues.
Over my last couple visits with Aunt Barb, I’ve had this realization on how valuable my relationship with her really is.
We went trick-or-treating at Myrick Park in LaCrosse with my cousin Hannah, and her son Jackson and Aunt Barb’s grandson Romeo. The other boys are much older than Thatcher, nearly eight and nearly nine.
Thatcher of course wanted to trail along with the bigger boys, but his little short legs couldn’t keep up.
It seemed like a small gesture, but Aunt Barbie came up and gave him her fingers to hang onto has he scampered along trying to keep up with the boys. A small gesture, but one that moved me the same way as watching her shuffle crumbs out of his way and cheering him on as he jumped over the other bigger boys to sit on their lap.
It moved me because as much as I try not to think about it, Thatcher won’t ever know my mom.
He won’t have her to sneak him cookies or tell him stories about when I was little. He will always have my dad of course and a host of other wonderful people that he loves, but not a Grandma Rhonda.
However, watching him with Aunt Barbie (as she calls herself) made me feel so much better because I know he will always have the closest thing to my mom as he could get.
It’s always so funny listening to my Aunt tell stories about my mom and the rest of their sisters growing up and even as adults.
Having a brother I have a totally different relationship with my sibling that these four girls have.
“We would be like Thelma and Louise,” Aunt Barb said dreamily over the summer, remembering trips she and my mom would take from Beloit to Readstown to visit my grandparents for the weekend in the days before small children. (Barb’s first son, Wes, was already old enough to be away from Ma for the weekend.) The girls would go on an adventure stopping at restaurants and going out dancing in the bars with their sisters and friends or just simply laying around the homestead reading their favorite books and gossiping and listening to music.
My mom and Barb even went to nursing school together getting their GEDs and later Registered Nursing degrees.
“Your mom was always so embarrassed by me,” Barb chuckled. “She had this amazing sharp memory and could remember everything in class. I was a terrible student, just a hillbilly straight out of the tobacco field- without her I probably wouldn’t have graduated.”
The pair went on to live in the same town, work for the same county in buildings right next to each other, sharing smoke breaks and lunches.
I have so many memories of watching my mom get ready for work, simultaneously putting on makeup, smoking a menthol cigarette and talking on the phone to her sister. Conversations about anything and everything to which I am now privy while hanging out with Aunt Barb.
Although she isn’t my mom or Thatcher’s grandma per se, we’re so thankful to have her to share the spirit and stories of my mom and fill in on those little moments picking up after us and feeding us and making us laugh.
People always use that old adage that it takes a village to raise a child, and I never took it seriously until a piece went missing and I needed the village that surrounded me to make it work.
Over the weekend I lost my beloved Aunt Barb to an unexpected heart attack. She was certainly one of a kind, we joked she was the perfect woman, standing at barely 5’1”, she could roof a house, swim through floodwaters like an Olympian, wield a shotgun, gut a deer, sew her children's clothes, make the world’s best baked beans and mark everyone (including her mailman) off of her Christmas list before September. There will never be another like her, and we feel a hole in our hearts for her loss.
Editor’s note: the column in today’s ‘From the Valley’ originally appeared in the October 26, 2017 edition of the Independent-Scout.