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Remembering the Things that Matter

Delivering a eulogy for someone you’ve known for decades isn’t easy. There’s a bottomless treasure trove of memories, so it’s hard to select the right ones. The ones that will matter to most of the funeral attendees — or that might matter the most to one person? Or maybe that matter most to you, as a speaker? Without the eulogy going on for like two hours. I bet someone, somewhere has set a record for the longest eulogy. Maybe in other countries or galaxies they are very long indeed.

Recently we held a service for sacred Aunt Natalie. Natalie was not technically our aunt, she was our cousin once removed, the cousin of our father. She grew up in Vermont, became a teacher, married a state trooper, and had my two cousins—I mean second cousins. They were the reason my family visited Vermont, and came to love Vermont for more than just her natural beauty.

O, her seasons, all distinct! The fifth season called Mud Season. Stick Season, when the leaves have fallen off the trees, revealing magnificent textural backdrops – and awful housepaint jobs. Grit Season (when winter’s road-sand blows around after the snow’s gone) and Manure Season (when the entire state is fertilized, to our vegetably anticipation and olfactory dismay). Surely there are sub-seasons involving flora or fauna that Dear Reader relishes. Not Black Fly Season.

Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of one season and flash forward into another season entirely. Do you do this? It’s mind-blowing because Vermont is like a different planet in each. I time-travel to the alternate season and think, “Wow, winter: white!” Or: “Summer…wow.”

As with the seasons, I flash back to years gone by. Younger versions of us, the now-gone people still alive — all laughing — us kids up to some mischief. Feels like yesterday. It blindsides me when I’m driving. I cry. As friend Lee says, “It always seems to happen in the car.” 

Back to the cousins. We visited Vermont because our Scottish great-great-great grandparents, blacksmiths, had settled there. The introduction of the automobile caused my dad’s father to pursue other work, in Ohio, where he met his bride. Their summer trips back to Vermont got my dad hooked on ‘mont. Once a parent himself, he got us kids hooked. Back then, kids didn’t get to choose family vacations (as if!). Thank God our parents chose Vermont.

You visit a place not just for her physical characteristics, but for her people. Think of places you’ve been (Maine, the south, islands, Italy) and the locals there with qualities different from people at home, lending that place its particular flava. 

When even one person leaves the planet, the flava of Earth changes, no? Most of you have lost someone close to you. In my (second) cousins’ vernacular, it’s wicked hard.

My Aunt Natalie was born with a spark. Neighbors, hairdressers, toll booth operators … she left an impression on each. You know how some relatives were old your entire life? Natalie always looked to be 50 years old, even at 80. She always wore shorts. But mostly I recall her sparkle and humor and a kind of innocence that seemed like it was from another era. Because it was.

Swimming with Natalie by moonlight in Silver Lake! As my sister said, she had a way of making the everyday magical. She was a true lover of children. Whether you were you pounding out Grand Old Flag on the piano or had sketched an inscrutable picture of nothingness, she’d exclaim, “BeaUtiful!” She made children feel valuable, which I think many children did not feel in decades past. 

Ah, cousins: the gift of noisy fun. Those classic Thanksgivings, Memorial and Labor Days, and of course The Fourth. Something called “bull beans.” Treks via inner tubes to the Barnard General Store for penny candy. Making a game of anything at all. The parents sending us to Richardson’s with returnable bottles to get them “supplies.” We got candy. 

Countless holidays over countless years, always with music, always with laughter. Ever effusive, Natalie would tell my mother, “You make the BEST salads!” My dad would howl, because what’s really involved in a salad? When it was time for my family to leave Vermont, I would cry and my brother would hide, so that leaving became – briefly – impossible. 

Natalie passed bit by bit from our lives.  But these memories remain forever indelible, of an energetic and vivacious woman so greatly loved.  As Dear Reader knows, we never forget those we adored. Our pain at our loss is a beautiful pain. An honoring. As sad as it makes us.

Thank you, Aunt Natalie, for years and years of fun and art and music and jubilance and adventures and hilarity … and most of all, most of all, for your smile and voice and laugh. 

If Dear Reader knows what I’m talking about, maybe today at some point: look up! Say Hello to your people gone by. Tell them you remember, you remember all of it. That you just know you’ll see them again. Good remembering, and good day.

Ann Aikens

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