We pulled up to her house, situated on a busy street with many cars whizzing by. The house was very well manicured, complete with rose bushes in full bloom and trees that towered into the open sky. There was a feeling of stability and love. The roots here were deep, plummeting into a fertile ground that had been worked over with steady hands for decades. Love and devotion sprouted everywhere,
a time gone by, when people spent time on their landscape, and not on frivolous random things.
I stepped out of the car, gathering my camera bag, keys, and purse. Carefully opened my drivers side door, to make sure it wasn’t ripped off it’s hinges by oncoming traffic. I squeezed around my white Suburban, and took my first step back into time. Aunt Adena’s house looked the same as I remembered it from my youth, but not the surrounding busyness. A farm community long gone, we were positioned right in the middle of a bustling city.
I was named after my two aunts; Ranae and Janene combined into Janae nicely, and my mother told me there was a beautiful girl she knew with my name. I grew up feeling loved in my family, with far reaching branches even into my extended family. Stories were told by my Aunt Ann of my birth, and the reminder every year when I saw her at Christmas that I was “the most beautiful baby she had ever seen, with dark black hair and pink lips.” I found my love of dance through my Aunt Janene, one of the first people I recall saying “point your toes, stand up straight”. I still love dance, it is a part of me. And my Aunt Ranae, that I spent endless hours laughing with in her basement, when I slept over for a cousins night. She had a vibrancy and love for life that was contagious. She threw parties on New Years, and giggled like a 12 year old into the very lat night, or early morning hours depending on how you look at it. I remember wanting to be just like her when I grew up.
When Ranae got out of the car, a flood of memories and love washed toward me. She was one reminder of my Grandpa Gourley, a man that has had more influence on my life than few others. One being my father, that is much like my Grandpa. His house was right down the street, and it felt in some ways he was still sitting inside, although it has been 16 years now since his passing. In truth, I feel his presence regulary. Whether it’s in my heart, mind, or some realm I can’t see – he is here.
I gave my Aunt a big hug, and we walked into the house together, with my daughter’s trailing behind. They understood what was about to happen. We were to visit my Great Aunt Adena, my grandpa’s brother’s wife, and interview her about her life. Adena is now close to 100 years old. Her beautiful face is burned into my memory from days long gone. She visited us at our Christmas parties at my Grandparents house, and I remember her always being so beautiful. A smile was comfortable on her face, and her bright blue eyes sparkled like the sky on a perfect day. I hadn’t seen her in about 20 years, and thought it would be nice to pay her a visit. It was Aunt Ranae’s idea, and I am so grateful to her for deciding on it.
We knocked on her door, but heard no answer. At first I worried of her health, remembering that she had just returned from the hospital a few days prior. We pounded the door a little bit louder, just in case she couldn’t hear us, but when there was no answer again, we walked inside.
There was no sign of her, which was an internal alarm for me. We rounded the corner, and found her in the office typing away at her computer. I couldn’t believe that she still found the energy to sit up and work. Her oxygen tube weaved between our feet, breathing life into her tired body. She turned, and we saw her.
Her eyes were just as I remembered them. What is it about eyes that holds youth like no other part of the body? It is fitting in my opinion, as they are the windows to our soul. She hugged us, and was careful to not squish her as much as I wanted to, because she was fragile and almost a century old! I reflected on my past 36 years, and tried to imagine adding another, almost two of my lifetimes onto it. 100 years of taking care of family. 100 years of love, loss, happiness, joy, and pain. The many feelings of defeat, loneliness, success, and memories.
I decided then and there, that the perspective on the other side of a lifetime is much different than at the beginning. I wanted to listen. I wanted her to relate the lessons she shared with my family, and I felt so blessed to have two of them there with me.
There was nowhere I’d rather be, than right there in the school of life,
listening to Aunt Adena’s Voice.