Aunt Polly would have been 100 in February. She almost made it! Instead, according to the preacher at her funeral a couple of weeks ago, she will be celebrating her birthday with her daughter, sisters and husbands (two of them) in heaven. I hope that’s true, because she would definitely enjoy that party like she enjoyed parties throughout her life.
I met Aunt Polly – my husband’s aunt on his mom’s side and the mother of his three female cousins Martha, Mary Ella and Gigi – when I was introduced into the family in the early 90’s. I was embraced by all of the Parkers at that time, but none more so than Aunt Polly. With a big smile and hug, she let me know that I was welcome to join in the fun of being part of the Parker clan and that she expected visits to her home whenever we were in town. It didn’t hurt that Ray – Raymond to her – seemed to be a favorite. Her face would light up when she saw him and since I was there, I got to experience her warm embrace, her smile and those mischievous twinkling eyes.
Over the years, we visited Aunt Polly from time to time when we were in Gaffney. She always seemed thrilled that we were there and asked us repeatedly as we left to tell her when we were coming back. In recent years, with more reasons to be in South Carolina and after moving to Asheville – only 90 minutes away – we were able to see her more often. We would take her candy – which she loved – and would “sneak” a bottle of wine to her, too. Her girls weren’t thrilled with her having a drink, she told us. She was beginning to get frail as she got into her 90’s and they were afraid she might fall. But that big smile would get even bigger when we opened up a bottle, told her we wouldn’t “tell” on her, and shared a glass during our visit. She loved believing she was getting away with something!
The stories about Aunt Polly that circulate in the family are legendary – and very funny. She loved to laugh – and was always willing to laugh at herself, too. One of my own stories about her happened several years ago when she had fallen and broken a wrist. We were at a family event and I knew from her daughters that their mom’s arm was in a sling, at the insistence of her doctor. When she walked into the party, I noticed that there was no sling and asked her about it. Looking a little sheepish, she whispered to me that it didn’t match her outfit so she decided to take it off!
I should have expected that response, since Aunt Polly was always a sharp dresser. She cared about her clothes, her hair and her shoes – even wearing high heels as long as she could get away with it!
A little over a year ago, at a Parker cousin’s reunion at our house in Asheville, Aunt Polly played boogie-woogie piano to the delight of everyone. She said that she played piano every day to keep her mind sharp. We all knew that she was in her 90’s, but had no idea exactly how old she really was. She had decided much earlier in life to keep her age a secret and swore her daughters to secrecy, too. According to them, she even tried to keep the secret from her doctors. Only after her funeral did we actually get the full scoop on her age – even the memorial card at the church listed her birth date, but not the year! She would have been so happy!
But my fondest memory of Aunt Polly occurred when Ray and I were visiting her at her home and Ray was busy with something – probably opening the wine. I took the opportunity to ask her a question.
Aunt Polly, why are you always so happy?
She smiled that impish smile of hers, put her hand on my arm and gave me an answer that I’ll never forget:
Honey, she said, I’m happy because I choose to be happy!
Thanks, Aunt Polly, for a great life lesson. I’ll miss you!