By Kevin J. McCue
I was gazing out the window on a gray winter day when I saw a crimson red cardinal perched on the lower branches of a pine tree. His color was dazzling and so striking, it brought to mind one person: my dear old Aunt Betty.
Aunt Betty, where do I begin?
Her real name was Gertrude, but she preferred Betty. To everyone who knew her in our family, she was Aunt Betty.
And how would I describe her?
How about wild, wacky, irreverent, fun-loving and funny enough to do standup comedy. OK, I’ve got the perfect word: she was incandescent!
Aunt Betty was not your typical adult. She had a childlike playfulness and zeal, and she seemed to prefer spending time with her nieces and nephews; you see, we were her biggest fans.
With all due respect, she looked a bit like Lily Munster: pale skin, bright red lipstick, and a beehive hairdo darker than the arctic night.
She was colorful, and so were her dresses: hot pink, bright red and powder blue were three of her favorites.
Aunt Betty, and her husband, Uncle Bob, came to stay at the McCue residence for two weeks every March when my parents took a vacation. We loved it because it meant the rules would be greatly relaxed, and the fun would begin.
She was the most fantastic whistler I ever heard, with a two-and-a-half octave range and a highly developed vibrato. She whistled like a bird.
She loved fried chicken, playing cards and a good TV mystery. But she loved people most of all.
Aunt Betty taught me the fine art of active listening long before I even knew what active listening was. She easily could have been a therapist. As a matter of fact, for all of my family, she was a therapist.
Is it any wonder we loved her so? As a child, she read me bedtime stories and she choked up one night when I told her that she could come live with me later in life. I didn’t get it at the time, but she was deeply moved by my offer and said, “Do you really mean that?”
“Of course,” I replied. I think she smiled for a week.
She was Auntie Mame, Phyllis Diller and Ruth Gordon all rolled into one; and what I truly admired about her was the fact that she did not care what other people thought about her. There’s a glorious freedom in that. She marched, I mean leaped, to the beat of her own drummer.
Unlike the older folks in our family, Aunt Betty liked modern music – rock ’n’ roll and rhythm and blues – anything with a good beat. Rhythm ran through her veins. I still remember her running into the living room, kicking off her shoes and twirling and dancing with glee to the music.
For as amiable and good-natured as she was, she became highly annoyed when people asked how old she was. I recall she had eight or nine different birthday years. That always appealed to me; why have just one?
Oh, by the way, like my grandmother, she advised me never to ask a woman how old she was.
Aunt Betty was a character, and even in the end, her exit from our world was masterful. When did she depart? Take a wild guess – April
Fools’ Day! And knowing her as I do, I’m sure she planned it that way.
Now, every time I look up to see a cardinal singing away in the trees, I think of Aunt Betty. Her memory shines on – and she’s still just as colorful and melodic as a songbird.