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Today is February 7, 2012

 

 You are getting very sleepy … and when I snap my fingers, you will believe it is February 7, 2012

 

Today would have been the 100th birthday of my aunt and godmother, had she lived a few months longer.

She spent her ninety-nine years, six months, and about two weeks in New Orleans—minus the five months she existed in Arizona, following her narrow escape from hurricane Katrina. She was the second child and the first of five daughters born to Sicilian immigrants—a mere two months before the Titanic went down. As is practically Sicilian law, she was named for her paternal grandmother, Rosalia. The next born daughter was named for her maternal grandmother, whose name happened to be Rosa. So in two years the family had a Rosalie and a Rosa. The daughter after that got her own name, Antoinette. But by the time the fourth daughter came along, Rosa had died—very young, of kidney failure. So the new daughter was about to become the new Rosa. According to my Aunt Toni (the one with her own name, and also the one who knew everything about everything), she and her other less-Sicilian-more-American sister stepped in. They said it would be weird to name the new baby after the sister that had died. They begged their parents to break the law and use a derivative of Rosa. The family settled on Rosemary. Then, a few years later my mom was born. She was named Frances, after her father, Francesco, who believed he would never have another son. He was right.

I was barely a few weeks old the day Aunt Lee and Uncle Jimmy, after whom I was named, dressed in their fineries and accompnaied me to St. Dominic Church in the Lakeview area of New Orleans. I would have been wearing satin slippers that nobody could see because my christening gown extended long past my feet. I actually have those tiny slippers saved, somewhere.

Uncle Jimmy died in the 1970s, and Aunt Lee never really got over it. I’m told that after years of trying to conceive, her mother (again with the Sicilian mandates) discouraged them from adopting, saying that she should instead help her sister raise her daughters. Of course, anyone who has raised children will tell you that there is no such thing as arm’s length child rearing. Lee and Jimmy quickly lost touch with what happens when precious little girls turn into pre-adolescents, teenagers, and then adults. Still Aunt Lee remembered our birthdays when we were younger, and in her later years welcomed our phone calls with great delight. It was never so easy to make someone so happy.

My godmother never forgot our special bond, formed on that chilly November Day. We’d always had a close relationship, but it really blossomed in the last decade or so of her life. Although she didn’t quite make it to one hundred, Mr. Lee and I wanted to do something in honor of her would-be milestone. So we erected a monument.

In December of 2011, a few months after Aunt Lee died, Mr. Lee accompanied me to New Orleans to take care of some business regarding her estate. While I was inside the house trying to ascertain the whereabouts of a number of artifacts (and one heirloom in particular) which had inexplicably disappeared, Mr. Lee stepped outside to admire the humidity. Yes, to us Arizona types, December in New Orleans can feel humid.

When I glanced out the window, I was surprised to see him digging something out of the garden next to the fishpond. I ran outside to ask what on earth he was doing. He was procuring something for me—something he hoped would be a proper reminder of my godmother. No. It was not the vase I’d been assured and whose very existence was now being denied. The rooster weathervane had been a fixture in Aunt Lee’s garden for more than a decade. I don’t quite remember when it first appeared, but I do recall it in various stages of spectacle over the years.

There was nothing country or folk art about Aunt Lee’s decor—or her neighborhood. But somewhere along the way she picked up a rooster weathervane. It persevered through numerous tropical storms, most notably, hurricane Katrina in 2005. In December, 2011 it traveled practically cross country, and went from sea level to an elevation of almost 5400 feet. Three days after it was installed in our backyard it got dumped with several inches of snow, and that much again a week later. It’s a survivor, just like its previous owner.

Happy 100th, Aunt Lee!

Mr. Lee made sure I would be leaving New Orleans with something I didn’t even know I wanted.

Oh, I almost forgot … at the count of three you will no longer believe it is February 7, 2012 … one, two, three

{ 4 } Comments

  1. jerome | 9 July 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    This is a wonderful obituary. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Jaime Lee | 10 July 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    I never thought of it like that. Thank you for allowing me to hypnotize you into reading it.

  3. colleen | 10 July 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    nice tribute to Lee, Ms. Lee.

  4. Jaime Lee | 11 July 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Thank you. I like that you know practically everyone I write about …

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