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My Aunt Made Friends with Toads
by Debra L. McKeen Sparks
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"My beloved spoke and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For the winter is past; the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear upon the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land." Song of Solomon 2:10-

The water shimmers on the lake as the ducks paddle near. When I toss the crumbs they dart after them, fighting one another for a simple taste. On this overcast afternoon in Tennessee, I stand at this shore and remember my aunt who made friends with Toads.

She always seemed to know just the thing to do that would make even a toad feel comfortable and welcome. As a child, she fascinated me. She wore "big hair" and hair-pieces and wonderful clothes and tiny shoes.

Her bed-stead was upholstered in red velvet and white leather and set about with zebra and leopard print throw pillows, and flanked by giant thick fluffy white rugs. Remember, it was the 60's and James Bond was all the rage. She wore house-robes adorned with feathers and tiny high-heeled black bedroom slippers, the ones with the fluff and sequins attached.

She smoked like a chimney but always in the same way that Audrey Hepburn smoked, and even sometimes in those early days, with a cigarette holder. I could almost hear her say, "Darlin', do you have a light?"

An odd and mysterious mixture of Audrey Hepburn, and perhaps Loretta Lynn, she was the wild mare among her seven sisters, the fancy one, the not-to-be-broken mustang.

Sometimes she shared her discarded tiny shoes with me when I was deemed old enough to wear grown up shoes. And she always helped me to feel grown up enough even though my mother never seemed to think I was.

She loved critters. Every kind of Critter and horses most of all.

I toss more bread upon the water, hot tears trickle down my cold cheeks. The ducks swirl, bolting for the crumbs.

She rescued a Siamese kitten from the fan belt of her car one cold Montana winter morning, but not before starting the car and nearly killing him. After she tenderly nursed him back to life, his face was always a bit askew, a look that seemed to serve him well and that went with along his giant crossed blue eyes. He lived and grew old in her care.

She always had a dog. One of those fluffy little dogs that "goes with" every sort of outfit. You know, the tiny furry dogs that are not good for much but do serve as a sort of adorning living accessory, spoiled beyond all imagination, cute, and silky and always willing to please no one but itself and my aunt.

It never seemed to matter what the critter was, she could always encourage them to do fabulous tricks and feats of every kind.

I knew she had a knack with all things living. I too have seemed to inherit such a knack, I suppose that is in my genes. But even I did not know that she had become the Toad Lady of Arizona until I visited her there one year.

She had been outside smoking her long cigarette when all of a sudden, she noticed a fat little toad, muddy and without a home, it seemed. Instantly, as she was prone toward immediacy, she created a home for "Mr. Toad", for such was what she named him. Sure enough, the next day, Mr. Toad was at the door croaking loudly until she answered and this time, he had brought a friend.

Before long, all toads nearby had come to live in the flower garden at the front door belonging to my aunt. In the evening times she would step out to visit and they would come and come again. The horses in the paddock would frolic, and my aunt would chat and smoke a while.

My bread bag is nearly empty now, even the greedy geese have lost interest in me. The twilight shadows lengthen and I turn to go as the mists settle over the glass-like Tennessee lake and beyond. I whisper, “Lord, will you take her home? Father, did she find you at last in the silence of her suffering?”

Today, my eclectic aunt is standing at the gates of glory about to enter in. Waiting on the "other side" are two daughters, lost to her too soon, too young, and seemingly before their time. Anguish has long since come and left its terrible and tragic mark. Her beauty lost, Sorrow has done its work, and yet through loss and near the grave, if she could, I know, she would light another long cigarette, laugh and tell a story, always embellished beyond reality, of times passed and undoubtedly, of the toads who were her friends.

O voice of the Belovèd!
Thy bride hath heard Thee say,
"Rise up, My love, My fair one,
Arise and come away.
For lo, 'tis past, the winter,
The winter of thy year;
The rain is past and over,
The flowers on earth appear.
"And now the time of singing
Is come for every bird;
And over all the country
The turtle dove is heard;
The fig her green fruit ripens,
The vines are in their bloom;
Arise and smell their fragrance;
My love, My fair one, come!"
Yea, Lord! Thy Passion over,
We know this life of ours
Hath passed from death and winter
To leaves and budding flowers;
No more Thy rain of weeping
In drear Gethsemane;
No more the clouds and darkness,
That veiled Thy bitter Tree.
(Lyrics by J. Mason, 1642)

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