If it weren’t for a business trip to Texas, I probably never would have gone back home.
Returning to my hometown after thirty-five years was like being vacuumed through a time machine. This once hole-in-the-road town of 6,000 was now a sprawling suburb of at least 30,000, complete with my favorite chain stores. At least I’d found the old Malt Shoppe preserved in the Old Towne section. Without this 1960s landmark (where I used to hang out with my friends) I would have been lost.
My reminiscing was interrupted by my cell phone.
“Hey Mom,” I answered. “You’ll never guess where I’m standing---right in front of The Old Malt Shoppe in downtown Beaversville. Otherwise, I hardly recognized this place.”
“Oh my! To think you’re back in Beaversville now. Your visit is timely. Sit down, honey, I have some sad news…..Uncle Billy died yesterday.”
I was stunned! Dubbed Uncle Banana, he was my favorite uncle---tall, blonde, and slender--- the clown of our mixed-up family. I had hoped to see him on my visit.
As a child, I entertained myself assigning names to each cra zy relative who sat around our dysfunctional Thanksgiving table. Everyone would contribute their favorite fruits to the traditional holiday fruit salad. There was Aunt Cheryl, better known as “Aunt Cherry,” a bubbly redhead, just like the bright red cherries she usually brought. Uncle Wally, who tipped the scales at 270 pounds, probably knew I had a name for him, but, of course, I never called him “Uncle Watermelon” to his face. Aunt Alma, who always brought a bottle, was the family lush, so I nicknamed her “Aunt Apple,” for the luscious apples she tossed in the salad. And, then there was the cantankerous Aunt Lucy. Always in a sour mood, “Aunt Lemon” had us walking on eggshells as soon as she bolted through the door.
“Rhoda,” my mother asked, “Could you please pick up Aunt Lucy from the nursing home and give her a ride to the funeral?”
“No problem, Mom, “I heard myself say. “I’m so sorry about Uncle Billy.”
“Thanks honey. Lucy’s at the Longhorn Manor on Crescent Street.”
After saying our goodbyes, I found the phone number for the nursing home. Dialing, I wondered if she would even remember me. She must be at least 90----Last thing she said to me (back in 1968) was to put on some clothes. Aunt Lemon thought any girl wearing a miniskirt was a slut. Oh, well, I reasoned, just about everyone’s 90-something-year-old aunt is demented, anyway, so why should this old lady bother me?
But, still, I trembled, dialing the number.
”Good afternoon, Longhorn Manor,” said a soft southern voice.
“Hello, I’d like to speak with Lucy Campbell,” I said, stammering.
“Sure---hold on while I buzz her room.”
”Aunt Lem…..I mean Aunt Lucy?” I quickly corrected myself.
“Yes, dear? Are you one of my nieces?”
“Uh…… yeah.” I stumbled for words…”It’s Rhoda…..Remember me?”
“Land sakes alive, child! Of course I remember you…How are you?”
The voice on the other end had a strong Texas drawl like Aunt Lemon’s, but it also sounded warm and caring. And she had never asked how are you.” Surely I must someone else’s senile old aunt. This couldn’t be my sourpuss Aunt Lemon.
“How’s your mom, dear?” she continued.
“Fine,” I said, still puzzled.
“Aunt Lucy, I just happened to be here on business and learned about Uncle Billy. I am so sorry. Can I take you to the funeral?”
“That’s so thoughtful of you, dear. I already miss Billy.”
Miss Billy? Does she mean the same brother she used to lamblast? Now this was weird!
“But I’ll see him again someday …He’s with Jesus now,” she said.
Was this the same old bat who used to blaspheme God’s name?
“Yes, dear, with Jesus you never say good-bye."
Aunt Lucy explained how she’d been born again and had been praying for everyone in our family. Tears cascaded down my cheeks as I realized it was probably her prayers that had led to my own salvation.
She wasn’t Aunt Lemon anymore---She was more like my sweet Aunt Papaya.
More significantly, Aunt Lucy now walked in the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Her new name was “Christian”.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law"—Galatians 5:22 (NAS)
*This story is fictional.
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