The Ladies, Continued

[Part One, Part Two.]

My Aunt Betty, a couple of years before she died. Do I even need to tell you how much I loved this woman?

I was terrified of her when I was a little girl; she was stubborn and brusque and quirky and fiercely individualistic. She never had children of her own, and talked to me like an adult, rather than a child, which I adored even as it intimidated me. The older I got, the more I admired her and appreciated her idiosyncrasies.

She lived in Florida, and I remember sitting on her patio one morning and watching a lizard run over my bare toes. "You didn't flinch," she said. It wasn't a question, but an observation. She nodded. "That's good. It's good you're not scared of them."

The first time we visited her, I was maybe seven years old. I asked for ketchup to put on my chicken. "I don't eat ketchup, I don't like ketchup, and I don't keep it in my house!" I shrunk. The chicken was accompanied by things I didn't like then—squash, stringbeans. Aunt Betty expected clean plates; I didn't know how I would choke them down. My mom snatched them off my plate when Aunt Betty wasn't looking, and said, "What a good girl! You ate all your vegetables!"

The second time we visited her, Aunt Betty took me shopping with her. She never said a word to me about not eating those vegetables, but she asked me what I wanted at the store. I told her mac & cheese, and she bought it, without a comment or sideways glance.

In the condiment aisle, she grabbed a bottle of ketchup and held it out for me to see. "I'm buying it just for you!" she said. And I felt very loved.

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