(Previously posted to MySpace on Wednesday, July 30, 2008.)
Olida Joyce Bourn Bourriague a.k.a. "Aunt Deta" would pop me good and threaten my life if she knew I divulged her full name. Today would be her birthday. I can't begin to describe the crater in my soul her passing created. I often relive the sheer terror I felt the day she told me of the lump in her breast. Having already lost 3 in our family to cancer, I simply didn't have much faith.
I was the first born child, first born paternal grandchild, and Aunt Deta's first niece. I'm told she was not allowed to attend the baby shower honoring my impending arrival because she was only 15. This she did not like. We lived on the same street as my grandparents, just 3 doors down. I've laughed at the stories of me taking off Bibbie's glasses during church and wearing them upside down. I'd stand in her lap and disrupt church with my shenanigans. She would voice her remorse and would say how ashamed she was of doing that.
Three months after my 4th birthday, my mother brought home my 3rd sibling. Meaning there were 4 children born in 4 extremely short years. By this time, Aunt Deta was graduated and basically a built in baby sitter. The story of how she was forbid to go on a date the night she graduated was told often. My grandmother, known to all as "Bibbie", strictly forbade it. (She is altogether another full blog.) My mother had her hands full to say the least. The way things evolved were, I took up residence at my grandmother's. My Daddy would demand I go home for the night, and I'd put up a huge fuss. I became quite adept at begging at a very young age. I'd wail and he'd give in. When he didn't give in, and forced me to go home, I'd beg and cry until he'd say, "Go on back up the road! I'm tired of hearing it!" Out the door I'd run, back to where everything I said was the law. Back to where anything I wanted was promptly provided. Wonder what Freud was say about that observation. LOL.
My Dad began evangelizing around the time my younger brother Timothy and I started school. We settled into a routine of myself and Tim being cared for by Bibbie and Aunt Deta. Mother had 2 younger ones at home, and someone else feeding and bathing 2 of the 4 was a Godsend. This is not to say my Mother and Dad were not involved in our lives, they were highly visible. But anytime you get your way, are doted upon, and discipline is sparse, you gravitate to that habitat. Daddy and Mother, with 2 babies in tow, would leave for revival. Aunt Deta would take us to school. She had a great job at Gollott's Seafood and when I look back, I realize she basically spent her earnings on me. (I've no doubt the others were beneficial as well.) I remember her taking me to pick out school clothes, book sacks and supplies. She bought me my first stockings and high heels, then helped me avoid my Daddy before and after church. I remember shopping for my Easter dress (after I decided I would no longer wear things my Mother sewed for me), my Christmas banquet attire, and a leather coat I was dead for. I never realized what a blessing she was to my Dad.
In my teens, there was never a special service she didn't haul me to. And I always took an entourage. It never dawned on me she'd be tired for work the next morning. We went to every Labor Day service Bro. Majors had for years. We went to Jackson to Campmeeting and would sometimes drive back home. I even remember a trek to Little Rock that exposed me to "free" preaching. Even after I became licensed, she'd still go and chauffeur. Sunday afternoons always meant a nap, and one particular Sunday, she said she had somewhere to take me. She would not tell me where. We got in Pawpaw's snazzy little red truck, and off to Virginia City we went. (Virginia City is a small community 10 miles out in the country from Biloxi.) She stopped in the middle of a deserted road and got out. I still had no idea what she was doing. She said "Your turn to drive." I learned to drive that afternoon on a standard shift. We laughed till we hurt, but before I returned home, I could smoothly shift. Well, smoothly most of the time.
There was always an orange cereal bowl on the back of the refrigerator that was full of quarters. I don't know where I thought they came from. Did I think they procreated in there? It was always full and bought many tanks of gas. (Of course back then $5.00 would fill a tank.) It fed me and my girlfriend at the mall on multiple occasions. I knew it was for me and after initially being introduced to it, I never had to ask. She'd say,"Did you get you some quarters to eat on?". When I mull that over, I think she always gave me quarters 'cause it kept her from actually realizing just how much money she spent on me! I guess she cashed her check and brought home rolls of quarters just for me. She'd have had to save quarters for 3 lifetimes as many as I went through! She took me through a drive-thru every morning of my life on the way to school. She helped me purchase my first love a suit for his birthday. She went with me to haggle a deal for the first car I purchased in my name. She championed my choice of boyfriends, though Bibbie would have forbade me to date anyone if I'd have listened. She was in the room within minutes of Tyler's birth, and later showed me the bruises on her fingers from me squeezing her hand during Tayler's birth. She brought me a dozen roses after Tyren's birth because no flowers had been delivered. She stopped on the way home from the hospital to pick up a ceramic pumpkin with his name on it. I simply could not bring that child home and him not have a pumpkin in the family pumpkin patch on my dining room table.
How do you compensate for this type of devotion and sacrifice? I was her world, and she definitely was mine. And when I grew up, it didn't stop there. Every time she came in from the grocery, she brought bags of diapers. I simply don't remember buying them for my first two. Tay drank pear juice like I drink Diet Coke, which is in large quantities. Aunt Deta always bought the little 6 packs of juice and I'd dilute them to make them last longer. We moved a couple hours north just before Tay turned 2. She'd call to check on me, and by the sound of my voice would know if things were rough. Within 24 hours, she'd show up in my drive with a car load of groceries. I never left her house after a visit that she didn't pile the back of my car with essentials. I'd find all kinds of things when unloading the car. Paper for school, boxes of cereal, toilet tissue, and snack cakes to name a few. My children adored and worshipped her as I did. They each were just sure she loved them the most.
Much to my grandmother's dismay, she married at 43 years of age, and God gave her 2 lovely step children. One was basically grown, and the other a tow headed 3 year old that she loved as if she had birthed him. I was her matron of honor.
Today I will make the trek to her graveside. If only I could celebrate in person with her. I would set the table with my favorite, most elegant place settings. I'd have red roses in crystal as that was her favorite flower. I'd play Kenny G, again her favorite, and we'd dine sumptuously. We'd eat carrot cake topped with sparkly candles and I'd surely sing, and loudly.
Instead, I shall take her red roses and place them in the container on her headstone and have a long talk with her. My hope is that all the things I say to her today were also said while she was here. Sleeping in the living room on a short love seat beside her hospital bed the last 5 nights of her life was nothing compared to what she gave to me. Her influence on my life and the lives of my children will forever live. I shared with her in those last days, to the best of my ability, what she had meant to me. I am still unsure of how to give back what she gave. And I fear I'll never be able to.
Happy Birthday Aunt Deta.