My great-aunt Alma passed away on December 30th of last year at the age of 91. Born on the Fourth of July, she was the seventh of eight children, the last of her seven brothers and sister (her lone younger sibling, my grandmother, died in 2008), the longest lived, and the last of that generation in my mother’s and biological father’s families. I've written about her before.
I’ve been planning to post about it since then, but I felt that there would never be enough to say about it. (Plus, my general lack of motivation to post was a factor, along with the fact that, until this past Friday, I was typing almost one-handed due to a fractured left wrist.) However, Aunt Alma’s role in my life deserves whatever meager public tribute I am able to give it. She, along with my great-uncle, John W. Simpkins, Jr. (1920-2000), shaped nearly everything I am and gave me everything they had. You can read about Uncle John here.
Aunt Alma and Uncle John were the first real parents I had. This is no disrespect to my mother; as a very young divorcee, she determined that it would be better for me to be raised by two parents. So it was that my aunt and uncle raised me from ages one to nine. When my mother remarried, she and my new dad took custody of me, but my aunt and uncle always held a special place in my heart—more than any of my grandparents.
Aunt Alma had been pretty healthy into her eighties, but began to feel and show the effects of advanced age—and, as we discovered later, a slow-growing brain tumor--around 2007. In 2010, she took a bad fall and during the treatment for that fall, the tumor was diagnosed. The doctors thought she would die not long after that, but Aunt Alma was always the toughest of cookies. I took care of her at home for nine months, but that became unworkable, so she spent over a year in a nursing home. However, she made me promise to bring her home before Christmas of last year and I did. She was gone a little over a month after she came home.
We had the memorial service on January 10, 2013 and the interment on the 17th.
I feel as if there is a huge part of me missing, but I know where she is; she had long accepted Jesus the Christ as her Lord and Savior.
As one can see from the photo, Aunt Alma was drop-dead gorgeous in her youth and—before her two marriages--she was the toast of the old black club scene in both LA and Harlem back in the day. There are many photographs around the house of her classily dolled-up, with her straight, black hair elegantly coiffed and, sometimes, containing a flower. In her last years, she would often say that she could never complain to God about not having had fun in her life.
Yes, I know we don’t look alike. She had two white grandfathers; her white exterior and our distinct lack of resemblance made for some fun encounters over the years—and some not-so-fun. At the nursing home, some of the black CNAs would speak to her brusquely until some of them saw me come to visit her. Racist heifers. (PSA: if you have a relative in a nursing home, make it a point to keep them on their toes. Whenever I saw that “here comes that bald-headed b*tch again” look in their eyes, I knew I was doing my job.)
Auntie would occasionally remind me that, when I was about three or four years old, I informed her, in my logical toddler wisdom, that I was black and she was white. Not long ago, when she again reminded me of this, I thought about it for a second, and came to the conclusion that I was correct in the first place. She was white—and she was black. And a quarter American Indian for good measure.
Aunt Alma was in a bit of denial about her declining health, but she could be very sensible about it, too. One of the reasons that I moved in with her back in 2003 was that, after a few fender-benders, she voluntarily gave up her driver’s license.
When I sit in what is now my house, I am surrounded by a memorial to her and I’m grateful to God for it. More than that, I'm grateful to God for her.