Keeping Your Aim Straight

Aunt Juanita’s funeral was yesterday.

There is, of course, absolutely no way for any description I could write to do this fine woman justice.

But I would like to share with you an anecdotal snapshot or two from my aunt’s life. If you read my last blog post, then you know that my uncle A.J. died the day before Thanksgiving, at the age of 89. He was married for 66 years to his best friend and sweetheart, my aunt Juanita. During the last years of their life together, Alzheimer’s disease began to wrap its tentacles around my dear Aunt’s mind, robbing the two of them in many ways. Yet they remained, to the end, each other’s constant companion and staunchest ally. Uncle A.J.’s funeral was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and in the middle of the night immediately following it, Aunt Juanita departed this life, so she could bustle off to heaven to be with her husband, A. J. ,again. There just was NO separating those two.

This photo was taken by my cousin Jennifer, on the occasion of A.J. and Juanita’s 66th wedding anniversary, which they celebrated in Juanita’s hospital room.

When I think of the love they shared, the adjectives “tender” and “fierce” come to mind. Despite the Alzheimer’s that affected Juanita’s mind,  A.J. and Juanita took care of each other. Yesterday, after the funeral, when I was speaking to one of the very kind caregivers whose presence allowed Uncle A.J. and Aunt Juanita to enjoy their last days in their own home, the caregiver mentioned to me her habit of calling her patients, “Honey” or “Sweetie”. But she was warned by other caregivers, “You better not call Mr. A.J., “Honey”. Miss Juanita gets AWFUL jealous.” Eighty three years old, but still ready to do battle with any comers for her man. She knew a good thing when she saw it, and she would hold on to him  to the death. Pretty much literally.

As the preacher shared at the funeral yesterday, Aunt Juanita was an awesome cook, and nothing gave her more joy than to feed folks. When my sisters went to visit our aunt and uncle a couple of weeks ago, my cousin Jennifer put them to work. My sister Lynn was put to work clearing out the garden, and my sister Debbie was sent to set the kitchen to rights. Even though Aunt Juanita had been bed ridden for weeks  she rallied for her company. My sister Lynn told me that it was almost like a miracle, seeing Aunt Juanita get up out of bed, and respond to questions. My sister Debbie took a more pragmatic view of the situation: “She just wanted to keep an eye on who the heck was messing around in her kitchen”. THAT made me laugh: Aunt Juanita was feisty, in the very best of ways. She loved to tell stories on herself, too.

Here are two of my very favorite Aunt Juanita stories, that she told me herself. Now, she told me these stories about 9 years ago, so Jennifer will have to forgive me if I get a detail or two wrong, but it has always been my philosophy that you should never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, so, here are the stories as I remember them. Aunt Juanita had a gun. Oh, yes. And she kind of enjoyed that fact. A lot. But I’m not sure she would have exactly made a good poster child for gun safety, if you know what I mean. Since her death, I have counted 5 separate stories I have heard regarding her and that gun. (The fact that she used to tote a gun around in her purse came out at the funeral, and seemed to surprise the preacher a bit. His surprise made me smirk. Even though  he loved and  knew her well, I guess there are some things you just don’t advertise around the preacher.)

So, the first gun story involving my pistol packin’ Auntie revolves around a duck, that belonged to her Mom, who lived down the hill. And Aunt Juanita’s mom treasured that duck. But that duck was getting into Aunt Juanita’s garden. And you know, a lot of hard work had gone into the that garden. So, Aunt Juanita fired a warning shot off the starboard bow, as it were, just to encourage Goosie Goosie Gander to take his wanderings elsewhere. And where did the warning shot land? Right. Between. The. Eyes. Yup. Old Dead Eye Juanita, as it were, had to lie to her Momma about whatever happened to that duck. No doubt clucking her tongue all the while over his sad demise.

The second gun story again involves my aunt firing a gun off that same porch. A.J. and Juanita had a rattlesnake problem. They lived in the cave country of Kentucky, after all, and snakes enjoyed the same land that they did, but Juanita and A.J. didn’t enjoy those snakes so very much. One day, Aunt Juanita walked out on her front porch, and there on her own PORCH was one of those dang rattlers. Now, as you may have figured out by now, Aunt Juanita was a strong woman, and she knew she had the available arsenal to handle SnakyBoy, so she went back in the house, got her pistol, and at close range she aimed, fired, missed the snake, but blew a nice sized hole in her own porch. Apparently, Old Dead Eye could have used a bit more target practice.

I heard three more gun stories about Aunt Juanita, but I’ll just leave those lie, since she didn’t tell them to me herself, and say that there were three areas where her aim never faltered: her love for her husband, and her love for her daughter, and her love for her friends and neighbors. In her beautifully written eulogy, my cousin Jennifer compared her Mom  to the widow Tabitha, whose story is recounted in the 9th chapter of  the book of Acts. Tabitha’s whole community gathered around the apostle Peter to recount to him the kindness and goodness of this lovely lady who had died. And that’s what happened for my Aunt, yesterday. Her people gathered around to tell of her kindness, her generosity, her hard work, and her love.

Jennifer recounted how following Uncle A.J.’s hospitalization in Nashville, he was released to go back home to his sweetheart, who was hospitalized herself, back home in Kentucky. Jennifer told how he toddled down the hospital corridor to see her, and how she reached out her arm to him from her hospital bed, and how that night, he climbed into that hospital bed and held her. Sixty-six years of marriage, and sweethearts to the end. Would that we all were gifted with such a love to sustain us to the end of our days. May that kind of love be our highest aim.


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