On this bright and beautiful spring day, my family gathered to celebrate the life of my dear aunt, Anna Lou Reynolds, affectionately known as Annie to those who knew and loved her. Over her lifetime, that was a huge number of people. I was reminded today that my aunt called friend anyone that she knew longer than 15 minutes.
I knew her for much longer than that, of course. She was a constant in my life, my mother’s older sister, mom to three of my cousins, Uncle Ralph’s adored wife. Although these relatives lived in Kansas, near Wichita, we spent much time together throughout my childhood and my teens. My sisters and my cousins and I were raised in close kinship, much as my children were raised with their cousins and my grandchildren now spend time with my sisters’ grandchildren.
I always knew everything was going to be fine when my Aunt Annie showed up. Fun times shadowed us throughout the visit, and stories flowed freely each evening around the dinner table. My aunt talked with her hands, gesturing to punctuate her sentences, her soft southern drawl as distinctive as the glint of humor in her eyes. I watched her a lot, unbeknownst to her, the eldest child in her family, older sister to my mom and my uncle Ben. I’m the eldest child too, and watching how she interacted with her younger siblings, my mom especially, set an example for me as my own sisters and I grew up.
Annie loved her husband, her children and her grandchildren, her extended family, gardening, and being creative. She was always an animal advocate, loving many dogs, cats and birds during her life. Each time we visited her home, I was curious to see what new pet she had acquired, what new plant was blooming under her care. She, like my mom, was a wonderful story teller. Lying in my cousin’s basement bedroom as a child, I loved listening to the muffled rumble of voices in the dining room above. The comforting sound of Aunt Annie and my mom and Uncle Ralph talking and laughing soothed me into drowsiness. Peace descended along with sleep, knowing these stalwart people in my life were still awake, keeping watch in the night.
Aunt Annie and Uncle Ralph had a long and lively marriage. They seemed well suited, even to my childish notions of what romance was. Their love never faltered but seemed to grow stronger over the years. They raised their son and daughters, welcomed grandchildren. His strength complemented her sweet temperament perfectly. Uncle Ralph left us seven years ago. We all know he has been patiently waiting for Annie to join him, a blink of time for him, long months and years for her.
During the beautiful eulogy for my aunt, written and read by Annie’s younger daughter, my cousin told of a dream my aunt had last fall. She dreamed her dear husband Ralph drove up in a new, shiny black car. In the backseat, Annie’s mother and stepfather waited. As Ralph smiled and opened the door for her, ready to seat her in the car, Annie decided to run back inside the house, to leave a note for her daughter, who has been my aunt’s caretaker since her stroke 18 months ago. To her great disappointment, Annie woke up in her bed, confined still in a body that was failing her. She wept that morning. My understanding cousin, seeing her distress, told her mother that should her father return for her in his shiny black car, it was okay to leave with him.
We know that happened. My uncle returned for his bride, his Annie, last Thursday. As we shared stories and tears today, shared love and respect, several of us had beautiful images of the two of them, healthy, young, strong, dancing together on streets of gold, reunited in joy. A love like that knows no bounds, lasts for eternity, overflows to us here in the earthly realm to warm our hearts and give us hope.
After a lovely time of celebration, the family returned to Annie’s house for a meal together and goodbyes before we departed. I walked with my mother, sisters and cousins in my aunt’s yard, admiring her flowers, feeling her presence, wishing we could have spoken about this shared passion that we have for gardening one more time. My sweet cousins gifted me, along with my mom and sisters, with metal containers to bring home. I have loved using metal buckets, washtubs and watering cans as receptacles for flowering plants of all types. I now have an oval tub on my brick patio that belonged to my aunt. Knowing how much her mother would enjoy passing along transplants from her garden, the cousin closest to me in age dug up Irises, in purples and yellows, and a hardy sedum plant called Autumn Joy, to give to us.
I am beyond touched by my cousins’ generosity. It means SO much to me to have plants in my garden that came from Aunt Annie’s yard. She tended these plants and now they will be tended by me. I will smile each time I see them. Their beauty will remind me of hers, their presence a reminder of my cousin’s graciousness. I already know what I will plant in the oval container. I will share that in future pictures.
As we stood at the grave site, Paster Don spoke of the transformation that Annie has undergone, like a caterpillar who has emerged from her cocoon at last, as a gorgeous butterfly. She is free. She is made new and her spirit soars, whole, complete, beautiful. He closed our time of celebrating and saying goodbye, for now, with these words:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Phillipians 4:8 NIV
What fitting words for Anna Lou Reynolds, recently of this earth. In the wind that swirled around us, I could feel her caress, hear her voice, sense her joy. Until we see you again, Aunt Annie, tend your new garden, twirl and dip as you dance, watch over your loved ones. I am grateful for you. I love you.