Since November began, I’ve been thinking a lot of my Aunt Joyce who passed away on this date 43 years ago. She was a beautiful woman, funny, straightforward and very popular. Everyone called her Ms. Joyce, sometimes Ms. Spence, rarely ever Mrs. Spence.
When she left us, she was only 39 – old enough to marry and have four children, too early to watch them grow up and see who would look most like her or take after her in temperament, and way too soon to see her any of her eight grandchildren.
As the only two girls, she and my mother were as close as any two siblings could be but as different as apples and oranges. Where my mother was punitive, she was fun. Where she was strict, she was playful. Where my mother would settle for just some face cream, she needed the drama of color.
According to my mother, I got my “fastidiousness” from her. She used to tell me that whenever Aunt Joyce got paid, she would bring fabric to make dresses for me. As soon as I saw the fabric, I’d hold it up against my body and parade in front of the mirror, making sure, I guess that the color suited my skin tone and that I liked it. My mother swore I got that from Aunt Joyce because she was the one who loved clothes.
My mom was probably right. I perfected vanity at her feet. On the rare morning when Aunt Joyce was early for work, I’d sit and watch her add a splash of red to her lips, a dab of rouge to her cheeks, a swipe of pencil to fill in her brows. Like her, I never leave the house with my face bare.
She also taught me how to read a clock or at least know what numbers the hour and second hands were on. Whenever she’d yell, “What time is it?” my other cousin and I would race each other to look at the clock in the dining room and scream back, “The short hand is on 8 and the long hand is on 10!” Most times she’d yell back, “Tell me when the long hand is on 11!” and we’d try to sit still and watch the staccato movement of the long hand as it marched towards 7:55. Sometimes, before we could shout the time, we would hear her bursting through the bedroom door and both of us would trail behind her to watch as she jumped on her bicycle and head towards the gate usually throwing back some admonition to behave or a message for the woman who took care of us while she was at work.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her or something she’d say or do. Now that both my mother, grandmother and uncle are gone, I often wonder if they’re recalling the stories we remember.