Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Remembering Aunt Emily, Mr. Hillerman

The world just lost one of the greatest writers and champions of Navajo culture, Mr. Tony Hillerman. I grew up reading his books, enjoying every chapter. His works, coupled with a family rooted in southern New Mexico, are why I know more about the different tribal cultures of the Southwest than I do about my family's own mysterious Native American roots from the Great Lakes region. He will be missed as both an author and a humanitarian.

His passing has forced me to take time and reflect on the life and death of the woman I grew up calling "Aunt Emily." She and her husband, Robert Lovell("Uncle Bob"), were wonderful and patient people. Their life together could serve as a simple lesson if anyone bothered to think. They met on their way to Arizona from Michigan. Their mutual ride was a random person's backseat; they had not met prior to the trip. "The rest," as my mother has said, "was history." What should be noted is that Aunt Emily was a Muslim whose family was from Lebanon and Uncle Bob was a white, American, Christian. I do not remember the year in which they met and fell in love, but I do know that it was prior to World War II.

They never had children but they happened to meet a couple who were also from Michigan and had two small girls. Whenever Emily and Bob went to the movies they packed the car with snacks and those two girls. Little presents and treats were given often. My mother still has the electric razor that Aunt Emily gave her as a teenager. It is shaped almost like a shell and is of similar color to the inside of a conch shell. It stopped working years ago.

They were both intellectuals and both respected in their fields. Uncle Bob was there when the first atomic bombs were tested in the desert. He wrote a book on computers back when computers filled large rooms and were programmed with punch cards. Aunt Emily was a writer and teacher. Her books include an awesome cookbook called Lebanese Cooking, Streamlined, of which I am blessed to have a copy. She also wrote several books about her beloved New Mexico. In the course of her writing endeavors she became friends with a certain Mr. Tony Hillerman.

I cried the day cancer took Uncle Bob from us. When I was little he had taken my mother and I up into the mountains around Alamogordo to the different observatories there. I will always remember the smile on his face and his unabated joy of Science.

While I was still in college my mother and aunt moved Aunt Emily to New Orleans from California so that she would be closer to someone who cared for her. I remember coming home from campus and there was a vacuum cleaner box on my front porch. Low and behold there was actually a vacuum inside, the one featured on the box even. My mother had cleaned Aunt Emily's little apartment with it, stuck it in a box, and shipped it to me... with the full bag inside. I still harass her for shipping me Aunt Emily's dust.

So then our gifts of licorice were mailed to Louisiana instead of California. And we still got a fruitcake from Figi's at Christmas. [My mother loves fruitcake...you are was you eat I guess. ;-)] When Katrina hit Aunt Emily was evacuated out by my aunt and uncle. They sent her to an extended care facility in Alamogordo until her place was reopened. She didn't like it there much, since all of her friends were not there but the people were very nice to her. One resident even let her have a spare television for her room.

My aunt was with Aunt Emily when she passed. Her last words were, "so tired."

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