Shirley, 2013


Shirley wants to go to the funeral

It is November, 2013.

“Are we going to go to the President’s funeral in Washington tomorrow?”  Shirley asks several times.  We have, after all, spent quite some time watching the memorials to John Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his death.  Watched his son saluting after his mother leans down and whispers to him.

I am in Virginia, not that far from Washington, visiting my aunt Shirley and her daughter, my cousin Claire.  Her mother used to call us girls Snow White and Rose Red, Claire the blonde and I the brunette.

After Shirley asks about the funeral, I say to Claire, losing her mother bit by bit, “Let it roll, let’s see where this conversation takes us.”


Let’s see where any conversation takes us for that matter.  We are a family of quick and clever and funny commenters, sometimes having a hard time with slow conversations that don’t make immediate sense. Conversations that we can’t yet belong to.

Shirley suits me just fine.

After we exhaust the funeral subject, Shirley asks, “Do you have a beau?”

“Do you want one?”

“What kind of man do you want?”

At 93, she says, “There aren’t that many men around now for me. But for you…”

So we paint a picture of our ideal lovers while I finish knitting my grandchild’s   Christmas stocking, the TV on mute.

“Do you watch television?

How is your love life?

Do you enjoy your pool?  Has it outlived its luster?

How is your love life?

Are you gainfully employed?”

And several times, “How many people are coming to dinner tonight?”

Then she, out of the blue asks, “Do you still feel the death of your brother, Bo?”   My brother died in a car wreck at age 20,  about a year before Kennedy was assassinated.  Shirley knew Bo, she one of the few people in my life now who ever did.

“Can William talk?   Can he walk? Will he ever?”  (William, another story, at 7 ½ doesn’t talk among other things.)

“Do you still work?

Are we going to the funeral?

Do you have a beau?”

“This is the best dessert I have ever had,” eating Claire’s crème caramel she made from scratch.  Then again, “This is the best dessert I have ever had.”  Claire beaming and happy.

“I miss ‘Chick’, my husband.  I didn’t like football, then he taught me to love it.”

And I love football too, watching all those men run around and grab and knock each other down and then help each other up and pat each other on the butt.  She laughs.

“Why do I need to change clothes?   I am not going to.  My clothes are fine.”

Food on her sweater, dog footprints and a little blood from a hurt place on her white pants. 

Because you do.  Because we have company coming.  Because Claire would like it.

Then, the next day, “Why do I need to wash my hair?”

Because you put lotion in your hair, thinking it was hair spray.  And now your hair is all stiff. 

“No, it is not.”

And she does change clothes  and the next day takes a shower.


Somewhere in the middle of this she says, speaking of old age,

“It reaches out and grabs you and takes you down,

and then there are tender moments that I like to see.”

Singing another hymn to her dog in her lap and grinning and clapping her hands together.  

Singing “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.”