Everybody has favorites. We all try to pretend like we don’t. Secretly most of us do have a favorite aunt, uncle or friend. A favorite horse. A favorite chicken. It happens. There are some people and animals in this world who we just enjoy a little more than others.
Recently one of my favorite great aunts battled with COVID-19. She has been in a nice nursing home for a few years because her health was declining. When the pandemic hit, like most nursing homes, hers was shut down to outside visitors. Unfortunately, this virus is mean, and it got in her facility via the staff anyway. Aunt Jan has always been known for being tough and I knew in my heart that she would eventually beat it. When our family got the great news that her test had come back negative and she could move back to a regular room (and have visitors), we were elated for her. However, the virus damaged her body and she passed shortly after.
My heart was broken. I had hoped to go visit her one more time. Have one more conversation with her about my kids or the garden. It wasn’t meant to be, and I had to set my selfishness aside and be happy that she was finally at peace.
Most of the time, funerals and weddings for our family happen in Iowa. The kids are back involved in school sports and I did not want them to leave the state and be required to quarantine upon their return. I decided to make the trip to Iowa alone to say goodbye to this beloved aunt.
Why was she my favorite? She was very funny and a little ornery. She always spoke her mind. She loved the Iowa State Cyclones, Cubs baseball and her family. She told me one time that you knew you loved someone when it tingled when you kissed them. She loved all of us so well. You could not tell which one of us was her favorite because she loved us all the same. Every year for more than 40 years she remembered my birthday with a card and some money to go buy a favorite treat. She shared her amazing custard rhubarb pie recipe with me once, including her famous homemade crust. That handwritten recipe card is a treasure. I still can’t replicate it to her level of perfection. She and my uncle always had a beautiful garden. When I was learning to can my own garden produce, she was always my first phone call.
She was also a quilter. Her quilts were deeply personal, and everybody got one. For my wedding, she made me one with beautiful red apples to match my kitchen at the time. When each of my babies were born, they received one of these treasured quilts. I do not know how she knew but even today when my kids are fourteen, twelve, ten and eight, their quilts match their personalities and interests. She was so good.
It was fitting the night before I left for Iowa, we canned more 20 pints of salsa from the tomatoes we harvested from our own garden. I was able to take some back to my other relatives to share. I think she would have been proud to see my children learning an art she had inspired in me a long time ago.
In this time of vast uncertainty, I feel uneasy about a lot of things. One thing that comforts me is to spend time with my favorite people. I love sharing my favorite people with you, neighbor.
Jody Harris is a freelance communications specialist, gardener, ranch wife and mother of four. She and her family raise Angus beef cattle and other critters on their northwest Arkansas ranch. She is a graduate of Missouri State University. To contact Jody, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’