Rest in peace, Aunt Alice

Auntie A. called me Faffa because when I was little I couldn’t say my middle name, Arthur. Gary, say your name. “Gary Faffa Young”

Our family has three March babies: me, Debbie (RIP 2015), and Aunt Alice — 2nd, 4th, and 10th. We would celebrate together, and after, “How old are you now? How old are you now?” everyone would try to add our ages. She never really wanted anything for her birthday and would say, “Don’t get me anything.”

She was fun, and had a quick wit and sharp tongue, and made a concerted effort to pass those life skills and a sense of independence to her daughter, nieces, and nephews. I always thought of her as the griot of the family because she would teach us children’s songs and tell stories.

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Merry, merry king of the bush is he
Laugh, Kookaburra! Laugh, Kookaburra!
Gay your life must be

I remember sitting on the porch with her at my grandmother’s, with the family gathered, reluctantly hand churning ice cream, taking turns with my sister and cousins. It’s literally a bucket with a container inside surrounded by ice, with a handle that you had to turn for, like, an hour. It was so Amish. No work, no ice cream, she told me.

Even though it’s been decades since she had it, I loved that green Volkswagen Beetle she had. Remember those? Good times. Partial to VW Beetles.

When I was 9 or 10 and about to go to the hospital for a tonsillectomy (back in those days you stayed in the hospital overnight after surgeries), she taught me how to play solitaire so I wouldn’t get bored. Life skill level up. In recent years, I swear she’d spend more time on her computer playing solitaire than anything else. Apparently, she moved on to Klondike solitaire.

I told the witch doctor
I was in love with you
I told the witch doctor
I was in love with you
And then the witch doctor
He told me what to do
He said that
Ooo eee, Ooo ah ah, ting tang
Walla walla, bing bang
Ooo eee, Ooo ah ah, ting tang
Walla walla bing bang

I really respected her for socializing, and going on vacations with the family even when she wasn’t feeling great. Even when she started slowing down, when the aches and pains and illnesses worsened, she made an effort to get out and go out and celebrate.

I’ll share one story before I go. Back in middle school I transferred to a different school for G&T classes. The school bus made a big, circuitous route around Dundalk — Turner Station, Carnegie Plat, Eastfield, Logan. It was the bus that picked up students from all of the neighborhoods not in the school’s normal radius.

Of the eight hundred-plus students, I was one of five black kids. Three of the others rode that bus and were in what used to be called special education classes. I rarely saw them around school.

One day, Aunt Alice asked me about school and I told her how it was awkward being the only chip in the cookie and all. I told her how the other black kids would sit in the back of the bus and sometimes make fun of the white kids up front, who were my classmates. She asked me if I ever sat in the back with the other black guys and I said no. She asked why not.

Then she asked one of those life changing questions. She said, “Are you prejudiced?”

As in, you don’t know them. It’s probably awkward for them, too. I was offended, to be honest but it was a proper challenge. I’m black; how could I be prejudiced?

The next day I sat in the back of the bus with the other black guys. They were glad to have me back there with them. And, of course, they made fun of my friends up front and it was — uncomfortable. After that I went back to sitting up front BUT the point is … she opened my eyes in a lifelong way.

She was always an independent spirit and had pioneered some traditionally and historically homogeneous environments herself. She knew the deal.

She could pass on knowledge and wisdom without your realizing you were learning something. And zing you at the same time.

When a doctor made a mistake with her medication that could have been fatal, she said that she told him: “You cared for me, but you didn’t take care of me.”

Cancer is the worst. The absolute worst. Did I already say don’t smoke? Don’t smoke. The treatments, the surgeries, chemo, radiation, immunotherapy; they are brutal.

Aunt Alice was well taken care of by her daughter, my mother, and her sister. And Joe was pretty much on call 24-7. Then it was time for hospice. Hospice is one of the better circumstances one can hope for at life’s end, all things considered. She had care, compassion, pain management, and family. We should all be so lucky.

Sometimes Auntie A. would say grace and bless the food before our family gatherings. If I recall correctly, she said grace on Thanksgiving as we all stood in a circle holding hands, old and young and inbetween. She prayed, thanking God for family and friends and how much we were especially missing Grandma and Aunt Drayde but were thankful for our time with them. This was after she was given a terminal diagnosis and knew that, too soon, we’d be missing her, too. I was really hoping she’d make it to her birthday, but you know. Life.

Rest in peace, Aunt Alice.

Senior Moments

Doe, a deer, a female deer
Ray, a drop of golden sun
Me, a name I call myself
Far, a long, long way to run
Sew, a needle pulling thread
La, a note to follow so
Tea, a drink with jam and bread
That will bring us back to doe


Epilogue 1/28/2020

My mother asked if I wanted to speak at Aunt Alice’s funeral. Not that I don’t have things to say; I wouldn’t be able to keep my composure and get through it, though. I don’t know how some of y’all do it. Here’s what I would say:

“How are you doing today, Aunt Alice.”

“Fair to middling.”

I miss Auntie A.’s laugh. She taught us to see the humor in the big things and small things, light things, and dark things. She could poke fun at herself or poke fun at you and it was all love.

See taught us to be fiercely independent and make our way through life on our own terms. Stand up for yourself and live your life your way.

At the same time, if we messed up there were consequences to be had for going beyond the pale. I learned a few lessons with posterior consequences when she caught me misbehaving.

She taught us the value of work. Put in the time and the elbow grease to reap the benefits. If you want the ice cream, you have to churn it. If you want the allowance, mow the lawn with that antique push-powered lawn mower.

If we follow her example, we’ll learn to persevere; learn and respect our limits and then push past them a bit, whether it’s to take care of business or have fun and make the most of the times and people we care about.

Last but not least, she taught us to be fair, to be just, and appreciate each other. She valued life and despised violence. She valued us and literally thanked God for us, and we thank God for you, Aunt Alice.

4 comments

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  1. Leonard Booker White

    G-man it couldn’t be put better,for those who didn’t know her.She was a rose growing from concrete RIP cousin Alice you will be sorely missed,no more pain no more suffering God has you in his arms Love u always and forever 😪🙏

  2. Mandy

    Love the stories and sentiment Gary. 💟 Thank you for painting such an accurate pportrait of Alice. We adored & respected her. She was an awesome person – intelligent, caring, motivated, purposeful & witty all rolled into a five foot giant personal. Carver Manor, East Avenue & Turner Station will never be the same without her. God knows I’ll miss those cakes. & potato salad at family get togethers (I’m just say’n). I’ll always remember her little laugh and kind smile. And I just want to add, Thanks Joe! for being there for Alice in such a big way. Love & care make all the difference in the world. Fly High Alice!😘

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