I walked into my closet this evening and pulled out "the dress" from the plastic that the cleaners had wrapped it in after I wore it last. You know "the dress"...everyone has one or at least I assume everyone has one. The dress you wear when someone gets married and the same dress you wear when someone you've loved moves onto heaven.
She was my grandfather's baby sister which made her my great aunt. God doesn't make them any better than my sweet Aunt Irma. Tomorrow morning, I'll put "the dress" on for her.
She is in some of my very first memories. I had this old blanket when I was little that I refused to give up and for some reason my parents didn't feel the need for me to give it up either. Picking battles I suppose. I kept it by my side always and she loved to tell me she was going to take it from me. It was a game and I knew full well she'd never really keep it.
As kids we caught lightening bugs in the cul-de-sac in front of her house and played cards at her kitchen table. She lived in Wal-Mart country and you were hard pressed to find a prouder citizen of Northwest Arkansas. She loved big and always said..."Joychelle- you know Jesus loves you and so does Aunt Irma.". Parking upfront at a store was a sign of "Good Clean Living". Her theory on company..."It's a lot like fish. After 3 days it starts to stink.". (We must've been pretty stinky growing up because I know there were summers we stayed longer than 3 days.) She always watched what she ate...watched it go straight in her mouth that is. Oh and absolutely nothing made her prouder than being "Another Happy Methodist"....just ask the bumper sticker on the back of her car.
She was always there...never the center of attention...but always making sure nothing frayed. She was there when my Grandfather left us 25 years ago. Even after he passed she never left her post as my grandmother's sister-in-law and best friend. She was there when my grandmother re-married to a man who was a good man, but not her big brother...and together she and my Mom stood tall. That's what Keightley's did....stand tall. She was there when my grandmother fell ill to strokes and heart surgeries...to hold my Mom tall. She was there for countless drives to Colorado. She was there when I got my marriage license and stayed until the day I got married...making endless bouquets of flowers and holding my Mom tall. She was there when my sister got married...repeating endless bouquets of flowers and holding my Mom tall. She was there when my Grandmother was called to heaven and she's been there for weekly Sunday talks...always holding my Mom tall. Through it all...she'd brag on my Dad for putting up with all of us girls...and was never happier for him than the day Ryder was born.
I am still not sure how she spread herself like she did. We were just her niece's but she had three children of her own, six grandchildren, great grandchildren and she somehow always found a way to reach her love to each and every one of us.
She'd spit nails if she knew I sold our tickets to the Aggie football game, cancelled work, missed Rustin's birthday celebration at school and drove 6-hours one-way to Arkansas only to turn around and come 6-hours back home the same day just for her. She'd say..."Well for heaven's sake..why would you cancel all of that and drive all this way...you won't even get to see me!". And to that I'd say...because nobody taught us that you do for family better than you did. You did it for us all those years....and there is no place I'd rather be than in Northwest Arkansas saying good-bye one last time.
So tomorrow morning, I'll put on "the dress" and count my lucky stars that it has bright pink and orange flowers because in her words "Nobody needs to wear black and sob over little ole' me!"....and I'll celebrate the 91 years of life that I was so blessed to be a part of...even if only a few of them.
You surely got the very first parking space at Heaven's gate, because nobody lived life cleaner than you did Irma K. Whitehorn. All my love...