My aunt Ollie passed away on October 22, 2017 in New York. She was my father’s sister and, who I considered, a bridge to my mysterious paternal history. Her brother, my biological father, is not the man who raised me – my wonderful and loving step dad, Richard, was and he was the only father I ever knew since I was in kindergarten. But my biological father, Rudolph, is who I shared my DNA with. He hadn’t been a part of my life since I was a very little girl. However, I do have a clear memory of two of his sisters in my life. Aunt Ollie was one and her sister, Aunt Margaret was the other. I don’t remember spending a great deal of time with either of them, but I do remember their beautiful smiling faces and the hazy kindred connection I felt in their presence. I was young, so I didn’t understand it all then. I simply knew that these two women were a part of that rarely spoken subject – my father. But they had remained in my mother’s life, thereby, in mine and I was always glad about that.
Sadly my aunt Margaret died years ago, but aunt Ollie was still here. As the years passed and I grew up and eventually moved out of New York, I didn’t see or talk to her often. I wish I had. I became busy with children and husbands – divorces and …life. But throughout the years, whenever I spoke to my mother, I would always ask her about aunt Ollie. I remember in 1981 when my sister Audrey died, in the fog of disbelief and sadness – on the day of Audrey’s funeral, I watched as my aunt sat quietly in a straight back chair in my mother’s living room. She sat alone dressed in black and her hands gently wringing a white handkerchief around in her lap with beautifully polished red nails. She wasn’t smiling, but she wasn’t crying. She had a look of sadness on her face, but it wasn’t an unfamiliar place for her – she knew firsthand what loss felt like. There were some things that stood out that cold January day, but honestly, much of it is a blur. But that image of my aunt sitting in that chair, waiting for the cars to come and pick us up to take us to the service, is etched in my memory. Her presence was comforting. She was there once again in August 2013 when my last sister, Allison, died. This time I snapped a picture of her sitting on the couch in my mother’s house (pictured above) It was the last time I would see her.
A few years ago – long after my own children had grown up- I began that old conversation with myself that I’d periodically had in my life when I looked at myself in the mirror: I wonder what my biological father looked like? You see, I’d never seen a picture of him. It was a sensitive and discouraged subject to approach with my mother – she simply never wanted to discuss him, let alone share a picture of him. Instead, when I ventured into the danger zone once and asked what he looked like, she told me, “He looks like Grover Washington.” End of subject. Now if you know anything about Jazz, you know who Grover was. It’s no coincidence that I’m a big lover of jazz, so for years, whenever I listened to Grover play his sax, I would look at his picture and say, “Hey, I hear you look like my father.” I never felt angry or deprived about the lack of information. My stepfather was a good man and he raised and loved my sister Audrey and I like we came from his loins. I was simply intermittently curious about my biological father. One day, I finally called Aunt Ollie and we talked. I sent her pictures of me and my girls all grown up because she hadn’t seen them in many years. I asked her if she had a picture of my father that she could send me…and she did. Like many aunts in our families, they are often the giver of forgotten familial gifts and this was that for me. It was a picture of him in his army uniform surrounded by friends all holding drinks in their hands. I think my aunt said he’d came home on leave and they were celebrating. It was the first time in my life that I’d actually seen a picture of him and not a “surrogate” substitute. And guess what? My mother was right..he did resemble Grover Washington a lot. He was very handsome.
I have been forever grateful to my aunt Ollie for making that connection possible for me. He had died years before I received the picture from her so I knew there was no chance to connect with him, but that didn’t matter. It was my aunt who gave me the missing piece of my DNA puzzle – the mystery was no longer there – the forbidden topic was no longer taboo. Aunt Ollie was the bridge that allowed me to at least see the other person who had been there at my conception, if for nothing else.
I’d spoken with my aunt several times by phone since I last saw her. However, I hadn’t spoken to her in quite a while before she died. I didn’t get to say good-bye, but I never do. I don’t know how I’d say good-bye anyway, so I’ll trust God that in His wisdom, it works out for the best. Aunt Ollie was petite, beautiful, classy, and stylish and I could always hear the warmth and kindness in her voice whenever we spoke. I loved her and I will miss her. Thank you, Aunt Ollie – sleep well.
To my cousins Craig and Sharron: Thank you for sharing her with me. Love and peace to you both.