Its the holidays and I didn’t get a Christmas card from my Aunt Simone. Nor did I receive my birthday card this year-the card with those words so full of love I can feel it busting through the envelope before I have a chance to open it.

Because she’s lived in Paradise, California and I have lived in Detroit or thereabouts we haven’t spent the time together over the years I would have liked. A great deal of our contact has been through the mail.  But the face time we did have sure did count for something.

I guess I first got to know Aunt Simone through the letters she wrote to my mother. She’d talk about my cousins Dean, Denise and David and was full of questions about her Detroit family. This letter was also meant for my dad,  my brother Rick, my sister Marie and me . I found out later that there was a second letter just for my mother that confessed the more private movements of her heart. Mom reciprocated in kind with her painful secrets. I was always grateful my mother had such a confidant and that all of us had such a fan.  Emboldened by Aunt Simone’s initiative I wrote her once and awhile myself.

In 1969 I was given a one way bus ticket to LA just days before the last of my college exams freshman year at the seminary.  I was saying goodbye to the seminary on a leave of absence. I was in love, very confused, and restless to see more of the world. Aunt Simone and family lived in the LA suburb of Whittier at the time. When I called to say I’d like to visit she welcomed me with open arms. This was a one way ticket and she didn’t ask how long I’d be kicking around. A week later I asked her if I could  invite my friend Carl Bidleman  to join me. Not only did she say yes but she actually seemed pretty enthusiastic.  Carl and I spent much of that summer working in a factory and living in her family’s camper.  We eventually took off and headed north to Alaska to further seek our fortune.  That part of the story is best left for another time except to add that I left it to good old Aunt Simone to let my mother know where I was and to console her.

In 1976 my mother died suddenly and most unexpectedly. Aunt Simone flew in like a guardian angel and held her fractured Detroit family together. Watching her with her brother (my father) was something unforgettable. My dad was tortured with grief and regret.  She gave him a deep, old love that was unlike anyone else’s. She got him through and kept carrying him. Ten years later she came back to Detroit to give him the hug he desperately needed before he died. Once again she was there for all of us in a way no one else could be.  She knew all our family secrets, all our failings, all our unanswered prayers and loved us with a powerful accepting love. The old seminarian still left in me embraces it as one of those divine mysteries, a blessing that transcends explanation.

Years went by and new, happy occasions arose to get together. Memorable times like like her 40th wedding anniversary party (her husband, Jack, is another great story) are a permanent part of many memories. Her children and grandchildren celebrated in a way that can only be in the genes. It was there that I discovered the scrapbook she kept on her Detroit family that included pages of pictures that only could have been sent by my mother.

Last January my brother, sister and I went to California for my Aunt’s 80th birthday party.  We had a wonderful time – even Carl Bidleman and his wife Karen were there.  It turned out to be the last time we would see her.

There will be no more cards and letters but her love lives on in Dean, Denise, David and their spouses Lori, John and Jackie, her grandchildren, her friends, and in her Detroit family.