Monday, December 8, 2014

Of Laughter and Life - My Auntie Evelyn

My Auntie Evelyn died last week. On Sunday we remembered her in a memorial service. Auntie Evelyn was my mom's older sister by 14 years and the oldest of six siblings. 

Mom and Auntie Evelyn were close in love, even though they weren't close in age. Until I was eleven years old I lived with my parents and older sister in Madras, a tiny dot of a town in central Oregon. Auntie Evelyn lived in Portland. In the big city in a house in a neighborhood lined with even more houses. She worked in a hospital. My sister and I thought she was fancy. And rich.
Auntie Evelyn with my
son Caleb in 1991

My dad was a truck driver and gone for weeks at a time so it was just my mom and sister and me. But many weekends Auntie Evelyn would make the two hour drive over Mount Hood to visit. 

To say those were good days is a small use of the word "good". Mom and Evelyn shared a special sister-friendship. They laughed a lot! It is from them I came by the embarrassing trait of laughing when someone hurts themselves. I don't especially appreciate this gift, but if you were to trip and scrape your knee while hiking with me, it is likely you would hear a bit of nervous laughter. 

Fortunately, I learned other useful things. Like never make more than one trip into the house with your groceries. Simply load all of the bags into your arms at once and hobble your way up the steps to the kitchen, because why waste time when there are other things to be done. 

But mostly I learned about laughter. I remember long summer days spent floating on air mattresses in the lake with mom and Auntie Evelyn. There were always snacks. They would take a bunch of grapes in a plastic bag and float them in the lake to keep them cool. And there was always, always chocolate. Somewhere. Hidden in a purse or under the seat in the car or tucked away in the back of the refrigerator. Chocolate was an absolute.

We were always doing something silly and crazy with Auntie Evelyn. I remember how amazed I was at her water skiing skills. I mean she could ski on ONE ski and take off from the dock and glide all the way back into shore without ever getting wet. This was a fantastical feat to my young eyes. 

Living in rural Madras we were horse people but, of course, because she was from THE CITY, Auntie Evelyn was decidedly not horse people. She would ride my little Shetland pony and was never able to stop when she wanted. She would yell, “STOP! STOP!” repeatedly and to no avail but to the roaring laughter of my sister and me. I'm sure we were her favorite nieces. . .  

There was so much laughter and when the weekend came to a close my sister and I would hide her keys so she couldn't leave us. She was that kind of auntie. I hope she knew it. 

As I grew older I came to see that my fun and funny Auntie Evelyn wasn't perfect and life didn't always treat her kindly. As a younger person I didn't understand why she sometimes left the house quickly for a good brisk walk. Tears in her eyes and sob in her throat. But now I do. Now I know because I've taken that quick brisk walk myself on occasion when life is painful and a solitary walk is sometimes the best place to let the hurt spill out. 

I hadn't seen Auntie Evelyn much recently. In 1999 my little family moved to Boise, and I saw her only on our visits to Washington. I'm grateful to have seen her one last time in July and get from her a good hard hug. 

Her memorial service showed me the purpose of such events, because today my memories of her are brighter and stronger than they were yesterday.

I'm so grateful she was my Auntie Evelyn. Perhaps more than any other person, she showed me that laughter can always triumph tears. 

I will hear her laugh again someday and my heart is glad. 


  1. Excellent piece Shawna!!! - from your cousin Jason
    Auntie Evelyn made everything fun!

  2. Shawna - that made my heart happy to read your words about Evelyn. Thank you!
    Auntie Ann

    1. You're welcome, Auntie Ann. I wrote it crying and still cannot read parts of it with dry eyes. XO