Once-in-a-lifetime … We hear that phrase and there are still those “once-in-a-lifetime” moments. Well, here is one that many of us directly share and indirectly share. The death of an aunt. On June 23, 2016 the most special Aunt in our country died: Anne M. Flynn. Yes, you have the most special aunt, also. So, please share with the world when your most special aunt dies.
In November 1973, I was seven years-old living with my father in Waldport, Oregon. My mom and my sisters were not. No, they were living with the most special Aunt in our country. At fifty years-old, how can I even know or remember being away from my mom and sisters at seven years-old? In the most special Aunt in our country’s house, she has many family photos. Well, there hangs a shadow box of a tattered / torn piece of yellowed paper with an envelope. On the tattered / torn piece of yellowed paper, you can see typing and a picture drawn with crayons. The picture is a family separated and then coming together. It is a letter from a seven year-old boy written to his mom and sisters informing them that he was alright and would soon be joining them. The postmark on the envelope is November 1973. Seeing that letter breaks my heart. Certainly wasn’t one of the memories from childhood I remember or even want to remember!
Our mom and dad’s marriage was an utter disaster! In the early 1960s, Mom was very naïve when she met our father. In 1945, the most special Aunt in our country and mom’s dad was killed. Their father, our Grandfather, was the Executive Officer of the USS INDIANAPOLIS when it was sunk in World War II. His death rocked their world. Mom was six years-old and her sister was fourteen years-old when their father died and the next part of their childhood was moving from house to house. Dealing with a mother who now had demons in her. The demons developed from the tragedy of seeing her husband and hundreds of other men die, while the Commanding Officer survived. Needless-to-say, my mom and the most special Aunt in our country’s childhoods were fraught with many sad stories and unfortunately, that (a childhood filled with sad stories) was passed down to her children. Now, don’t get me wrong…there are many other families with similar and often more depressing stories than our family, but we could have had more fun and sweet stories from our childhood.
So, in the middle of October 1973, my mom decided she had had enough being married. During an early morning, following my twin sisters’ six birthday, she attempted to sneak us out of the house. I would have nothing to do with that and began to scream and shout. Waking my father. The Waldport Police or some county sheriff came to the double-wide mobile home and made a deal with mom and dad that included the twin daughters going to Carmel and the son staying with the father. Where did the twin daughters and their mother go? They went to live with the most special Aunt in our country in Carmel, California. Around my eighth birthday, I would join them.
The most special Aunt in our country was incredible to all four of us. She made sure that we were raised in the most stable home we could have — under the circumstances. I mean after all, we were living in Carmel, California. In the seventies, Carmel wasn’t known for having single-moms on welfare. Nor was it a city where children were being raised by a mom and her sister. Carmel just isn’t that “sort” of city – and growing-up, I was reminded of that.
While we were growing-up, the most special Aunt in our country was working at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She worked as an executive assistant for one of the leaders of that hospital. She loved that job. LOVED IT! Many years prior to that job, at Kathryn Gibbs School back east, she was trained / educated for that job. Mr. Hudson enjoyed having the most special Aunt in our country as his secretary. She would take the bus to and from the hospital in her crisp / shiny white nurse-like uninform. Always looked professional. Took total pride in being one of the leaders’ secretaries. The most special Aunt in our country would retire from the hospital, but like many in her generation, she loved to work! So, she accepted a similar job for a Salinas hospital and was there until she needed to retire. But, does the most special Aunt in our country sit in her home? Enjoy a nice calm retirement? NO! She volunteers at Community Hospital working in their gift shop. She loved to work! I was proud to have the most special Aunt in our country have such a job, be it as a successful professional or now, successful volunteer.
As the most special Aunt in our country had a job, there was her sister, our mom, struggling to keep a job. Mom is an alcoholic (sober from alcohol since 1984; able to find other addictions). The alcoholism was too much for mom and that would land her on welfare. To mom’s credit – SHE WAS EMBARRASED TO BE ON WELFARE! My mom did all she could to get a job. While mom was struggling with being unemployed and being an alcoholic, there was the most special Aunt in our country, going along, smile on her face, making sure her two nieces and nephews had food, clothing and a house.
The most special Aunt in our country’s home. Let’s talk about that. It started as a 900 square foot, one bedroom, one bath and a kitchen area in the back of this large lot. For a single lady to own a home in Carmel in the early seventies? That is a tremendous accomplish, let alone now having four more people living in that 900 square foot home. Well, the most special Aunt in our country recognized that five people could not comfortably live in such a space and decided to add on; it would be the first of three major add-ons. She added on the living room. The living room would give us a place to comfortably sleep on the floor or on the pullout couch. Then, the most special Aunt in our country recognized that her nephew (me) needed space away from the four ladies and she would add-on two bedrooms and a bathroom. Then, for some reason, following my graduation from college, she added-on another master bedroom with a bathroom and a “garage.” A 900 square foot home is now well over 1,800 square feet with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room, dining room, and kitchen. Super impressive for a single lady!
The most special Aunt in our country has an amazing number of friends! Loyal. Strong. THE BEST! The most special Aunt in our country played Wednesday night bridge with same group of ladies for over thirty years! This is a group no one could divide…well, only God could divide them by welcoming them into Heaven. The most special Aunt in our country took countless vacations with her BFF’s. These were amazing trips out of country. She definitely gave us (my wife and our two children) the travel bug. Beginning in 2001, the most special Aunt in country took us on these INCREDIBLE European vacations. The first vacation was to Ireland and England; followed by, 2006 to Italy and France; and the final trip, was Princess Cruises Mediterranean cruise from Venice, Italy and ending in Barcelona, Spain. Each trip was better than the previous trip. She made sure that all of us were in the finest hotels (Claridges in London; Cipriani in Venice; The Ritz in Paris – just to name a few). Ate in the finest restaurants. There is no way our family could have enjoyed these trips on our own. I have chosen to live a simple life as a high school music teacher. Disneyland, camping, staycations…that’s my level. Waterford / London / Paris / Rome and many more amazing cities?? Out of my league.
The most special Aunt in our country never married. She lived 85 years and never married. She had plenty of boyfriends. Proposals. Never married. My very amateur psychological speculation is the loss of her father. I believe she did not want to lose another important man in her life. The longest and most special relationship was with Allen Funt. Allen Funt? Isn’t he that guy who created CANDID CAMERA? Yes, that Allen Funt. For close to sixteen years, Allen and Anne might as well have been married! Allen treated Anne with such a giving and kind heart. I am sure as with any relationship there were bumps on the road and the two of them needed to find the patience to keep the relationship going, but the gifts and love Allen gave Anne? As well as the love and companionship Anne gave Allen. AMAZING! All the places the most special Aunt in our country took us to in Europe were the exact same places Allen took Anne. The most special Aunt in our country wanted us (her nephew and his family; a niece and her family; and her other niece and friend) to have the same experiences and bottom line: THAT WAS THE MOST SPECIAL AUNT IN OUR COUNTRY’S MISSION. Her mission was for us to have a better life.
Her mission in our lives was to provide what our mom simply could not. Our mom LOVED us – no doubt. I know our mom loved us and loves us to this day. Our mom did all she could with all she had, but there were holes in her ability to give us stability. The most special Aunt in our country filled every hole and our cup runneth over! I will never be able to give enough thanks to the most special Aunt in our country. I certainly am a better son, nephew, brother, father, uncle, teacher, friend because of all the most special Aunt in our country, MY AUNT, gave to me and all of our family.
In October 2015, the most special Aunt in our country was given the diagnosis of Stage Four Cancer! Lung cancer, of all things. SHE NEVER SMOKED. How could such an important person get lung cancer?! DAMN! She began chemotherapy and did all she could to fight cancer. Around May 2016, we all noticed that the cancer was winning! In May, I took the most special Aunt in our country to two of her final doctors’ appointments. The respiratory doctor was optimistic about the treatments, as was her “Cancer Doctor.” But, when I left both appointments, I ‘digested’ what the doctors were saying. I didn’t translate what they were saying until I was in the car driving out of the parking lot. For example, one doctor, “Now, I am happy to say that the cancerous mass is getting smaller. Yet, there are some other spots showing up that we believe the chemotherapy and other parts of the treatment will help eradicate.” Cool! The cancer mass is getting smaller! Right on! Pause … Then, in the car out of the parking lot… WAIT! There are other cancerous spots showing up?! “Anne! Did you hear them?”
“Yes, I heard them. But, I need to be optimistic that we are going to beat this. It is working. We are going to continue.”
Adrianna, the most special Aunt in our country’s young WONDERFUL caretaker was in communication with my wife. Toward the end of May, Adrianna told Diana that things were getting worse. Now, around June 6th, I receive a phone call from Adrianna informing me, “Paul, it is getting really bad. I don’t even know if she is going to make it to the end of the week.” We both start crying. The most special Aunt in our country is losing the battle.
On June 9th around 1pm, I receive a phone call from a Hospice Nurse. Huh? We had gotten this far this “quick.”
“Mr. Everts, your aunt (hey, she isn’t just “my aunt” she is the most special Aunt in our country) is in real bad shape. She needs 24-hour care.”
“Okay. Today is graduation. I am a high school band director and we have graduation at 6pm tonight. I need to be there. I will be in Carmel tomorrow.”
“I don’t think you understand. Your aunt is dying. I am a “mandated reporter.” I cannot leave her alone in this condition.”
My aunt, the most special Aunt in our country is … dying?! “Alright. My wife is leaving right now. We are around 90 minutes away. Diana will be there at 3pm and I will immediately leave following graduation.”
Wow. What an afternoon / evening! Here I am at Dublin High School. Hours earlier being informed that the most special Aunt in our country is dying. Talk about emotions! Too much. Following the graduation ceremony, I am in the band room, I say “good-bye” to my students and leave.
My son, daughter, and I arrive at Carmel around 10pm. I walk into our childhood home and could feel it is now changing. I walk into the bedroom, the original bedroom that was my childhood bedroom to see my Aunt pretty weak. We would stay with the most special Aunt in our country through Tuesday June 14th. We helped with getting Hospice established. Helped bring in the special medical bed. Get her room organized. The original bedroom in that 900 square foot home. We had a wonderful weekend watching the Warriors play the Cavaliers. The Giants play the Dodgers. The most special Aunt in our country instilled in me a love for professional sports and how special and really a blessing to watch the NBA championship and one of the greatest baseball rivalries during the final weekend I would be with her! Such a blessing from God.
Because of the 2011 Mediterranean Cruise, Diana and I had thought of celebrating our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary on a Princess Cruises cruise. June 20-30 in Alaska! We could not allow that important event (first time since our 1991 honeymoon we would be on an extended vacation without family or students) to fall through. The most special Aunt in our country did not want to tell us how sick she was because she thought we would cancel the trip! We went. An incredible final voyage with the most special Aunt in our country. Wait. You thought Anne was at home in her Hospice bed? Well, you are correct, but a person is more than a physical being. We are in the Grand Princess. Bags unpacked. We go to the Horizon for our first buffet meal. Now, if you haven’t been on a cruise ship, you get to eat for days and days and…days! Too much food! I walk in the Horizon. I see this man in a white dinner jacket. I pointed at him. He paused. Looked at me.
“Yes?” Poor guy staring at this nut (me).
“Diana! Look!” Diana is looking at me crazy. Here – we just got on the ship for the first day. Launching day. Setting up for the first trip in twenty-five years and there is Paul “losing it.”
“What?” said an embarrassed Diana.
“Look at him.” Poor guy staring at me thinking, “For God sakes. We haven’t even left San Francisco yet and I have a crazy many pointing his finger at me.”
“What Paul?” I look at him. “You were on the Ruby Princess in 2011. You were on that ship for the Mediterranean Cruise from Venice to Barcelona. You were our Maitre D!!”
“You are correct!”
“My aunt LOVED you! If there was one employee that my aunt would have been thrilled to see on this cruise, it would be you. You need to know how special you are. Five years later, I remember you! You are a special man to make such an impression on another!” He gave me a huge smile and hug.
ANNE, THE MOST SPECIAL AUNT IN OUR COUNTRY, was still taking care of me! As we docked in Juneau, Alaska, I receive a phone call from a dear family friend, Sandy. We had turned over responsibility of Anne’s care to Sandy.
“Paul, Anne has passed away about ten minutes ago. She was surrounded by four friends. Very quiet. Very peaceful. It was a special moment. Just thought you would want to know.” In the end, I would have liked to have been there. But in reality…step back. Sandy actually knew Anne longer than I did. Sandy is a little older than me. It was very appropriate for Sandy to be there. The friends? That was so important to Anne. She valued friendships. Jenny (sister)? She was in the house. She was representing the family. Susie and I? We are on trips that – IN A MAJOR WAY – Anne had helped arrange. And her sister/our mom? Being taken care of at Brookdale in Salinas. We were all place where we were supposed to be. Amazing.
I had thought that was going to be the phone call. The most special Aunt in our country had impeccable timing and taste. Just as we docked, she left the evil of pain to be in the love of God.
That night, Diana and I sat in the Botticelli restaurant on the Grand Princess (pretty cool name… Anne was a grand princess (smile). Quiet. The table for eight was now a table just for Diana and me. It was the fourth night of the cruise, so we were starting to have a nice relationship with our waiters: June and “D” (Master “D” – if you will). I couldn’t help myself. I finally started to cry. I ordered Anne’s favorite drink: a tall bourbon and seven. As I cried, I could see the Maitre D. He came to me.
“She passed away, Hermonio.”
In his white coat, looking handsome, great Portuguese accent, “I am so sorry.” He gave me hug. From that night on, almost every day following, there would be Hermonio. I would have a tall bourbon and seven served by another caring man: Arnie. How appropriate too. Arnie, the same name as the great golfer. A sports figure. Arnie, the Explorer’s Lounge Bartender, is Filipino. Anne loved Filipinos. She truly believes Filipinos have the most caring hearts / so friendly / full of love. Arnie would make me the tall bourbon and seven, much in the same way Anne would get at the Mission Ranch. Didn’t need to ask. There would be the most special Aunt in our country making sure her nephew was still being taken care of. The rest of the cruise was a tribute to all Anne had done for me, my sisters, my mom, my wife / son / daughter and to so many other people. The most special Aunt in our country is THE GREATEST AUNT IN OUR WORLD.
I love you Anne. Enjoy the best destination in the universe. I know they make the best tall bourbon and sevens. Have one for us.