JULIE STAFFORD: The world of Aunt Kitty


By Julie Stafford • Last Updated 3:31 pm on Monday, November 21, 2011

One of my favorite people in the whole wide world is my Aunt Kitty, youngest of my mom’s two sisters. Aunt Kitty for me has been like I imagine movie stars may be to others — she’s got fantastic style, she’s lived a lot of great places, she’s not afraid to express her opinion and you can’t help but smile along with her melodious laugh.
I’ve never lived close geographically to my aunt, but have always felt a close emotional connection. Same kinds of interests and tastes and thoughts about life. I’d like to think we’re kindred spirits.
As a little girl, I was fortunate to be able to visit her when she lived on the big island of Hawaii. At that point in her life, she drove a yellow Volkswagen bug named “Sunbeam,” had papaya trees in her yard and big dogs in the house. She also was a marathon runner, which I thought was cool and soon took on as an ultimate goal of mine.
When I was a senior in high school, my mom and dad let me fly solo to stay with Aunt Kitty at her home outside of San Francisco. I’ll never forget my first bite of sushi, our run through the towering redwoods or the day-long “cleanse” we did by drinking a gross concoction of water, cayenne and lemon juice. It was during this visit that we drove into the city to a fancy salon, where I was convinced to cut my long hair in favor of a shorter, more stylish ’do.
Seven years ago, my aunt, my mom, my brothers and my cousins gathered in Greenville for my dad’s funeral. It was the first time in a long time that I’d seen Aunt Kitty. But, as always, we had lots to talk about. And then three years ago, we all congregated in Florida for the funeral of my Aunt Margie, middle sister to my mom and Aunt Kitty. It was here, near the beach, that we decided funerals were not the place to get reacquainted. We all agreed a family reunion was in order. And thankfully, we pulled that off during the July 4 holiday in 2010 with promises that another one would follow soon.
But life can be cruel. And it doesn’t look like that reunion will happen the same way it did a year ago. This fall, my beloved Aunt Kitty was diagnosed with stage four metastatic cancer, the origin of which couldn’t be traced. What that means is that she is in the midst of a fight for her life.
As we move in to Thanksgiving week, my list of things to be thankful for is bittersweet. There are the big things like my kids and my family, our health, freedom and shelter. But then there are the less obvious things, too. Like the gift of time spent with my “movie star” aunt and the memories I will carry always.
During a trip to Greenville earlier this fall, my brother told me I reminded him of Aunt Kitty. For me, that is the highest compliment a girl could be paid and something for which to be truly thankful.

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