In a year that has been defined by loss, my family took another hit this week. We lost an elder, my Aunt Janice. She was a spirited woman with a vibrant personality that filled up a room and her loss has left a void yet to be measured.
There were ten kids in my mother’s family. Janice married the oldest son Howard. Growing up, family dinners as we called them (you likely call them reunions), were held twice a year – on the Sunday closest to Christmas and the Sunday closest to my grandparents‘ birthdays (August 14 and 15). All my aunts and uncles and countless cousins packed into my grandparents’ house for a potluck meal that ranged from the lazy cook’s bucket of chicken to delicious pies and a line of crockpots containing such delicacies as homemade noodles, garden fresh green beans and venison.
If you were smart, you knew which of the aunts were the best cooks and what they had brought. Janice was one of those who could make anything taste good, a skill that came in handy during the years she ran her own restaurant. She also knew how to stretch a dollar to feed a crowd. I once saw this woman transform four eggs into a steaming hot pan of delicious scrambled eggs that fed a table full of people.
It was always evident when Janice was present because you could pick out her laughter from any crowd. She knew how to capture your attention, how to tell a story, and how to make you laugh.
She loved having a good time and wanted everyone else to share her joy. Simply hearing her laughter could make you happy too.
Janice was an avid reader who enjoyed critical thinking, travel and anything that exercised her mind. Janice was quick witted, a no-nonsense straight shooter who wasn’t known to back down when she thought she was right. Which was most of the time, by my estimation.
She was what you might call a gutsy broad.
Janice was a talented quilter and even ran the local library branch for some years.
She especially loved western travel and sharing stories about the places she visited. I regret not hearing more about her trip to Glacier last fall because I’m sure it was a good one.
She was a proud mother and grandmother who encouraged her offspring to work hard, to do good, and to be strong.
There’s also a chance she was the best pie maker in the world. Seriously, friends. The Best.
In fact, Janice taught me how to make pies a long, long time ago. I was a tiny little girl with blonde hair in pigtails when she and my uncle Howard came to visit. She made an apple pie and let me help, telling me that maybe someday I could make a pie of my own.
A few days later, inspired by my newfound “skill” of pie making I got up early and made one in the middle of our very new white linoleum kitchen floor.
Assorted cereal, potato chips, flour, food coloring and other scavenged ingredients spilled over the sides of my tiny doll pan and onto that white floor.
Imagine my mother’s unbridled horror when she discovered my culinary achievement. Let’s just say that I was in trouble all day and possibly for days after.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Janice heard that story! I’m guessing she enjoyed it immensely.
I use pictures to tell stories and am grateful to have this one from last year’s family dinner.
Janice was sitting on my parent’s front porch, quietly taking in the scene as people arrived with covered dishes and young children in tow. I was lurking in my usual stance with my zoom lens in hand. She caught my camera and gave me this look.
Anyone who knew Janice can tell you what came next. She smiled, said something witty and laughed that fabulous laugh.
And this is how I will remember her.