I met her one time. I was on my way home from college after finishing spring courses. I would be home for the summer, and then I would be off on some new adventure. I had volunteered to drive a man's suburban from Utah to VA for him. I was getting a free ride home out of it and he was getting his car to family members who needed it more than he did. Dad flew out to UT to do the drive with me (so the ride home wasn't exactly free....) And we took a detour through Michigan City, Indiana. We went up the sand dunes to look out over Lake Michigan and even drove by the old house dad grew up in with Shari, Bill, Carol, Debbie, Georgia, Patty, Steve, Celia, and Andy. All those kids in that small wooden house.
We went over to the Wal-Mart where Carol was working. She didn't really know we were there, or if she knew Dad was there (as he is talking to her on his cell from the garden section) she certainly did not know I was there. Family is a funny thing. You can never have met, but the pure fact that you're family means joy and hugs for otherwise complete strangers. Carol was kind, and worked hard. She hadn't had an easy life. Like most the others who never really left that place. We hugged and exchanged some stories before she had to get back to work. She was tired. But the flicker of joy she had was memorable, and sweet. It's my only memory of her.
We spent the afternoon with Andy at his place eating pizza and chatting before heading on our way. I didn't really know these people other from the few stories I had heard about Uncle Andy growing up. He seemed kind hearted and humble; a dad who worried about his kids and had a pretty rough life. I never knew good things about him growing up. (Side note: It is funny though that even my son knows the story of Uncle Andy walking on the freshly cleaned carpet with dirty socks....because we actually got our carpets cleaned once. And just a couple days ago he came in with filthy socks and no shoes, and I had to laugh.)
So whenever a family member passes, it causes us to think of our last interactions with them and our involvement in their life. And it gives cause to pause and realize how much one had invested and if it leaves one satisfied or uneasy. And hopefully it lights that fire in us to keep trying to invest in family that is still living, so that in the end we can feel peace and be still.
Rest in peace Aunt Carol.