While I regret that a myriad of work, school, and child obligations will keep me from being there to say my final goodbyes to Aunt LaNelle, who was the sister of the man I call my dad and she called O'Neal, in truth, I believe that we never really say goodbye to people who have found a place in our hearts and heads. For me, Aunt LaNelle ever will be alive in my memories of her, as elegant and vibrant as always.
Everyone knows other people in his or her own way, but to me as a child and even now all these years later, Aunt LaNelle seemed like a Hollywood movie star when the screens truly were silver: beautiful, strikingly poised, with hair that seemed to me to be the essence of glamour, and with the graceful deportment to match. Aunt LaNelle always held herself with the regal dignity of a woman who knew herself and her own mind, with an inner strength that resonated.
When our family visited Grandmother and Grandfather Whitley's house in Anniston during summer trips, I always felt warmed when Aunt LaNelle glided in the door, smiling, laughing, and hugging all at the same time. Despite her elegance, Aunt LaNelle always was happy to walk with us out to the barnyard to see the animals from the cows to the rabbits even though she surely had no interest in doing so and no matter how dirty she got doing it.
Best of all, she always told me about her animals including Trigger, their horse, and when we went to visit her house, she made sure I got to sit on Trigger with Belinda. It always will be one of my favorite memories.
On another visit to Aunt LaNelle's house, she showed us how to make incredibly detailed egg-shaped ornaments using tiny white pearls, yellow satin ribbon, and silken tassels. I remember mine looking as though Trigger had tried to make it. Fortunately, Aunt LaNelle came to the rescue and that ornament remains one of my favorite holiday decorations, one I often leave out for months and not just because I haven't had time to put everything away.
That same visit, I watched Aunt LaNelle make a cherry pie from scratch and I think of her fondly every time I make a pie although my version of “making a pie from scratch” is slightly different from how she did it: I take a frozen Sara Lee pie out of the freezer and bake it in my oven. I feel sure she would forgive me.
Certainly, her patience with me was immense. For years, until my children were born and life became so busy that I still am working on holiday cards I started 15 years ago and I quit writing anything that was not required for work or school, I wrote Aunt LaNelle letters that focused inordinately on my pets, I am sure. Although her own life was quite busy, she nevertheless took the time and made the effort to write me back in her beautiful script. Over the years, I rarely came to Alabama but I heard about her and all her activities through my dad, whom she warmly welcomed to her dinners and house when he was in Alabama.
Just as everyone else is, I am beyond sad that Aunt LaNelle is no longer here in person with those she loved and those who love her, especially Belinda, LaDana, Wendy, and their families. In my heart and in my head, however, Aunt LaNelle always will remain as unforgettable, glamorous, and unique as ever, just like a certain very special Christmas ornament.
I send my love and sympathy to all of you who loved Aunt LaNelle.
Michelle Whitley Turner
St. Paris, Ohio