I’m going to ask a favor of you. Imagine the best storyteller you know. The one who can sit and wait her turn, knowing full well that nothing is going to top what she is about to bring to the table. The one who makes cellphone batteries cry for mercy as a 10-minute check-in becomes a three-hour call you hope will never end.
You’ve just imagined my Great Aunt Janice.
Everyone in my family can tell a story, but Aunt Janice was the Shanachie. She kept our family history and lore, and her version of any story was the definitive one. She knew where all the family skeletons were hidden, having hidden a fair number of them herself.
She sang opera, she balanced a till for the bank, and she kept the family home through some 60 years of parties. The one time I remember her being disappointed in me was when I called her early on a Sunday morning. It wasn’t that I should have been at church, mind, it was that she knew that Shannon and I had thrown a party the night before, and it was WAY too early in Alaska for anyone to have recovered from a McClear party.
“Don’t worry, Aunt Janice, it was an early party. The last guest left at 3, and I have to get up to let the dogs out anyhow.” She was dubious, but she still wanted the blow-by-blow.
Aunt Janice grew up in the Great Depression. She lost a brother in the final days of the Second World War. She went through a hard patch that even she, the consummate storyteller, does not talk about. Se saw the family through the passing of her siblings and parents. She watched the second plane crash into the World Trade Center, telling our stories all the while. She traveled a bit, but mostly, family Shanachie that she was, the world came to her. At the end of the day, it was a worldwide pandemic that did her in. So, the great storyteller died today in isolation.
Still, a weird twist of fate gave her a storybook ending. Across the river, New York City residents held a city-wide sing-along. At 2 minutes past 7, the skyline that Aunt Janice has been watching all these years sang her spirit home with Sinatra.