Bill and I have been married for a bit over 21 years. His family is HUGE. We've had 4th of July pot lucks at our house with more than 120 people just from the central Iowa area, with I dunno how many more scattered here and there that only come to official family reunions, weddings, and funerals. My local family is much, much smaller, about 20 people, including us, with maybe a dozen more scattered about, and most live in the same neighborhood. It's a bit of a culture-shock for someone like me to meet the Jones', but they're all really good people. A few members of Bill's family mean an awful lot to me - his dad, his brother Rick... and his Aunt Edna.
I met Edna before I'd even met Bill. I'd worked for a while at UPS when I was in my early twenties, counting boxes as they came out of trucks. Edna was a sorter, the only woman on my shift with that demanding job, and she had to be able to quickly lift 70lbs over her head to get the packages onto the correct sorting belts. Edna's not a big woman at all - about 5'6, maybe 130lbs - but she's tough. And pretty much no nonsense. She raised a pile of kids and, frankly, most of Bill's generation is a bit afraid of her (and very respectful). I heard she swings a mean hot-wheels track. She could kill a chicken by grabbing it by the head and snapping her wrist. When she said it was time to get your ass home, kids came home. Now. No one talked back to her, ever.
Edna and I got along well when I worked at UPS, probably because I wasn't a giggly airhead like the rest of the package counters. We chatted often at work and we were both pleasantly surprised when I started dating her nephew, long after I'd stopped working at UPS.
Since she already knew me - and I knew her - she accepted me into the clan without a bit of hesitation, and she was a familiar, stable, comforting presence for my pathological shyness. She stood up for me when I'd accidentally ticked off someone's girlfriend. She offered helpful parenting advice. She joked with me. Sat with me. Talked with me. Gossiped with me. Edna always made me feel welcome and accepted, even when I was incredibly overwhelmed and I routinely sought her out to sit near. No one messed with Edna, and she was my friend.
One day in particular shines in my memory. I'd officially sold my three novels in late June of 2003, a week or so before the annual 4th of July get together. We'd decided not to have it at our house that summer - mostly because we had one bathroom and 120-130 people was just too much stress on us, the house, our checking account, the yard, and the septic tank - so Bill, Laura and I packed up our pot-luck offering and went to Uncle Charles and Aunt Tracy's house.
Everyone had heard about the book sales (it might be a huge family, but news travels fast) and it seemed like everyone had to talk to me about it. Which was fine, I guess, but a lot of these people barely noticed me before. I was just Billy's wife, worthy of a hello, a nod, a 'how's it goin'?' and not much else. Now, though, I was a novelty. Some made a special point to bring me drinks and offer to refill my plate and get people to take their picture with me. Some asked to borrow money since I was now famous - and everyone knows authors are automatically rich. I'm incredibly shy and self conscious anyway, and all this unexpected scrutiny - after all, these were people I'd known for FIFTEEN YEARS - kinda freaked me out a bit.
Edna apparently saw that I was getting overloaded and upset and she took me over to the shade and sat me down and sat beside me and told everyone else to fuck off and leave me alone. She never even mentioned the books, never did one thing, ever, to treat me any differently than she always had. I'm pretty sure she's read the books, but we've never talked about them. They simply don't come up in conversation. I'm just Tammy to her, no more, no less, and that's how it's always been. Even now, at any family gathering, I look for Edna and plant myself close by. We whisper and plot rebellion and gossip and bitch, just like always. And it's pretty much awesome. I love all of Bill's family, but Aunt Edna is very, very special to me.
We found out last night (Thursday) that she'd just had quadruple bypass surgery and is in cardiac ICU in Des Moines. All her kids have come, even those from out of state, and her brothers are there. Bill and I are driving down in the morning. She better be all right because no one better mess with my Aunt Edna.