Aunt Brenda was such a keen observer, but I’m not sure she knew how much I observed her. I observed her laughing her head off at Monty Python movies, though I didn’t get it. (I do now.) I observed her quietly and uncomplainingly doing whatever needed to be done during the 40-some Christmases I spent with her. She always bought me a Christmas gift, usually a book, that was a little too sophisticated for me, but that always made me want to be better so that I could grow into it. She wasn’t as loud as my branch of the family about sharing her feelings, but she showed her love through the bench cushion she sewed for my first-born’s room, the quilts she made for every big milestone in my life, the patient way she taught me to knit, and her quiet cheerleading of every blog post I ever wrote.
When I was twelve, she took me with her and Emily for their annual summer trip to England. It was my first time away from home and the first time I’d really traveled. I don’t remember talking about my feelings of homesickness, but on one of my hardest mornings she presented me with a teddy bear. It was a wonderful and formative trip for me, but it was also hard because I wasn’t used to the adjustments travel requires (first time this California girl had lived with no AC, and I was a really picky eater). But I didn’t complain because I just wouldn’t have around Aunt Brenda; after all, she never did. She made me want to meet the challenge by the example she led. Not long ago I read an account of a trip she’d taken with Kelly to Mexico when she was young—not only did it highlight her beautiful writing and astute observation skills, but it showed me how she indeed had coped herself when she was out of her element—far further so than just not having air conditioning! With good cheer, wry humor, and a sense of adventure.
She was the best friend and sister to my mom, she was the one everyone always wanted to sit next to, the one whose team you wanted to be on for charades (she was ALWAYS up for a game), the one who made you laugh the loudest at Christmas skits because of her deft impersonations and hilarious accents. She modeled a perfect retirement—friends, service, devotion to Zella, and a continued interest in learning, always. I know I’ll always continue to follow her example, and to ask myself What Would Brenda Do? Cheers to you, Aunt Brenda. I’ll think of you with every cup of tea, with every Shakespeare reading and every game of charades, with every travel experience I have when I want to be just a little bit better.