I pulled into the car line at Milly’s school this afternoon. I always get there early and just play on my iPad or iPhone while I wait for school to let out. Almost as soon as I turned my car off, my phone rang. It was Erin, who was planning on coming down to Wilmington today or tomorrow. I had thought about giving her a call while I was sitting in the car anyway. I answered the phone expecting her to tell me when she was coming down for sure, but that’s not what she told me after I cheerfully answered the phone.
“Aunt Robbie died,” she sobbed.
That can’t be right, was my immediate thought, but I think I said, “WHAT?” at least five or six times. I was stunned. I really couldn’t believe it. She wasn’t in terrible health, I thought. She should have had more time. I figured she had a good 10-15 years left. How could Aunt Robbie have died?
Just like her mother did, it seems. She was asleep on her couch and didn’t wake up. There will be an autopsy, probably tomorrow.
It’s no secret that I was closer with AR than I was with any of my other aunts and uncles. She lived with my family from around the time Erin was born until she moved to Texas for work when I was 12 or so (with a small gap of time when she moved to North Carolina before us and when my parents were building a house).
I have so many memories of her. In fact, a few years ago she wrote a few of her own memories of our time together. I’ll put them here in her own words:
How about me giving you rides on the motor scooter I had? I would put you on the seat behind me, strap you to me with a belt, put your football helmet on you and ride you around the back yard. You loved it!
Speaking of football helmets…. do you remember your first haircut? You wouldn’t go unless you could wear your football helmet. Then your Mom had to bribe you with candy to get you to take the helmet off so the lady could cut your hair. You were not a happy camper! Sometimes when I’m feeling a little blue I think about that haircut and it makes me laugh. Then I’m not blue anymore.
I do remember riding on the scooter! I remember one specific time, just going down the street. And I’ve heard the haircut story before, but I don’t personally remember it. The next part of the story goes that I hit the lady in the mouth with my head, and she had just had her molars out or some such.
Also, you were my first “traveling buddy” (AJ being the second. Adam and Erin never wanted to be a traveling buddy). I use to take you everywhere with me. I always enjoyed that.
Speaking of traveling. Remember when you came down to Texas the summer we went overseas? I lived in my house in Flower Mound. One Saturday I was cooking dinner and I needed something from the store. You had gotten your driver’s license that year so I asked you if you would drive to the store to get what I needed. It should have only taken you 30 minutes, 40 at the most but you were gone for almost 3 hours. You took a wrong turn out of the subdivision and got lost. You couldn’t remember my phone number and couldn’t look it up because I had an unlisted number and of course this was pre-cell phone days. You did find a store and did get what I needed and finally found your way home. I think you were afraid I was going to be upset but I wasn’t. Since I always called you David Jr. because you always seemed to get lost, I really wasn’t worried. I thought you might have gotten lost. Anyway, everything worked out fine… but you didn’t want to go to the store for me anymore!
Do you remember the squirrel episode? Your Mom and I picked you and Erin up from day care. We were in my car, I was driving and we weren’t that far from home. A squirrel ran out in front of the car and I ran over it and killed it. Your Mom got very upset and wanted me to go back to see if the squirrel was really dead. I wasn’t about to drive back to see if the squirrel was dead. I figured that was someone’s meal… road kill! Anyway, I’ve digressed. When we got home your Dad was already home. You walked in and said to your Dad…. why did the squirrel cross the road? Your Dad said he didn’t know. So you said… so it could get run over by Aunt Robbie! You thought that was so funny. I think you were either 4 or 5 when that happened. Your joke has lasted a long time.
I do remember a pretty funny story from a Christmas in the house on Beacon Hill. I think I had already moved to Durham but I, as I always did back then, came home for Christmas. That year for Christmas you wanted GI Joe stuff so I told everyone to buy you GI Joe toys. I think I got you a tank and a GI Joe figure. Uncle Roy, your Mom and Dad (or was it Santa Clause?), MumMum and PupPup and I think Aunt Reggie all got you some type of GI Joe toy. But every time you opened a GI Joe toy you thanked me for it. I couldn’t convince you that I didn’t buy all the GI Joe stuff. You said that you had told me that you wanted GI Joe toys and you knew that I had bought them for you. So I got all the credit for your Christmas that year! It was pretty funny.
Oh, yes, it was your Mom and me that took you to a UK basketball game. UK was playing Notre Dame in Louisville and UK won. Your Dad didn’t get to go because the day of the game we discovered a leaking water pipe in the basement (in my room). Your dad tried to fix it and I think ended up calling a plumber. Anyway, the pipe wasn’t fixed by the time we had to leave so your Dad stayed home. But you know me and how I am about UK basketball… so your Mom, you and I went on to the game. We sold your Dad’s ticket (for face value) to someone outside the coliseum. I think you almost fell alseep during the game!
Do you remember what you use to do to me to wake me up to ask me if it was time for cartoons? You always seemed to come into my bedroom about 4:00am. You would stand at the side of the bed and wait for me to see you which was a little hard since your head barely came to the top of the mattress. If I didn’t wake up right away, you would take your fingers and try to pry my eyelids open (Linda does the same thing to me when she wants me to wake up).
The first few times you did that it scared the crap out of me. But you were too cute to get mad at. In fact, if you really want to know, I started looking forward to you waking me up to watch cartoons. I would just tell you to get into bed until cartoons came on which was 6:00 am. I hate to say it, but that was before we had cable and stations didn’t stay on all night like they do now. See, you are getting old too!
By the way, your Dad finally got you to stop coming in my bedroom early in the morning. I told your Dad and your Mom that I didn’t mind but they wanted to teach you to mind your parents when they tell you not to do something. And believe me, they had to tell you a few times not to wake me up before you finally stopped coming in so early.
I also remember us watching cartoons in Durham. Do you remember how we would watch He-Man cartoons everyday? And when we lived in the first house in Durham, you would come down stairs to my den and we would watch the Smurfs, He-Man and Fraggle Rock? Boy! I loved it when we would watch TV together. Sometimes we would pretend that you were He-Man and play with your He-Man toys.
Those are some of my favorite Aunt Robbie memories. There’s so much other stuff too though.
When I was in Kindergarten or first grade, I was scheduled for a haircut and she told me I could get a “Mr. T haircut” and I was so disappointed when my parents wouldn’t actually let me. I think she felt bad that I got so worked up about it when she was only joking. (Of course kids get mohawks all the time these days.)
One time she was taking us to the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro. I remember it was raining as we were going around a round on-ramp and Andra sang “Rain Rain Go Away” and the rain stopped.
Aunt Robbie was in the Army Reserves and talked to me about some of the stuff she did when she went in for that. She taught me the basics of using an SLR camera.
I remember another time she was taking me and Erin somewhere (in a dark blue Cadillac Cutlass Supreme, which is all she drove for a long time) and I threw up in the backseat. Some of my puke got on a Mask figure and discolored it. Here’s a little extra Erin has added to it that I forgot about until she said it:
Zach, you talked about that time you threw up in the blue Cadillac on the way to the beach, but you failed to mention that because you puked, I puked. Then AR got out to clean it, and then SHE puked, which made YOU puke which then made ME puke again, as well!!! It was like a twisted game of Round Robin, or Pass the Puke.
Aunt Robbie was the first person I knew to have a Nintendo. I think she had it set up in her room one day after I got home from school or something. She had the set that came with Super Mario, Duck Hunt (as separate cartridges) and Gyroscope. It included two controllers, a (gray) gun and Robbie the Robot.
I went to visit Aunt Robbie in Texas after the moved there. I think the first time I went was when I was 12. I cried so hard getting on the plane to leave her. I was bawling. People probably thought it was because I was a kid riding a plane by myself, but it was because I was leaving Aunt Robbie and it was really sinking in that she wasn’t going to be living with us anymore.
Writing that and thinking of it made me really break down for the first time. I missed her then and I’m going to miss her forever now.
I went to Texas a few summers, sometimes with siblings, sometimes on my own. She would get season passes to Six Flags Over Texas and take us to such fun places. There was the restaurant with the giant swing in it, Hard Rock Cafes in any town we visited that had them, Sea World, the beach at Galveston (which I remember being kind of oily), Oklahoma just to say we’d been to Oklahoma. We saw lots of movies those summers. I remember seeing Batman (the Michal Keaton one) several times, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Universal Soldier. She took me to Texas Rangers games, where I got to see Nolan Ryan.
She let me have a Queen Greatest Hits CD that heavily influenced my taste in music. She also let me take a book, Mysteries of the Unexplained, a collection of documented weird and mysterious happenings. I remember the shadows on the wall in her living room as I read about demonic possession one night.
One summer she bought me a giant bag of Skittles and poured them into a huge cup that I’d pick at now and then. I think that was the same summer I discovered Risk and learned how to play it with her.
AR loved to travel. I remember her taking me to Washington DC and being blown away particularly with the Air and Space Museum. After we left we remembered that we had left a lot of the souvenirs we bought back at the hotel. I did get my white NASA space jacket though. There was talk of her coming down from Delaware, where she moved with Linda after retiring from GTE (or maybe it was already Verizon at the time), last time Tristen, Milly and I went to DC, but she was in the middle of a renovation and I think she was having knee problems, so walking around the Mall and museums probably wouldn’t have been very easy for her.
She loved the beach and she said she wanted to visit Alaska. She talked about getting together for an Alaskan cruise from time to time.
And of course there’s the summer she took me to Europe. She did a big trip for all of us. Erin got a trip to Czechoslovakia I think. Adam got to visit a rain forest in Costa Rica, where they got stuck in a cart above the trees. Some guy passing by climbed up and fixed it for them. (Or something like that; I wasn’t there.) I think Adam tossed down some money as thanks. Keep in mind that AR was afraid of heights. Andra got a trip to Ireland.
My trip to Europe was awesome though. Our flight to England was delayed ten hours or so, but we got there and joined up with our Trafalgar tour group. My Texas friend Chad went with us. We went to London, crossed from Dover to Calais and hit Amsterdam, Cologne (my instinct was to type that in the German form, Köln), cruised down the Rhein where we saw Heidelberg Castle (I painted a picture of a tower of it a few years later in art class that I gave to her). We went to Lucerne, Switzerland where I had fondue for the first time. We went to a small castle town in France where I ordered a ham sandwich and water in French. We went to Paris, where we ate escargot (I actually can’t remember if I tried it, but I think I did) at a restaurant with a view of the Eiffel Tower then later went to a Hard Rock cafe where we had an American waitress. After we left there I almost got run down by a guy on a bike who we suspect was trying to steal my bag. One of the last times I spoke to Aunt Robbie, she said she was surprised I’d like to spend more time in Paris. I think the bike incident soured her on the City of Light.
When Mom flew us up to visit her in Rochester, Aunt Robbie came too. She went with us to Niagra Falls. Milly was too little to have a lot of memory of that, but she saw Aunt Robbie a few times and remembers who she was, even if she doesn’t remember her well. I’m glad she got to know her at least some. Milly’s first full name is in part an homage to my grandmother, but Mum Mum’s maiden name was also Aunt Robbie’s middle name.
I remember watching football and basketball games in the downstairs den with her and my dad, eating pistachios or cashews or chips and dip. To this day, I have to have chips and dip for big games.
We would call each other a lot during basketball season, too. Often it was when Duke (my team) or Kentucky (her team) lost to offer condolences, but she would call after UNC losses sometimes too. We’d chat about the games and players and recruits and, this past season, why our teams both seemed to be losing at the same time a lot.
We’d randomly call each other sometimes too, just to chat and catch up. She started joking about whose turn it was to call. Sadly, I can’t remember whose turn it would be right now. It’s probably been several weeks since we talked, which sucks.
I could go on and on, I know. I’ve got all these little memories and flashes of times with her. There are things I always wanted to talk to her about, experiences I meant to ask her about that I never got around to, and now I never will. You never know when someone is going to be gone.
When I was little I told my Aunt Robbie that when she got old she could come live with me and I’d take care of her. She liked to remind me of that. But now she can’t even tease me about that anymore.
Aunt Robbie was the coolest and best aunt a person could have, and I mean that. People say nice things about people, or exaggerate the good when they’re gone, but for me at least it’s the truth.
I can’t believe she’s gone. She should have had more time.