As long as I can remember having a favorite aunt, it was her. Mary. She has one of those combination names, Mary___, one that she decided made her sound like an eternal ten-year-old. As soon as she left the house, and went to college, she started telling people to just call her Mary. Short, simple, still feminine. More grown up.

She’s everything I’m not. She’s pretty, I’m plain, bordering on downright ugly. She has a normal, petite nose, not the round thing I’ve got. We share pale skin and freckles, though hers has become more prone to tan over time, from exposure to the sun in Africa, Australia, and Central America. I’ve never been to other countries. She’s lived all over the world the past twenty-plus years.

I don’t see her often enough. In fact, I hadn’t seen her in three years. The time before that had been at my sister’s baby shower, in July 2007. It wasn’t my choice to go that long, to have less than a handful of visits within a decade, with the aunt closest to me in age, my favorite aunt, and the woman I’d say is my favorite living female adult in my family. She has lived all over the world since the mid-1990s. But, she grew up in a small town, the same town where I’d travel with my parents and siblings to visit the grandparents when we were kids. My mom and dad went to high school in neighboring towns, a river flowing between them, spanned by a little bridge, less than a city-block long.

My aunt’s mother, my grandmother, died when I was four months old. Grandma held me once, that I know of, and there is one photograph to prove it happened. Otherwise, anything I know of the woman is through stories, anecdotes. My dad doesn’t tell them, but others in the family have, or do, over time. There are fewer people alive to tell those stories, with dwindling numbers as the years pass. People who remember my grandmother are losing their great memories of important stories, they are vanishing, and they are dying.

She and my uncle have bought a home an hour from where I now live, close to his elderly parents. She went to college about a mile from the house they are moving into and making their own. My uncle is still working on the other side of the world, in a place at the center of much of the National evening news. He will be here for a visit in January, then back to the work location. He’ll be stateside to see my cousin, his son, graduate from college in May. Uncle will return to the remote work location again, once more, until he is supposed to return here, for good, by next Christmas. Plans could change, but that’s the rough idea, as of yesterday.

My aunt and I love horses. She used to let me walk with her from Grandpa’s house, a mile or so up the road, to the horse farm where we fed and brushed the horses and talked to them. She lifted me up and put me on a horse’s back the first time. She let me walk a horse around its small paddock, and nothing felt as freeing and wonderful to me in my life as the times I spent with horses. I no longer ride, though I wish I could.

Yesterday, sitting on the screened porch, sipping UNsweet tea, hearing stories about South Africa, groups of women learning to support their families by creating quilts and other handmade items with their hands, and listening to her plan a trip with my dad for family end-of-life business felt familiar in some ways and strange in others.

My aunt is still my favorite aunt. She’s no longer the teen-aged girl I want to be when I get to high school. She’s the ‘late, middle-aged’ woman I wish I could have become. The woman I wish I could become but know I never will…

I look forward to more visits with her, more time with her, getting to actually speak instead of observing and listening (because Dad did most of that yesterday). It’s important we get to do that before it’s too late.