Aunt Jessie was full of life. She was the only relative Mike and I had in El Dorado, and she would watch Chase for us on occasion. He was just a baby, and he had this habit – not an endearing habit, mind you – of screaming as long as he could. He didn’t do it because he was angry or scared or upset. He seemed to enjoy it.
We did not know why he did it, and we could not seem to make him stop. And then I discovered the source. I met Jessie on the road one day. She had her mouth open wide, and Chase was in the back seat. She was screaming. I can only assume Chase was screaming, too. They were screaming together. Apparently, it was a game and they both were having a blast!
Shortly thereafter, Mike was hired at Jessieville and we placed our house on the market. It sold within two days. I would be in El Dorado for several more months and Jessie allowed us to move into her apartment with her. Chase lived in the dining room.
As Mike – Jessie’s great nephew – already had moved, she showed great love and great patience by allowing us to essentially take over her apartment. She shopped for us and helped any way she could. Of course, part of her help involved keeping lots of chocolate (Reese’s peanut butter cups, to be exact) on the kitchen counter, which made it a little difficult to persuade Chase to eat strained carrots and green beans, but still. …
We noticed while there and even before moving in that Jessie was a tad unsteady on her feet, but we just attributed it to her eccentricity. She read for hours each day on an orange leather chair built in the 1950s and had more books than many libraries. When she wasn't reading, she collected shoes and she loved to laugh. We weren’t sure if she ever slept; I was in the only bed in the apartment. Jessie was Jessie: unique, quirky, beautiful, loving.
After Chase and I joined Michael in Jessieville, we heard she had fallen, bruised the entire left side of her body, and broken her glasses. Odd, but not that unusual for Jessie, we thought. That Christmas when we traveled to South Arkansas, she commented to me that it hurt to wear her bra. As I have sensitive skin, we commiserated together about the tribulations of being a woman. I thought no more about it.
A few months later, we received a call that Jessie had gone to the doctor and they had admitted her to the hospital for testing.
The news came within days. It was jarring. Jessie had cancer. Advanced cancer.
She had not been clumsy; she had been sick. Her skin was not sensitive; the cancer had metastasized. She was dying.
Chase, Mike, and I went to the hospital that weekend and visited. I don’t remember if we brought it or if it was already there, but she kept a framed picture of our boy Chase next to her bed. She chatted with us and seemed happy we were there.
It was one of the last days she spoke to anyone, and it was the last conversation we ever had, though it was not our last visit. Jessie never left the hospital, and she passed away within a month.
Cancer had taken the beautiful, the loving Jessie. I wanted to see her screaming with Chase again. I wanted her to leave out peanut butter cups so that he wouldn’t eat his dinner. I wanted to thank her for allowing us to live with her and to apologize for not appreciating it more.
None of those things could happen, but I can ensure her legacy lives on by telling both my boys of her love for our family. I can tell you about the brief time I was allowed to be part of her family, too.
I can honor her life and her memory, and so I begin a month of cancer awareness on this blog by telling you about Jessie.
During the month of May, All Things Arkansas will be decorated in purple, the universal color for cancer awareness. All the stores in downtown Hot Springs have been encouraged to do so. At 6 p.m. on May 30 at Oaklawn, volunteers throughout our community will celebrate Relay for Life for Garland County. As of last night, nearly $65,000 had been raised for the event to benefit the American Cancer Society.
What will your part be? I know that cancer has affected you, too. What is your story? Who do you want to honor? Who do you remember? Write your comments below. Or write them on the All Things Arkansas Facebook page. You can even come to the store and write them on cards there. No matter how you submit the story – or even just the name – of the one or ones you want to honor, we will post them throughout the store during the month.
Let’s spread awareness and let’s raise money to spread hope and, as the ACS states on its website, “to fight back and help end cancer forever.”