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Macaroni Lovers

Great Aunt Tabby was the world’s most terrible, cantankerous old woman, and I had never even thought to say a good word about her. I couldn’t remember what she was like before I came to live with her, but I was convinced that either she was born the wretched, wrinkled, stern old woman that I had come to detest or somewhere between the time that she ever-so-generously took in her orphaned great-niece and where my memories of her began- around the age of four- she had been bitten in an uncomfortable place by some form of animal that hadn’t ever let go. But I couldn’t very well say that to the sobbing crowd that had gathered at her funeral, clad in black and weeping over the loss of such a ‘kind, caring’ woman. Perhaps they had gotten lost and wound up at the wrong ninety-six-year-old woman’s funeral?

As her closest living relative, I was required to make a speech. But the nicest thing I could think to say was that at least she didn’t smell like moth balls, or some other typical “old people” fragrance. Since the ceremony was due to start in fifteen minutes, it seemed like I would have to go with that. What else could I say; that I was really upset that she kicked the bucket?

That wasn’t a lie. As cranky as she’d been, Great Aunt Tabby was the only relative that I could remember meeting. She’d been there with me- if not for me- from my whiny childhood through my even whinier pre-teen years. Still, she always called me by that awful nickname: Macaroni.

The way Great aunt Tabby used to tell it, the first time she saw my name- Ronni- she’d misread it (with her “old, tired eyes”) as ‘Roni.’ She got such a kick out of the stupidity of someone naming their child after pasta that she couldn’t bear to call me anything else. I hated it, though. Who would want to be perpetually mocked by their legal guardian? It hit me right in the self- esteem.

Eight minutes left now, and still no headway on the speech. An older woman that I didn’t recognize approached me with a sad smile. I knew what was coming: the regular “I’m sorry for your loss. She was such a kind woman” spiel.

I took a deep breath and waited for my turn to thank her and ensure that I knew exactly how perfect Tabitha the Great had been. But the routine I’d memorized never played out.

“You’re Ronni, right?” she asked. I assured her that I was.

“I’m Cathy Hilbert. I knew Tabby since high school. We used to play bridge together on Wednesdays.” So that was why I was always home alone on Wednesdays. “I’m not sure if you know this, but you’re all she ever talked about.”
Oh, jeez, I thought. Great Aunt Tabby never had anything nice to say about me.

Cathy must have sensed my concern because she hastily added “All good things, of course. She went on for hours about how helpful you were around the house and how you had just done this or that in school. She insisted that her Macaroni was something special.”

I was shocked. “Did she really?”

“You didn’t know, dear?”

“I guess I always thought I was kind of a burden. She never said any of that stuff to me.”

Cathy sighed. “Well I shouldn’t be too shocked. Tabby was always a bit-” She paused for a moment, searching for the right word. “- Introverted. She never could express her feelings right. I remember when we were younger; Tabby was practically in love with Bobby Anderson. She’d go on and on about him to me, but in front of him she was almost a different person. She didn’t do anything but make fun of him. But Ronni, you have to believe me when I tell you that Tabby knew everything about you. She honestly did love you.”

“Thank you for telling me that, Ms. Hilbert,” I said. And after earnestly telling me that I should call her Cathy and call if I ever needed anything, she walked off- I think because she didn’t want me to see her cry.

I was about to cry too, though. This just proved exactly how much I didn’t know about the woman who singlehandedly raised me. What kind of Great Niece was I? And what was I doing crying my eyes out two minutes before the ceremony? At least I knew what to say now. I just needed a word with the eulogist first.

The beginning of the funeral was tear-jerking but typical. The eulogist rambled on about life and death and heaven and souls. Then it was time for speeches. The minister took a deep breath before announcing the first one: mine.

“And now Tabitha’s great niece, Macaroni Lowery, would like to say a few words.”





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