I got an email two days ago that I didn’t read until now.
A once close friend of the family was found dead in her home. It was natural causes, and apparent to the police officer that forcibly entered her home after several days of suspicions that something was wrong, that she had been dead for a few days.
Ann was our next door neighbor in Cordova. I’m always going to remember her as a sassy, slightly paranoid, textbook Southern woman. She must have been in her 70s when we first met her, and that was over 20 years ago. She was the kind of older Southerner that you scolded when she used a racial slur unapologetically, and always hoped would keep the comments to a minimum when out in public.
She was born in Frog Pond, Mississippi. She had siblings with kids but I never met any of them. She had never been married, and never talked about ever having come close to doing so. She had only a few friends, and they became our family’s friends as well. They stayed our friends long after most of them had run out of patience for Ann, as my parents eventually did several years ago.
She was an attorney, a voracious reader, and a newspaper news junkie - incredibly bright, but caught up in a well-insulated world of judgements that sometimes read as cryptic in her letters to me over the years. When anyone wronged her, she pursued justice relentlessly and usually found it, through the threat of litigation or litigation outright.
When I ran away from home at 17, I went to her house first. She calmed me down, helped me take stock of things, and drove me to a youth shelter downtown where I was able to get some distance and perspective. She didn’t take sides, she just gave me what I needed in that moment - space, respect, and a path to safe alternatives to panic.
It’s been so long since then. I’m not 100% sure that I ever thanked her for what she did. It was part of a chain of events that ended up in healing some family rifts, but it was rouh going. She never, ever brought it up, and now, I just can’t remember if I did.
We stayed in touch for many years after I moved out, mostly through multi-page letters. She sent me books that she had read and enjoyed, and gossiped about Memphis politics. I would write back and tell her about things I was doing - school, work, career, culture, and eventually starting a family in Mongolia. We were able to exchange a couple of letters over the last couple of years. Of course, now I wish it had been more.
I insisted that we spend time with her when Terra and I were visiting Memphis. It had been a very long time since my parents had visited her - the friendship had fallen out years ago.
We spent a half hour or so with Ann. She looked the same, but thinner, a little tired, more fragile. She was more softspoken than I had ever remembered, and her house filled with heirloom antiques seemed a bit more cluttered, but still - always clean. Terra explored her living room and wrapped her fingers around ornately carved legs of furniture that Ann insisted were poorly placed. Part of me wanted to stay, and to see what I could do to help around the house. But that was never the kind of relationship I had with Ann.
She was one model of independence in my life. A unique one.
She never talked about being lonely, or wanting things that she didn’t have, but she also never hesitated to reach out. She always had so much to say when she did, and I always wished that there were more people in her life that she could share with.
I wanted to be like her in some ways - self-sufficient, but I was happy to do without the paranoia and the way that Ann shut people and experiences out. She took in so much, which was the hard thing for me to understand.
I wish she hadn’t died alone, but that was the life she had laid out for herself. Still. I’m incredibly sad when I think about what that must have been like.
Agii talks about what a terrible thing it would be to be older, alone, and to not have children to bury you. It wasn’t something I had ever been concerned about, but it’s heavy on my mind today.
Police will have to search through her boxes of papers, letters and private things to find out who her next of kin is, and figure out who will handle her estate. Then those people will search through her things, sort out the items of value from the garbage, and disassemble who she was in that home.
I wish I’d known more about who she was, and how she ended up on her own the way she had. I hope her nephews knew much more than I did, and that they appreciate how much she valued them (she spoke about them often in her letters).