When Larry and I were dating, it was no secret that Mom and Dad were not pleased that I’d gotten so serious about a boy at such a young age. I was a freshman at Texas Tech dating a boy two years older, who wasn’t even a “college man,” but a mere airman first class, stationed at Reese Air Force Base. But Aunt Billie liked him and told Mom she should count her blessings that I’d picked such a good guy. So when Larry and I took off in his 1956 Volkswagen sedan for a weekend trip to a church meeting for young people at Lake Texoma, and just as Mom and Dad feared and had warned us over and over, the little VW broke down, it was Aunt Billie who got the phone call.
“You can’t tell Mom and Dad,” I said over and over, standing in a phone booth in some place like Crowell or Floydada. I didn’t want to hear the we-told-you-so. “Please, please, don’t tell them,” I pleaded. Aunt Billie swore she wouldn’t, told us she and Uncle Lloyd would drive over from Vernon to whatever little town we were calling from, and take us to another little town where we could catch a bus and make it on to our meeting. Larry and I agreed that we’d deal with the fallout after we’d had our weekend of fun. So Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Billie arrived on the scene, drove us to catch our bus, and seemed absolutely delighted to be of help. Uncle Lloyd even asked if we needed any money.
What I didn’t know was that when she’d hung up the phone, Billie had turned to her husband and said, “Lloyd, Larry and Susan are running away to get married, and they want our help.” When she heard that both Larry and I had returned safely but still single, she ‘fessed up to my mother. Mom failed to see the humor for quite a while, but by the time of the wedding a year later, all was forgiven. But it was a comfort all my life that Aunt Billie had my back.
After Billie and Lloyd moved to California, Billie would come back to Texas to visit family. Several times she made a point of coming to Odessa to visit Larry and me when we lived there. I remember her going to a community concert with me where the orchestra performed Rite of Spring. My taste at the time ran to hummable recognizable classics, but when the final notes sounded, and Aunt Billie turned to me with such an expression of rapture, I decided maybe I should give Stravinsky a chance. She also opened my eyes to appreciate painters like Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler. She wasn’t afraid to try her hand at painting like them either, and encouraged me to paint, as well. She knew that the very act of trying to do something, made you really appreciate those who excelled at it, and the more you tried things, the more you appreciated everyone around you. “Go ahead and do it,” I can still hear her say, like an echo through the years: Go ahead and move to California. Go ahead and sell real estate. Go ahead and paint, write, whatever! You’re moving to Mexico? That’s terrific! Go ahead and try something new.
I am just realizing as I write this, that Aunt Billie was never afraid to express herself, never flinched when others expressed their full selves. That is a rare and precious attribute, no matter how off-the-wall and in your face it can seem to those present at the time. It requires a special kind of fearlessness, a special kind of love. I think she’s my hero.
Aunt Billie passed away last week, but just saying her name will always make me smile. She was a lady who knew how to say “yes” to life.