Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Our Laughing Lady

My Aunt Phyllis is a woman of boundless generosity and possessor of one of those infectious laughs that did not boom across the room but caught everyone in its mirthful wake just the same. It goes in perfect harmony with her laughing eyes, always bright and sparkling, ready for a quick zinger but even more ready to celebrate plain good living, good food and good times. In the years that I've known her, a single mother from Southern Illinois I've never known her to be cross.

She is the youngest of ten siblings on my father's side of the family and has been able to maintain that youthful effervescence in to the first years of her retirement. She did the East Coast thing in moving from the colder states to Southern Florida, in this case the Gulf Coast side. I was pleased with her choice because the central western coast of Florida is also my favorite part of that state, having traveled and toured along Alligator Alley from Miami on the east side all the way up to the Tampa Bay area. All that and retiring before reaching her 60th birthday, too? Nice!

Phyllis is an interesting contrast to me. She doesn't like to be the center of attention or the life of the party but is one of the first to offer her home to have the party in. My sister's rehearsal dinner was held there in suburban Baltimore and her own daughter's pre-wedding reception of course was held there as well. As someone who absolutely loves surprises Aunt Phyllis was front and center in planning a surprise birthday party for me one year, one that went off without a hitch. I'd even bought a gift for the person I was told the party was for! Want advice? Want to laugh? Want to just sit and visit? Call Phyllis; she's home.

The "Tamiami Trail" is not the ideal route from Ft. Myers to Ft. Lauderdale. Some family from Illinois had finally come to visit my aunt after years of unfulfilled plans and they were enjoying the long holiday weekend on the way to visit more family in the Pompano Beach area north Ft. Lauderdale. On the Monday afternoon following Easter Sunday, just before 4PM local time, my aunt Phyllis was traveling on US Highway 41, the Tamiami, well east of Naples and far to the south of her destination. Phyllis either chose the the road as a sightseeing opportunity for her guests or was forced on to that road because of an 18-wheeler fire that shut down the much faster I-75 interstate highway, "Alligator Alley" running parallel roughly 20 miles to the north. A young man traveling west on the two-lane Tamiami chose the wrong moment to pull in to the left lane.

My aunt Phyllis was killed instantly in the head-on collision that followed. To Southern Florida she became a two-minute lead story on the afternoon traffic report and received a few paragraphs in the Miami, Naples and Ft. Myers online editions. Her loved ones, however, a daughter, brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins and other family and friends are left with questions, memories and a permanent link to a remote stretch of road in the Everglades where our Laughing Lady passed.

Good-bye, aunt Phyllis, I love you. Share a chuckle in Heaven.

Gotta go.

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