Today, one of my very most favorite people in the world has a birthday. When people ask me, “who are your role models?”, “where’d you get the travel bug?” and “where did you get that great outfit?”, the answer to all three is “Aunt Sharon.”
Aunt Sharon has always been in my life, sometimes as an aunt, sometimes filling in as a grandma (those gluten-free brownies are life-changing), other times as a best friend, role model, confidante and bad influence (so much shopping!)
This woman never stops: she’s raised three kids and now seven grandbabies, traveled the world, gotten a Ph.D, run an apartment complex, taught at a university, served as a missionary, written books, adventured the hell out of everything and spent her life loving everyone else. All this while consistently looking 20 years younger than her age and expounding energy at a rate equivalent to a 23 year old adventurer (actually, she’s better–she recently got back from a 12 day canoe trip where she had to carry the dang canoe on her back. Show me a 23 year old who can do that!)
Dear Aunt Sharon,
As suggested by your sister, here are seven memories/thoughts to you for your 70th birthday. I’ve put together seven qualities that make you special.
7. Aunt Sharon, the Model. Once, you took a modeling class in Deming, New Mexico, and you thought it would be useful information to share. How did you know that growing up in this selfie world, I would use that information almost on a daily basis? I remember standing by the motor home on that Lake Powell trip and you teaching me to straighten my shoulders, turn my hips to the side, and jut my chin towards the camera to get the illusion just right. I’ve since “modeled” for cameras all over–for public relations materials in college, for countless Instagram moments and, most recently, for a crazy Colombian music video!
6. Aunt Sharon, the Patriot. My favorite Thanksgiving memory is the year you and I slept on the boat in the harbor and got up early to go to Taiwanese Thanksgiving at your daughter-in-law’s brother’s house. “Will there be pumpkin pie?” we wondered as we dolled up in the marina bathrooms. Taiwanese Thanksgiving ended up being an incredible hot pot event, with turkey on the side for us. But as we drove back to Oceanside that night, we still had that craving for pumpkin pie, so we pulled into Denny’s at 10 pm, ordered the senior citizen menu complete Thanksgiving Dinner, and split that glorious American tradition right down the middle!
5. Aunt Sharon, the Co-Adventurer. Since I can remember, you have brought the colors, tastes, sounds and ideas of the world to me. I still have that “Hang loose, Hawaii” t-shirt; Japanese candies and geisha bookmarks; your stories about Djibouti; every single interesting person you’ve ever met on an airplane (you do realize that YOU are the interesting one, right??) I can largely attribute my wanderlust to you, my dear Aunt Sharon!
And my little girl dreams have come true: I finally started to travel WITH you! The month we spent in Indonesia, squeezing into hostel beds and eating spicy papaya until we cried, learning Bahasa and you ensuring that I didn’t get married off accidentally! (Also, I still swear that there was a giant lizard in our hotel bathroom that only came out when I had to pee. I swear.)
Our trip with mama to the motherland of Scotland, meandering through the countryside with my mom at the right-side wheel while you both told me all the family stories, up and down the highlands and right to our ancestral castle in Oban! Getting to see our family heritage with the two of you remains one of my most treasured memories and a key element in my cultural identity.
And let’s not forget the domestic roadtrips! I guess I got my leadfoot from you, my dear! Up and down our California with peaches and M&Ms to keep us awake, since we didn’t have to stop for gas in our hybrids 😉 And I won’t ever forget you coming to visit me in Paradise summer 2010, just in time to make me delicious soup in my sickly, lonely state and to buy me a blanket!
4. Aunt Sharon, the Single Mingler! Let’s be honest: dating is a very complicated thing. But I am lucky enough to have a co-conspirator/co-complainer/co-counselor for navigating this big, scary world of men. You bring the years of experience dealing with men and I contribute the modern updates on dating etiquette and the appropriate texting language…we’re such a great team! We still need to work on the title for our book…
3. Aunt Sharon, the BFFL like OMG! Okay, your texting skills aren’t quite that far, but you’ve shown marked improvements in your technological abilities! But really, this one is about shopping and hairstyles and makeup and girl talk brunches. Since I was born, you’ve subsidized cute things in my closet and taught me how to moisturize.
2. Aunt Sharon, the Learner. You are a life-long learner and teacher! Every place you go, you want to know the “how” and the “why”: from Yellow Deli’s Israeli dances to Taiwan’s cooked greens to Indonesian toilet techniques!! (Yes, folks, Aunt Sharon specifically asked an Indonesian to teach her how to use the typical toilet–a hole in the ground with water for rinsing–so she could be more integrated. They loved it, until they had to clean the bathroom later 😛 ) But you’re a teacher, too–countless PT students at Loma Linda took notes on your wisdom, and you better believe that I have taken notes, too, on your advice and anecdotes and experience.
1. Aunt Sharon, the Beautiful. Perhaps your greatest gift, of many, is your ability to make people feel uplifted, loved, listened to and encouraged. All those people on all those airplanes? They were able to tell their stories because you really listened attentively and with a welcoming, open soul. That’s so beautiful! I’ve seen this quality in just a handful of people. You don’t realize it, but your sincerity and warmth make people feel appreciated and secure, and that, to me, is the definition of beauty. Forget the magical anti-wrinkle creams and hair dye. Your beauty comes from your genuine passion for people and your hands of Jesus.
So, my dear, I wish you the happiest of birthdays today! It’s a milestone, but only numerically, so don’t worry so much. I wish I could be there to drive you around the countryside, to the boat, to hike the Yucaipa hills, to eat Thai food, to shop for scarves, to giggle about our men and ponder life’s idiosyncrasies at your kitchen table. But for now, these two-dimensional words must suffice.