For my exquisite late aunt, Gloria Jones – Kendall Conrad

For my exquisite late aunt, Gloria Jones

Christmas tree farms and Stevie Wonder. What the sun touches in our neighborhood at 4pm. The car ride home and grocery store aisles. The comfort of a movie playing from the other room. Seattle and the hem of our napkins. That moment before the plane takes off or the way that the mattress shifts when someone sits on the edge of a bed that I’m in. The ocean and a cup of tea. I see her, I hear her, I feel her - everywhere.

Any given day comes to an end and I long for her again in a way that feels like being perpetually homesick. I can still see her sitting at the kitchen table. The array of bangles on her arm sing their familiar chime as she reaches for her glasses. Always elegant, she wears her silk cardigan made up of muted color on a Sunday afternoon. In the background, her favorite news channel hums and so does the solace of the room. The weight of the mountain that has been accumulating on my chest resolves to nothing and I shed the skin of the outside world. For now, and in here, I am both the girl that I have always been and a working preface of the woman that I am always becoming. Gloria moved through life demonstrating that it is all about balance: grit and tenderness, discipline and adaptability, patience and tenacity, autonomy and collaboration, a force to be reckoned with but never too proud. It all tied together with an unassuming grace that was undeniably all her own.

The sun scatters into celestial fragments upon her face and a knowing smile welcomes me as I embrace her, “Hi, KJ”. Her brown eyes are a radio of love and truth. I am home. I pour us two cups from the kettle and off we go into our hours. Hours deliberating, planning, advising and heartening. Hours in our comfortable silence. Hours remembering the great love of her life, sweet Uncle Lloyd. Hours measured by one hundred Milk Bones teaching Banksy how to shake her paw. Hours giving each other long looks in reaction to political dialogue on TV as if to say, “Are you kidding me?”. Hours like clover over anything that my heart ached over. Hours of the questions that I asked and the absence of the questions that I should’ve. Hours that I took for granted. And hours that I scraped for and soaked in. Hours wishing that we could stay forever this way: our way. Minutes and hours and days and years that have assembled to become the honor of being my aunt’s niece. These hours that built me are now the hours that are missing from me. She is missing from me. But Glo, I still see you, hear you, feel you everywhere. All around.

I feel her at Christmas time, the first one without her, when the lights soften in the night as I drive past houses adorned in brilliant white and color. I can still see her at the Christmas tree farm deciding between the last two remaining candidates after a meticulous process of elimination. I remember that day feeling like a memory even as I lived it. Time pressed into my shoulder blades trying to intrude but we didn’t let it. I hold her elbow as we make our way through the trees, the smell of December and pine hangs sweetly between us. She is exhausted but nonetheless determined to bring home the perfect tree because that is what Gloria did. She made everything beautiful for all. She made everyone feel celebrated. All of the birthday candles and Christmas lights are her. But more than that, she was all of the quiet moments in everyday life that became so much more than ordinary simply because of the fact that she existed in them. She gilded every minute.

I don’t know how she made the grocery store aisles feel warm or how going for a drive to run errands with her would make me forget the name of my worries, but it did. I looked forward to it all, every time. She taught me how to bet on myself in spite of my stubborn innate hesitance and knew when to fondly let me know that I should get over myself, too. She was my warm blanket. She was the stretching of my heart that challenged me to do better, keep at it and get on with it. She and I have been stitched together by the immaculate way that she looked after my Dad, Blockbuster finds and games of Go Fish on the plane, her love of antiquing and mastery of stocks, math tutors and my first apartment, the last day I was in the house that I grew up in and the night that we buried my favorite horse, dinner in our pajamas and 4 am alarms, how I would keep my bedroom door open to see her pass by because it made me feel safe, our favorite noodle spot and the soundtrack of her keys jingling from down the hall. Her and Lloyd. A love that, I am convinced, was the sweetest there ever was. I often think about how she wouldn’t go to bed until he came home no matter how late it was and that she would always wake up with him the morning to make him coffee before work no matter how early it was. Stitch by stitch, memory by memory, she is surely woven within me. With this thought, I know that I am not the only one. She impacted so many this way.

I see her, I hear her, I feel her - everywhere. All around. In and amongst everything. She was my dearest friend, my mentor and along with being my aunt, she was my second mother. She is simply the most refined, conscious, intelligent and gracious woman that I have ever known. She stood firmly in her beliefs with a quiet strength. She was a force. She never quit on something that needed to get done no matter how many challenges were presented to her. She believed in taking the road less travelled because she gave credence to putting in the honest labor required for what it is that one wanted to accomplish, big or small. I’ve watched her persevere through the impossible with the greatest courage and fortitude that I have ever beheld. I will never stop realizing her as an inspiration and adored point of reference in everything that I do and the plans that we had made. I am taking her with me wherever I may go, within whoever I continue to become and among the dream of the kind of mother that I want to be. Gloria is evergreen in my heart and mind. I will always be looking for her. I will always find her. 

        Kenya Kinski Jones