A tough old bird, fiercely independent, full of piss and vinegar.
God, how we loved her.
My aunt Bidney was simultaneously one of the most compassionate & generous people I’ve ever met and one of the most cantankerous ones as well. She lived -- and died -- on her own terms. When my daughter Heather found her, she was in her favorite comfy arm chair, watching TV, taking a break before doing the dishes, her Halloween decorations already set out.
From what was found in her apartment, that day she had already done her laundry (the machines were located one floor below, accessible only by stairs), vacuumed the carpet, and had bundled up the trash to take out.
Knowing her I can guarantee her cat Jeffery had been fed and watered and given a few treats before she settled in her chair.
She was 88.
As Heather points out, Bidney was a feminist long before the term was coined. She supported not only herself but her mother most of her adult life, and stayed deeply involved in family affairs (sometimes too deeply, we’d think, but hey, she’d earned that privilege).
It seems almost a sacrilege to mention she never married -- a source of endless speculation on our parts and a sharp “None of your business!” on hers.
Bidney needed a man the same way most fish need bicycles.
She had a long lifetime of accomplishments (she was the 1977 Woman Of The Year for the Dolly Madison Chapter of the American Business Women Association), worked as an employee for the Boy Scouts but served as a volunteer for the Girl Scouts, the First Baptist Church of Greensboro, a funeral home, an industrial motion picture production company, and finally a spell at See’s Candy where customers often thought she was Mrs. See!
She loved her grand-nieces, Heather and Yang-mi, and she loved her nephews (inc. yrs trly), planning & taking us on grand trips to big cities, world’s fairs, foreign lands, and natural wonders.
One of her biggest regrets late in life was that she no longer felt up to the rigors of travel, though she did pour over European river cruise brochures, trying to figure out where she would go if she should win the lottery.
She was tough. Did I mention tough? I mean tough.
Really, really, REALLY tough.
Coming home from shopping one day she tripped and broke her arm.
Picked herself up.
Finished walking home.
Fed and watered her cat, so he wouldn’t be hungry or thirsty while she was out.
Put on a fresh clean blouse.
Walked a block to the hospital.
Only after she was treated and her arm in a cast did she bother to call any family member.
Age 82 at the time…
The love and attention she showed to her cat she showered on human beings as well. She donated generously of her time and income to charities. She took care of her infirm mother until she died at age 101 (in their own home, in her own bed, with Bidney looking after her, not in a nursing home or a hospice). She funded poor children overseas. She was always quick to volunteer to help when someone needed a babysitter or a petsitter or a sympathetic ear.
The people in her apartment complex loved her. We were happy to learn that the day before she died she was in contact with almost all of them, and they saw her healthy and happy and whole, full of
piss and vinegar life.
Bidney would strike up a conversation with anyone and everyone. A genteel S’uth’n gal, she would befriend anybody from any background, group, ethnicity, orientation, or affiliation.
The neighborhood she lived in is a hotbed for Mexican gang activity. One of the local gang leaders used to live a block or so up the street from her. On her way to the market she’d pass his garage where he held court during the day, and rather than scurry by she would nod and say hello to him. Soon the hellos became an exchange of pleasantries, and then the pleasantries blossomed into chats and the chats into conversations. The two became friends
One day she mentioned she would have to save up money for a new TV; her old one was going on the fritz. Two days later the gang leader showed up with a brand new TV. “My cousin, he…uh…he had an extra TV so we decided to give this to you.”
Bidney, of course, refused to accept such a gift.
She insisted on paying for it.
The gang leader reluctantly accepted $20.
When she told me this, I said, “You realize your name and photo are now probably on file with the LAPD as a known gang associate.”
Like I said, tough, tough, tough old bird.
We had a lot of friction points over the years, but we always had a lot more love. Soon-ok and I were off on a vacation when Bidney died; had I been home I would have probably taken her shopping on that morning. We always went shopping on Thursdays (though in recent months the trips were growing shorter and shorter, no longer hitting as many stores as we usually did).
Anybody eavesdropping on our conversation as we walked up and down the aisles at Costco would think they’d stumbled onto an old vaudeville routine. We had a teasing banter because she didn’t like to be overly demonstrative with anyone who successfully reached adulthood: Kids she would hug and kiss with abandon, but grown ups had to fend for themselves.
She let me give her a hug and a kiss on the head when we said good-bye two weeks before she died. The next day we were on a plane bound for Europe. I sent her regular e-mails describing our travels, and others told me she shared those e-mails with them and asked them questions about the places we were visiting.
I’m still in a bit of shock right now; unlike my father (her brother) or my mother (who shared her birthday) we had no forewarning the end was approaching.
I mean, we knew it would happen sooner or later…
…but we really did expect it to be later.
Good-bye, Bidney. We love you and miss you.