My Aunt Fran was the first person I ever heard use the F word. But she was also the first person to take my hand and guide me up to meet a character in Disney World. She was the aunt who bought a three year old a drum set. But she was also the one who piled four or five of her nieces and nephews in her car and took us for a weekend of fishing and pizza and movies and pillow fights. Only now as a parent do I realize that she was doing something even nicer for her sisters than for us kids, but still, we had the time of our lives.
It was from Aunt Fran that I learned what French manicures and the concept of reincarnation are. Why Pinot Noir is the best wine to drink to avoid a headache, and that every child will giggle when you creep your nails up their spine and say “spider up your baa-aack.” My mom has told me how she envied her older sister’s wardrobe and sense of style when they were growing up. I have a vivid memory of a Thanksgiving my family hosted, waiting on the front porch as Aunt Fran walked up the driveway (since of course I was so excited she had arrived that I couldn’t just stay in the house), and hearing her say “If I’d known it was going to rain, I wouldn’t have worn suede.” And I looked at her beautiful brown suede heels that perfectly matched her dress and thought: “Okay, remember this. Suede is cool and special and you don’t get it wet. Add that to the file.”
I always felt that I had a special connection with Aunt Fran. She called me Alley-Cat. She always wrote on my birthday cards the previous year’s age with a little “plus one” next to it. Every year. Every card. But if I asked a lot of my cousins, I think they would say they felt that special connection too. As children, you got the sense that she really saw you - that you were a full, real person in her eyes. You could tell that she wasn’t going to behave differently toward you or in front of you because you were a child – hence that first F-bomb and the many that followed. I think to many of those who knew her, no matter what your relationship was to Fran, that was what drew you to her and what made her special. She was who she was, she told you what she thought and she made no apologies for it. She was funny, she was curious, she loved to learn new things, she never shied away from an argument, and she loved to laugh.
Everyone who knew her would agree that Fran was taken from us too soon. It’s not fair and it doesn’t make sense. But I hope all of us who love her will honor her life by taking a page out of her book – to be unapologetic about who you are, to never stop learning, never stop laughing, and to just say “fuck” every once in a while when it feels right.