I’ve had to say goodbye to a hefty number of family members in my life, but bidding farewell to my auntie (pronounced aint-tee) Rita Kaye Robinson Purvis has been almost surreal to me. I can’t really believe she’s gone. If I ever believed anyone was invincible, it was her. I still haven’t really fully accepted that she didn’t tase the heck out of cancer. She stood 4’11”, but she was one of the feistiest people I’ve ever known. She was fun to be around, but she didn’t take no mess either. She was the only girl smack dab in the middle of a bunch of boys (like me! I’m the only girl and middle child too 🙂 #youcare), and she was tough yet nurturing. She was one of those people you definitely wanted on your team. She was fiercely protective of anyone she loved.
As I was reading her obituary, I realized that even though I’ve always known she was a single mother, I never labeled her that. One line in her obituary caught my attention more than anything else: “She was proud to be a single mom to her four children.” I began to wonder why I’m so ashamed of my status when I’ve admired her all of my life. I still don’t have an answer. It never even crossed my mind that it was anything but natural for her to be my cousins’ solo parent and protector. As a matter of fact, as I’ve been navigating my way through this single motherhood thing, I didn’t even think about Rita as a role model of single motherhood. Isn’t that crazy? She’s definitely been a role model for motherhood–as are my mom, my cousins, and others. But when I think of single mothers, she just didn’t come to mind even though she’s never not been in my life–so how could I overlook that? Of course I was a child so I wasn’t privy to some things, but she never seemed upset about her “plight” or resentful or any of that. It’s kind of been a lightbulb never-ending moment since I read that line. I’ve been thinking about this almost nonstop. I think the biggest way I can honor my aunt now is to figure out how to start being completely proud of my journey as a mother. And maybe, as well, to be willing to share with my village, which includes her children, when I’m feeling overwhelmed the way she and my mom shared with each other. It’s really hard for me to show my hand and let people know when I’m feeling really down, but I know I need to start, as they reminded me this weekend. (I’m listening Shun and Chelle, I promise!)
When I think of Rita, I will always remember her coming down from the scorekeeper’s box to give me a hug when I arrived at the softball field to watch a game. As I noted in my blog post about my granddaddy, baseball and softball are a family tradition, and of course, she played, and when she stopped playing you could still find her at a game. Keeping score, socializing, making everyone around her feel special, and talking much smack.
And yes, that second part of this blog title is how I will remember her as well. My aunt never left home without a boxcutter, switchblade, taser, SOMEthing. She gave me my first taser after I started living by myself. And when my neighbor was effing with me, I’m sure Rita wished she were in Atlanta to stick up for me. I hope I made her proud when I decided to start walking my dog with my softball bat in my hand. That definitely solved my problem! I didn’t hear another threat once I showed I wasn’t taking any mess off of him! I can thank Rita Kaye for her feistiness when it came to protecting myself. She would say “I don’t care how much bigger they are, how much stronger they are, I got something for em.” And she always had a way of making you feel so much better and more optimistic about a situation after she finished with her pep talk and but-I’m serious-though jokes.
I will absolutely miss my aunt. I’m happy she’s no longer in pain. I know her mom and children and grandchildren and brothers and nieces and nephews will carry her in our hearts forever more. Rest in love and power and happiness, my firecracker aunt.