Reach out to those who touched your life

I stood on my tiptoes trying to see the inside of the skillet.
Inside it, bubbling in the grease side by side were breaded slices of zucchini squash. I had never tasted zucchini but this summer on our family trip north we stopped in Ohio and were visiting with my aunt Verna Hale.
“My I turn them,” I asked.
“Yes, let me show you how,” she said using the spatula and soon pointing out when it was time.
She had moved north from the valley below the Gravelly Spur Mountain in Tennessee to Ohio to seek work during WWII just like her sisters. Eventually in the 1950s several of the younger brothers moved north as well.
By the time I was standing by her stove, her children were essentially raised and started or close to starting on their own lives, so in many respects as a kid, I had the run of their ranch style house which set up high on a hill.
Their garden produced the squash she was cooking for dinner and I had gotten to help pick it with my uncle and watch closely as Aunt Verna cut and breaded it for frying. We brought them in from the garden and washed them in a sink that was in the garage, something I had never seen up until that point in my life.
My mom was also in the kitchen helping prepare some corn on the cob, and between the two, they were patting out hamburgers.
In my youth, her spotless home wherever it was, became a second one to me, and she became my closest aunt as we visited back and forth and when eventually she moved to  Tennessee and Florida in retirement.
Through the years she made it to a few of my concerts and was the only relative other than my mother and cousin Sue to visit me in Covington, Ga. meeting some of my co-stars from “In the Heat of the Night.”
Sadly, as my mother’s health declined, my mom chose to cut herself off from her family members and focus on her own well-being. As her caregiver, that choice changed my life, cutting me off from my extended family including Aunt Verna. We were able to reconnect after mother passed, seeing each other a few times and corresponding by mail, which was the conventional way we had through the years.
She raised two boys – Ron and Benny. Benny and his wife Carolyn lived with us for a while in Atlanta when they were starting their life together in a new place. They eventually moved south of Atlanta, Ga. and raised a family giving aunt Verna 23 grandchildren of different generations to be proud of.
I learned of her passing recently at the age of 94 and it flooded my mind with the smiles; the pats on the back; the comforter when a shoulder to cry on was needed; the countless meals she prepared and shared; the little gifts she gave; and always the encouragement that was present.
Though we have not been as close in recent years, my childhood, my teens and young adulthood was enhanced by her, I pray she knew that was appreciated. If you have someone in your family that touched your life, and is still within your reach, take a minute, call, write, e-mail or text and let them know it!