She named me Crazy Alice and I called her Aunt Mary Lou.
She wasn't my real aunt, but I was allowed to call her Aunt Mary
Lou, just like the Southern Baptist missionary kids did.
We all grew up together, sharing the bond of living as American
Presbyterians and Baptists in Japan, where the missionaries
went by aunt and uncle. My own children say,
that was a zillion years ago. But I haven't forgotten.
I remember the sleepovers with Aunt Mary Lou's daughter, Grace, and
our mutual missionary kid friends, Cathy and Jo. After pizza and
chocolate cake, a few minutes gazing at Teen Beat Magazine's
celebrities (how could any twelve-year-old not swoon over
Donny Osmond or David Cassidy?), the four of us got into character.
Seated in a circle on top of our sleeping bags, we'd place a cassette
recorder in the middle. Then each one of us created our own silly
persona (there was a Mrs. Mousetrap and Mrs. Pipsqueak) and the
early hours of the morning were spent making recordings--usually
in British accents--about older women who went to tea parties and
had uncanny adventures. We wore those tapes out playing them over
and over, laughing and giggling.
Aunt Mary Lou must have heard us and thus, gave me the
nickname Crazy Alice.
I was the type of kid who didn't mind being singled out with a nickname
as long as I knew it was said affectionately. She'd greet me with a
smile that was as wide as the state of Tennessee, and in her Southern
accent say, "There's that Crazy Alice." There was always a warm gleam
in her eyes.
Acting in front of her and the other missionary aunts was easy. We
mimicked English Conversations (borrowing from real-life conversations
we'd been persuaded to hold with Japanese men on the long train rides
to and from school) and gave productions of these dramas. Aunt Mary Lou
always laughed the loudest. She made us feel we were better than any
sit-com, funnier than any future Saturday Night Live episode. No wonder
we continued, eager to be in the limelight.
The last time I saw Aunt Mary Lou I was in my twenties. My dad had just
had surgery for cancer at the Baptist Hospital in Kyoto. Aunt Mary Lou,
working as a nurse there, sat with Mom and me as we waited.
Proudly, she talked about her grown children and updated me on
what they were doing. Even then my childhood name spilled from
her lips. Crazy Alice.
Now, with the news of her death, I picture Aunt Mary Lou singing and
dancing in Heaven (I think even Baptists dance there), freed from
Earth's restraints. Her memory lives on in the hearts of her children,
husband, grandchildren, and those privileged enough to call her Aunt
And in the pages of my Southern novels, characters as fun and loving as
this aunt will continue to find their way into the hearts of my readers.
Because, you see, while she thought I was a character, she is one of
the loving, charming inspirations from childhood who continues to
make me smile each time I add one of her characteristics to my stories.
She laughed well, loved abundantly, and served God zealously. And if
angels smile, you can bet they are, as they welcome Aunt Mary Lou.
~ Alice J. (Stubbs) Wisler never strays far from her childhood in Japan
as she writes Southern fiction from her home in Durham, NC. Her novels include Rain Song and How Sweet It Is. Hatteras Girl will make her debut in October.