She has taken me out on a paddle boat at a park in my old hometown of Yonkers, N.Y. I’m six or seven years old. My feet can’t reach the pedals that move the paddles. So I sit on Aunt Eileen’s lap as she pushes the pedals up and down as we circle the pond in our swan-shaped vessel.

It’s a Christmastime. I’m seven years old. Set up under the Christmas tree is the only gift I wanted Santa to bring me this year – the Cape Canaveral Play Set. It’s got rockets. It’s got whirly-birds. It’s got satellite launchers. They’re all propelled by rubber bands and springs. I want to play with it, but I can’t right now – because Aunt Eileen is playing with it!

My Aunt Eileen died today, at age 80, after a lengthy illness. And here’s the thing – she wasn’t really my aunt. She married a childhood friend of my father. My parents asked them to be my godparents when I was baptized. And I always called them Aunt Eileen and Uncle Tony.

Now Uncle Tony, sadly, will be putting his wife to rest after what must have been about six decades together. Aunt Eileen’s last years were not easy ones for her – or for her family – as she battled illness and age. I’m glad that I got to visit with her in recent years during visits back home. And I was pleased and honored when her daughter told me today that I was always special to her mother.

Because she was special to me. I’ll remember the warm and kind woman who paddled me around a pond, who played with my toys – and who, through the years, always made sure that my mother kept her up-to-date on her godson – whether it was a good report card, or a college admission, or an award won, or a child’s birth, or a first novel published – always I would call my mother and say, “Make sure you call Aunt Eileen and tell her.”

It was important to me that Aunt Eileen cared – that she shared my joy and, yes, sometimes my sorrows.

Tonight I’m sad to know that there will be no more phone calls to Aunt Eileen. But I’m happy to know that Aunt Eileen now rests in peace.

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