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Updated: 07/10/06

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What's on the nightstand

by Neal Stephenson



Tuesday, 11 July, 2006

My Aunt Muriel passed away early this morning in Burbank, California. She was just about a week shy of her 88th birthday and was a remarkable woman.

I used to be terrified of her. She was exuberant and vibrant and loud and larger than life. She would come into our house and the activity level would jump off the scale. I would run and hide under my bed.

Eventually, I came to appreciate her - and even her amazing sneezes. I wrote about them a few years ago:

My Aunt Muriel has the best sneezes. Well, I suppose that depends on the criteria used, but from the standpoint of sheer enthusiasm and decibel level, she definitely takes the cake. Somehow I did not get this particular trait from that side of the family. I have these "petite", "dainty", [repressed] sneezes that sound like a mouse:


Except for this weekend. This weekend I have huge, repeating, violent sneezes. The kind of sneezes that scare the cat, and quite possibly the neighbors. The type that require a wind-up and, at a minimum, full upper body participation. I have to admit, there is something decidedly satisfying about this method of sneezing. Sounding my barbaric *yawp* and all. We'll see how long they continue or whether I will go back to the small implosion version.

Ultimately, my sneezes went back to their usual repressed state, but from time to time an impressive one escapes and I think of Aunt Mur.

She had a very full, interesting life, lived in exotic and wonderful places, and raised two terrific sons. Both are warm, generous people and have in turn raised marvelous families of their own. Ron and Pam have been with Mur almost constantly since she began suffering from some sort of neurologic condition 18 months ago and I am sure that she appreciated their devotion. She also had several caregivers who became more like family over the past few months.

In the end she was comfortable and without pain. Two of her grandsons came to see her over the weekend and she had phone calls from many people as well. She is in a better place now and I look forward to seeing her there someday. Maybe then she will finally be able to teach me how to play Bridge.

Quote du jour:

"It's surprising how much of memory is built around things unnoticed at the time."

Barbara Kingsolver (1955 - ____) US novelist

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