So many people can talk about how amazing Aunt Adele was at so many things - cooking, writing, lyricism, love, etc. - and I feel like they can share all of those things better than I. So what I want to share is a memory that illustrates a value that I learned from her, which also happens to be my first clear memory of her -
The memory is hazy, but I was maybe 4 or 5 years old, give or take a few years. I was in my car seat in the back of Aunt Adele's car, my cousin Grayson was asleep in her car seat across from me. I don't remember where we were going, or why - those things didn't matter because they weren't mine to decide. What mattered then, to my 5 year old self, was COUNTING. I was COUNTING in the back seat, because I was a BIG BOY and I was going to show everyone that I could do it. And right then, my Aunt Adele was everyone. So I counted...."one, two, three..."
And she listened, patient, guiding, calmly. "...eleven, twelve, thirteen...."
Encouraging but not interrupting, helping or waiting as needed. "...forty eight, forty nine, uh...fif-...fifty?...fifty...one?..." (a nod in the rearview mirror, the confidence to keep going)
Patient, patient...[it has to be deadly boring but it never shows]. "...eighty five, eighty six, eighty seven..."
And the climactic finale..."ninety nine, ONE HUNDRED."
And I was so proud, so very proud, and I knew she was proud of me too. And then (I don't remember who asked) the all important question - "ok, but what number comes next?"
One hundred and ONE? And I can see the pattern start to unfold, the lightbulb just starting to glow, the gears just starting to click-click-click and that is just SUPER cool because I understand, I now see the pattern and I can know a number without ever knowing it before and...and...and...wait.
"Aunt Adele, when do the numbers STOP? What's the BIGGEST number?"
"The numbers don't stop. There's always a bigger number. They go on forever - that's called infinity". AND MY LITTLE MIND IS BLOWN. BECAUSE. THE. NUMBERS. DON'T. STOP. EVER.
Infinity seems mundane as an adult - but we forget how revolutionary it is. How foundational and universal. No matter what math you use, or what language, there's always the concept of infinity. An alien race on an alien planet in an alien universe would still have infinity and it would mean the same thing. It's a fundamental concept that will never disappear or change - infinity is in fact infinitely persistent. And my Aunt Adele had taught it to ME.
When I said "value" before, I don't just mean something of worth, but of a core guiding principal that shapes our decisions and who we are. We all spend our lives pursuing our values - some pursue happiness, some pursue justice, some pursue kindness - but Adele pursued the Truth (capital T - no bullsh*t accepted or excused) and more than that, she sought to spread the truth, not in an evangelical way, but as an educator, a teacher, a champion of knowledge. As I grew older, the pattern continued - she would teach, I would learn; she would teach, I would learn; she would teach, and my brain would explode with a new insight.
I'm not the only student Adele ever taught, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who's worldview was changed by her. In being taught she passed the knowledge she held precious on to me and others, and when you give away something precious you give a part of yourself with it. So, I think when we teach what we were taught, I think we pass on a bit of her memory too, and as each of us teaches and those learners go on to teach others we reach an exponential growth that goes on and on - and I like to believe that in that way my Aunt Adele, like the numbers she taught me - go on forever.