Bye, auntie


“Hey, Auntie.”

This line in the middle of the blockbuster film “Black Panther” always gets a laugh from the audience, especially from those of us in the African American diaspora. It’s usually spoken with warmth and affection and not with the sneering tone of an Erik Killmonger.

Aunties are special.

Mattie Brown 1941-2018

Eloise “Weezie” Crockett 1949-2017

Exactly two years ago Monday, it was.

We were sitting there in my aunt Mattie’s suburban Cincinnati home, enjoying her always amazing hospitality after our latest Sampson family reunion. With me was my other aunt, her younger sister Eloise, joking about figuring how to use her new smartphone and, as usual, sharing embarrassing stories about her nearest big brother, my dad, growing up.

I really did not think it would be the last time I saw them both. But it was.

Exactly two years later, as I write this, I’m leaving Aunt Mattie’s funeral services, only about 14 months after Aunt Weezie’s too-soon death in April 2017. Aunt Cora passed away in 1992; all three of my dad’s sisters are gone.


I was unable to attend Aunt Eloise’s funeral, just days after her 68th birthday. I suppose that’s why it’s taken this recent tragedy for me to try coming to terms with her loss by writing. She suffered from diabetes and heart problems for many years and in the end it was the former that got her.

“Weezie” was the fun aunt. She was always telling a funny story or making a gentle joke. The role of creating levity often falls to the youngest member of a family and she was my dad’s only junior.

Kind of a free spirit, Aunt Weezie enjoyed single living for what seemed like a good while before finding love with “Crockett” — yes, I somehow pretty much only know her husband by his last name. Aunt Eloise lived in Los Angeles and we just didn’t see her that often and him even less. She also rather insisted on generally calling him Crockett, probably because it was funny.

Aunt Eloise and Uncle Crockett had a little girl in the late 1980s, Michelle, who remains the youngest of our grandpa’s grandkids by an average of a decade and a half. The baby of the family had the baby of the family. (I joked with Michelle this weekend that she’s finally about to be an actual grownup once she turns 30 in August.)

I’d give a lot to hear that chuckle of hers again. But I’ll have to wait until we meet again in heaven.


While seeing West Coast resident Aunt Weezie was a rare treat, Aunt Mattie was a more frequent sight. The middle daughter of the six, Mattie (not short for Martha or anything else) lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, for the entirety of my memory

I have a lot of memories where Aunt Mattie is concerned.

I remember she was so kind. I can’t recall so much as a cross word from her. Instead, she had a way of delivering a gentle rebuke that made one think changing your ways was simply the right and reasonable thing to do.

I remember her being so neat. It never seemed like it took her any effort to maintain an immaculate home. This is not an ability shared by her nephew. At all.

i remember her being a fantastic mom who raised my favorite cousins: slightly younger Scott, who shared our boyhood love of Star Wars, comics, etc., and his big sister Flo, who I just adored.

And, of course, Mattie was a super auntie and I was clearly her favorite nephew. I BELIEVE THAT. (The truth is that she was the kind of person who makes you feel like you’re the most important person in the world to her when she interacted with you.)

But my enduring memory of Aunt Mattie is this one from one of our Sampson family reunions — either 2014’s or 2016’s. It was the banquet event. We Sampsons were yapping away as usual among ourselves as she stood to speak. She had no microphone — the equipment was having problems — but she said she wouldn’t need it. Instead, without so much as raising her voice, she simply stood there and made a simple statement: If you want to hear, you’ll listen. And then she waited.

And that whole room quieted down. It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.

I don’t recall what she talked about (she really could have used that mic) but the occurrence itself has stayed with me. The power and wisdom in that tiny, barely 5-foot-tall frame was earned and honed across a long career as a second-grade teacher.

Aunt Mattie succumbed to a recurrence of breast cancer in early June. She was 77.

I still often refer to her in present tense, not because I’m somehow in denial but because the best part of her lives on with her Lord and savior Christ. What’s past: the sin forgiven and paid for by the cross. Even a soul as good and beautiful as hers needed redeeming. So do we all.

But make no mistake: There are few souls as good and beautiful as my aunts Mattie and Weezie.


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