Take two yardsticks. Break one in half. Stack it on the other.  You’re just an inch or two short of how tall my Great-Aunt Katie was.  Her frame was that of a feather … her presence that of a sonic boom.

She was bossy. She called my grandmother “Kidtz” in her lilting German accent.  Grandma had been a kid when Katie married the oldest brother in Grandma’s family … even in her 80’s and my grandmother in her late 60’s the name stuck in a big-sister, “I’m-in-charge” kind of way. If Aunt Katie told you do something you did it.

She was tough. She and her sister weren’t even teens when their family packed all of their belongings in a couple of sea-worthy trunks and transported them from the middle of the Ukraine to the far reaches of America, via the Atlantic ocean and a long, long train ride to “Palouse Country” … wherever that was.

I remember a story about that trans-Atlantic trip.  To fight off sickness, Katie and her sister were each handed an orange (or maybe it was a banana).  Having never seen such fruit before (they only knew apples), they ate it like they knew … skin and all.  Now they WERE sick!

She made grown men hide.  I saw my dad do it a time or two.  Her car would careen into Grandma’s driveway (Aunt Katie was so tiny, that she gave the impression of a Lego person driving an armored truck the way she grasped the wheel and swerved around the road, eye barely visible above the dash), and Dad would slip out the front door and to his shop next door.  If he didn’t have enough work already, she would derive a list without wasting anyone’s breath.

I worked on my cousin’s farm in the summers.  Aunt Katie was his grandmother, and as a teenager, he carried a certain dread whenever she maneuvered her car up the gravel driveway.  I saw him brushing dirt from his jeans and trying to rub out an oil spot from his t-shirt.  She would notice.  It was his hope that she might be carrying fresh cinnamon rolls (a signature recipe) and not the nasty sauerkraut and sausage dish she was also famed for.

I loved her.

Crusty and tough, she loved us fiercely and would never do anything to hurt us or let anyone else hurt us.

I was probably ten when a special privilege was granted  … my sister and I had been invited to spend the night with Aunt Katie. On a long walk along the two lane highway that led in and out of our tiny town, we  told her about the bullies in school.  Yes, we had them in the ’70’s too. (Bullies are not new … just the way we deal with them is … which might explain why they get so much attention these days.)

“The kid’s called you WHAT?” she demanded.

We (and I dare say, just about everyone in our school at one time or another) were made fun of for our looks or our name or lack of athletic talent or our heritage or our size … there was always something.

“Well … that is silly of them,” she retorted, her accent rich and bossy as ever. “You are none of those things.  What sad, foolish children.  You don’t pay any attention to them.  You are none of those things.”

Aunt Katie didn’t believe a single word of what those kids said about me.  Why should I believe it?  I suddenly saw them as she did … silly little kids saying stupid things.  I ignored them after that. Her bravado emboldened me.

Aunt Katie was probably more good than kind. (I will let readers work out the difference on their own.) However, her fierce, determined love resulted in kind deeds.  She was not a pushover, but she loved fiercely and gave generously and … she was never rude, no matter her opinion.

Sometimes, I wrestle with the idea that being kind means being a pushover.  Aunt Katie proved that isn’t so.  Some people are naturally sweet and kind in every fiber of their demeanor.  Others of us have to forcibly choose it … either way, it’s something our world needs a whole lot more of.