Frances Mills was my mother's big sister. She was also my mother's little sister. My mom stands at only 5'2" tall. (That's pretty short.) However, she towered over her older sister. Aunt Franny stood at only 4'10" or so. She was a tiny, tiny woman. But, she had a big, big influence on anyone who ever met her.
|Franny, with my Roni|
Franny had a way of lighting up a room with her smile and her attitude. Love radiated from her and touched everyone she met. It's pretty simple: if you ever met Franny, you fell in love with her. She had that kind of personality.
Franny was a little ol' southern gal. When she talked to you, she would be more likely to call you "Sugar" than your own name. She was the only person in the world who still called me "Joey." Except I wasn't just "Joey" to her. She would always refer to me possessively as "my Joey." And while I don't think I'd let anyone else call me "Joey," I was more than happy to be Franny's "Joey." In response, I called her my "Franny Franny Froo Froo." It didn't really mean anything, it was just a silly thing to call her, and she seemed to like it. So, it stuck.
Franny was a tough little bird. She made it through a lot of hard times in her younger years. And, in her older years, she fought off a whole lot of health problems. It was almost 15 years ago that we thought we had lost her. She was visiting my brother and I in Utah (Franny lived in Richmond, Virginia) when she had a heart attack. She was in the hospital for quite a while, and had two open heart surgeries. It was during the first surgery that we thought we had lost her. Franny's heart was so small that the doctors had a hard time finding a replacement valve small enough to fit her. It was the irony of ironies that the woman with the biggest heart I know would almost die because her heart was too small.
But, Franny was a tough little bird, and it was going to take more than two open heart surgeries to keep her down! She came out of the surgeries and eventually got out of the hospital. She spent the next month or so living at my brother's house recuperating until she was strong enough to fly back to Virginia. I was put in charge of making sure she took her doctor-recommended daily walk. She chided me for being a slave-driver, but we enjoyed our walks, talking and smiling as we went.
|My brother John and I, making a Franny sammich.|
Once she flew back to Virginia, we figured we'd never see her again. But we did. Several times. Nothing could keep Franny down. She would often spend her summers with her sisters, my Mom and my Mom's twin sister Evelyn, in Washington state, then drive or fly down to Utah for a visit.
It was during some of these visits to Utah that we began to see the influence Franny had on everyone around her. Back in Virginia, Franny spent a lot of time entertaining the Mormon missionaries. As a former Mormon missionary myself, I know that it's wonderful to have someone who will take you into their home and actually be nice to you. Especially as a scared 19 to 21 year old kid thousands of miles away from home.
Franny loved to be around "her missionaries," and the love she exuded out to them was reciprocated. On one of her visits to my brother's house in the Salt Lake City area, she got in contact with one of "her missionaries" who had finished his mission and was back home in Utah. They decided to get together. And then, more missionaries found out Franny was in town. And then, more missionaries. Soon, my brother and his wife were hosting more than a couple dozen of Franny's former missionaries. They would bring their wives (or husbands) and kids from all over Utah to get a chance to visit with their "Grandma Mills." (They all called her "Grandma Mills." I thought it would be funnier if they called her "Granny Franny." You know, because it rhymes and everything. As usual, no one paid attention to me.)
These impromptu missionary reunions with Franny didn't happen just that one time, either. There were several years that Franny would visit at my brother's house, and "her missionaries" would come to visit her.
It just goes to show the influence of Franny's love and her good heart. I saw the influence she had on the people she knew in Utah, the missionaries she met in Virginia, and the people she touched during her stays in Washington with my Mom. Everyone who knew her loved her.
And, she was fun to tease. My brother and I learned that there was a song about worms that would make Franny squirm. So, of course, we would sing it for her. She also got the heebie jeebies whenever she would see any stuffed animal that looked even remotely like a mouse. She enjoyed our good-natured ribbing. (And gave it back to us whenever the opportunity presented itself.)
|Franny, on the floor with Baby Roni|
At one point, for reasons I don't remember, I latched onto the phrase "It don't make me no never mind," as a corny, silly way of saying "It doesn't matter to me." I tried to get Franny to say it, but for some reason she just couldn't get it right. Instead of "It don't make me no never mind," she would end up saying, "It don't make no matter to me," or "It don't make no mind to me," or "It don't ever make no matter," or some other permutation. I used to tease her about this every time I saw her for two or three years. And she could never get it right.
And then, on her next visit, she walked up to me, with a beaming smile on her face, and said, "It don't make me no never mind!" She was so proud she got it right! And then, every time she saw me after that, she would smugly tell me "It don't make me no never mind." She was so darn cute.
I can't imagine the loss that Franny's three boys, her two surviving sisters, and her brother feel with her passing. But, I do know that they, and everyone else Franny met, received enough love from her to last two, three, four, or more lifetimes. When you were with her, she made you feel like you were the most important person in the world to her. And, amazingly, she had enough love in her that you could actually believe she loved every person she met that much. She was amazing.
She literally was the most lovable person I have ever met. I'll miss my Franny Franny Froo Froo.
|Franny with Baby Buzz|