Virginia M. Norris (nee Monroe)

“Carmen, do you know what fellatio and cunnilingus are?”

Political pundits debated the legal pitfalls of stained blue dresses for presidents on the television, as I stood in Aunt Marcella’s bedroom doorway wondering if my cheeks would burst into flames.

“God, yes, Aunt Marcella, jeez!” Like any high schooler, I was under the impression I didn’t need this talk from my 63-year-old aunt.

Ignoring the heat from my face, that I thought she must be able to feel even across the room, she asked, “Okay, what are they then?”

“Come on – anyone who’s even been near the news knows. It’s oral sex.”

We talked about why this was a big deal, why people should talk about it. Why sex was an issue in politics, and how the current story was different from discussions about sex in politics before.

This wasn’t the first such conversation we’d had, it wouldn’t be the last – but it was certainly the most memorable. Aunt Marcella never let me get away with vague answers about important questions. She wouldn’t let me just agree with her, either. She didn’t make me watch the news and C-Span with her, but she made it interesting. Aunt Marcella had a real-life story for every issue – if it was taxes, she knew how they’d affect someone’s business; if it was insurance, she knew someone whose life would be changed by a new law; she had friends and acquaintances around the world who kept her up-to-date on how things turned out when the US reached across borders. She showed me how laws meander into                                                                                                                        people’s wallets, jobs, health, and even the roads they drive                                                                                                               on.

Virginia Marcella Monroe was born in 1935, during the Great Depression. She watched a lifetime of presidents, cabinets, and congresses come and go; she watched her country’s economy drag itself out of a pit with the combined power of new legislation and pure hard, American work. She graduated from high school, and became Virginia Norris. Despite supporting her husband through college, she never earned a degree of her own. She divorced her husband, when his alcoholism became co-morbid with more permanent mental disability, and then she cared for him until he died. In high school, she was an amateur journalist, later she was a model, and eventually she became a business-owner. Aunt Marcella put me through college, and died almost immediately after I graduated – as though it was her last life’s mission to see me get the degree she never had.

During the most recent election cycle, I miss her more than ever – and I didn’t think that was possible. Before Mr. Clinton’s scandal, she predicted Ms. Clinton would run for president, and was not fond of the idea. Although she wanted to see a female president, she felt Ms. Clinton wasn’t the right choice for that honor. Now, I think she could not have predicted the most recent set of candidates. If she had seen the campaigns – despite her misgivings – I believe she’d have thrown her bets on blue, and she’d have been as surprised as the rest of the country by the results.

I wonder what conversations we’d be having. I’ve been asking myself What Would Aunt Marcella Do?

Aunt Marcella would notice the proliferation of half-truths, misleading media, and blatant lies circulating on both sides of the aisle. She would insist that I seek truth and facts for myself, regardless of party lines, and find hard evidence for policies I support. I suspect she’d have rolled out to the Women’s March in her wheelchair. I’m betting she’d have worn a bright red pussy hat. She’d advise me to talk to as many people as I can, accept as many invitations as possible. To share dinners and stories. She’d tell me to do what it takes not only to make myself an informed, active voter, but also to help as many as possible do the same.

So that is what I’ve decided to do – not only when there’s a presidential election. Not just when an onerous bill passes by, but every day.

I think everyone should have an Aunt Marcella, and I hope this project preserves her values with integrity. Never Silent is dedicated with all my love to the memory of Virginia Marcella Norris.

Wish me luck.