“THE WHOLE FAMILY WAS THERE TO MEET HER,” SAYS HER LIVING SISTER. “AWKWARD.”
80-year-old family matriarch Norma Waterston of Wook, Oklahoma, has had her share of surprises over the years, but nothing could have prepared her for the shock she experienced when opening a box from Guanajuato, Mexico.
The box arrival was the result of her doing various searches to locate her younger sister, Lily May. “My nephew Ricky bought me one of those computer machines about ten years ago and he showed me how to use it and showed me how much information is out there in the tubes of the internet. So, I thought I’d track down Lily May. I haven’t seen or heard from her in a dozen years or so.”
THE BIG DAY
She received a response from a fellow in Mexico who said he knew where Lily May was. After paying a fee for the detective work and transport, she awaited her sister’s arrival. “I called the whole Waterston clan in to greet her. There were over a dozen of us waiting for her cab to pull up to the farm. The cab never came. A pick-up truck did and it unloaded a box. I figured it was one of Lily May’s pranks.”
It wasn’t a prank, however. When she and the family pried off the lid of the box, there were the mummified remains of Lily May. Says Norma, “I thought to myself, ‘Well, blow me down and call me Solly,’ she’s a lot shorter than I remember.”
The stunned family stared at the mummy for quite a while. “It was my niece Barbara who suggested we wrap her in one of my quilts and take her inside. We had a whole celebratory dinner planned. It turned out to be not as festive as we had hoped for. Of course, the grandchildren loved her. They called her ‘The Crypt Keeper’ and danced around her. The adults were a little put off, though. I brought out the Lysol spray and a fan. At the end, I think we had a pretty good time. Lily May didn’t complain,” she adds with a wink.
“We called her ‘Lucky,’ sarcastically.”
She recalls Lily May as someone who was prone to roaming. “We called her ‘Lucky,’ sarcastically,” she says. “Our father worked for the government, so we spent most of our growing-up years in Oklahoma, Texas and the Florida panhandle. We encountered every kind of bad weather you can imagine. Lily always disappeared during those kinds of events.
“During our first hurricane? Lily ran out of her kindergarten class, never to be seen again. Then, we got a postcard from Arizona, written in crayon, two weeks later. We have no idea, to this day, how she got there. But, when she disappeared like that? She always sent postcards. And we’d always bring her home.”
The prospect of calamity was always close to the Waterston clan. Recalls Norma, “for many years we lived along ‘Tornado Alley.’ We’d all be hunkered down with these tornadoes going ka-blooey all around us. She was always the one who’d get sucked up in the maelstrom. One time, I saw her flying up into the air in a bathtub. It looked like she was riding a bronco. She was hootin’ and a hollerin’ and having a grand old time. It took a month, but she sent us a postcard from Toronto.”
Anticipating the next question, Norma shrugs. “Nope. No idea how she got there.”
Norma opens a scrapbook filled with postcards. “This is her disaster postcard book. This postcard from Italy? It came months after a hurricane. This one from Israel? That was after a massive flood. That one took over a year to arrive. We couldn’t keep up with her. She was a world traveler. And when we brought her home, she’d always bring presents. In the 90s, she hooked up with a gypsy caravan and stayed stateside. We were fine with the new guests, until the goats started eating our vegetable patch and the head female gypsy dropped dead during a séance. And don’t get me started about the monkey pick-pockets.”
“Nice people who danced naked on the front lawn.”
But, then, Lily May disappeared for good. “She got into this cult thing. They seemed like nice people but they danced naked a lot on the front lawn. They left after a week or two, and we got a postcard from New Mexico saying that Lily and the cult leader were going to search the skies for magic in a hot-air balloon. We all laughed, at the time, and waited for another postcard. It never came.”
According to news reports from that time, a fiery meteor was seen streaking in the skies heading South.
Says matriarch Norma, “When I hadn’t gotten a postcard, I searched the tubes of the internet. I did all the ancestry searches. I found out that my grandfather was an accordionist for the Irish mob and my grandmother dealt faro cards on a riverboat. When it came to finding Lily? A fellow contacted me from Mexico…and, here we are.
“From what I gather, Guanajuato, Mexico, has mummies displayed up the wazoo. But this one quick-thinking fellow found it odd that a mummy still had an American Express card in her shredded purse.”
THE YEARS AHEAD
As to what future Lily has in the Waterston family? “I’m knitting her a new quilt, one that will represent all her travels. My cat likes to sleep in her lap. We figure, out of all of us, Lily was the one who took chances. She was the one who saw the world with fresh eyes. We salute her for that. And, in her honor? Next year, the entire Waterston clan, including Lily, will take off to the skies in hot air balloons.”
She grins. “What could go wrong? We’ll have ‘Lucky’ with us.”
She adds with a chuckle, “And we’ll make sure we send you a postcard.”