Sitting in the hospital after my aunt’s surgery for an aneurism, my cousin looked at me and said, “You were always her favorite.”  I looked up at him and said, “That’s OK, because she was always my favorite too.”  The next day our beloved Aunt Hickie made her transition.

There are some passings that we never want to have in our life.  Losing Aunt Hickie was one of those for me.  

Aunt Hickie was no ordinary aunt.   She was extraordinary in that she spent focused and attentive time with all seven of her nieces and nephews. 

When I was young, Aunt Hickie was bigger than life.  She lived by herself in Montevallo,Alabama where she was a professor in the Physical Education and Recreation department at the University of Montevallo.  She was the only working woman that I really knew, so she naturally became a professional mentor for me.  She taught me that learning is a lifelong process, and that living a rich and rewarding life was about giving back to one’s profession, community, and family.

She taught me the art of a good story. She spoke slowly in a traditional South Georgia dialect, and every word was carefully spoken and crafted.  The stories were long, and always kept us on the edge of our seats. 

Aunt Hickie taught me to fish and she nurtured a deep appreciation in me for nature and the outdoors.  We spent many summers together, camping and hunting for rubies in the mines of North Carolina.   She taught me to walk gently on the earth, to leave no trace, and to respect the plant and animal world just as I respected human life. 

Aunt Hickie never earned money outside of her professorship at the university.  And she died a wealthy woman.  She made her money the way most wealthy people do…by saving a small amount of money over a long period of time.  She taught me to always save a little bit of what I earn today for tomorrow.  She modeled this in a powerful way by saving 50% of her take home pay for years to accumulate the down payment to build her own home.  When I was 18, she gave me my first stock investment.   Her lessons worked, and I began adding to the investment, a little at a time, with every paycheck.

Aunt Hickie was a good Girl Scout and true to the scout motto, be prepared.  She had her will prepared by a local attorney years before her passing, and because I was a named co-executrix, she gave me a copy and walked me through it.  I was uncomfortable sitting there with her, talking about a time I just could not bear to think about.  But when the time came, I was very glad that she had chosen to make her wishes clear.

On Sunday September 12 I attended a graveside service and afterward, a handful of close friends gathered at her lake house for a final goodbye.  She asked that we meet and tell funny stories about our times with her.  In her honor, here is mine:

When I was 8, Aunt Hickie decided that I needed a dog.  A friend agreed to give her a pure bred Welsh terrier.  She called to tell me she was bringing it on her next visit.  She remarked about what a fine dog it was and suggested I pick out a name for her.  For no particular reason other than my Mother was a diehard southerner, I arrived at the name Dixie.  It was a warm spring day when Aunt Hickie arrived with her dog, Prissy, whom I adored, and my new dog,Dixie.  I was sure Prissy was the smartest dog on Earth. She would sit, stay, roll over, play dead, and do a number of other tricks on command.  It was like she could understand the entire English language! Dixie by contrast was young and rambunctious, and showed little interest in paying attention or being obedient. 

A few hours after my Aunt’s arrival, it was time to depart for my dance class.  As I was getting in the car, Aunt Hickie said, “Mackey, don’t you want to take your dog and show her off to your friends?”  Hearing a great suggestion, I immediately walked over and picked up Prissy and put her in the car with me.  Aunt Hickie was shocked and said, “Mackey!  I brought you this fine, pure bred dog all the way from Alabama!   Aren’t you going to show her off?”  “But Aunt Hickie,” I replied, “Dixie can’t do anything, and Prissy is the smartest dog on earth.  I want to impress my friends!” 

Thank goodness she loved me anyway.

You too can learn from Aunt Hickie’s money wisdom.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • Save a little from each paycheck.
  • As soon as you pay off the loan on your car, take that cash flow and save it for a down payment on the next one.
  • Invest for the long term. Markets are volatile, be at peace with this fact and stick to your saving and investing plan.
  • Don’t spend money on things that are not really important to you.  If you follow this rule, you will have money for the things that are.  Know the difference.
  • Patience is a virtue in purchasing.  Save for what you want, and then buy quality.  Take care of your things so they last.
  • Never charge more on your credit card than you can pay off at the end of the month.
  • Keep your will up to date.
  • Leave a legacy.  Find a cause that is meaningful for you, set up a charitable giving fund and ask your friends to donate too.

Here’s to you, Aunt Hickie. You will always live in my heart.