I don’t know how Patricia Saars Bruning got the name Petunia. Her family usually calls her Pat or some variation thereof; I somehow got ‘Petunia’ from Riley and Braden, who are two of her grandsons. I prefer that name for her anyway. It’s unique and spunky and full of life, just like Petunia herself.
Unfortunately, the world lost that flower one year ago. As I understand it, it was something of a shock. I’ll always remember how empty and surprised I felt when Riley and Braden told Sara and I in their living room. It just seemed so unlikely. It took me a long time to wrap my mind around the idea. Petunia wasn’t an everyday presence in our neighborhood, but the thought of her not around anymore haunted me. It still kind of does.
A soul like hers deserves Paradise.
Petunia actively involved everybody in her life. Everybody. She wasn’t a passive member of her family. She was the biggest fan of every one of her grandchildren. I saw her at every event Braden and Riley were a part of, and I know for a fact that she was there for the other kids just the same. She was at every concert, every competition, every male beauty pageant, and most importantly, every party. Petunia was the life of Bruning family parties. She wasn’t a quiet, I’m-gonna-sit-in-the-corner granny. She ate, and drank, and played games (including giant Jenga), and visited, and said the funniest things. Petunia was hilarious, and hers was the rare kind of humor that wasn’t selfish. She could be funny just by being there, without any conscious effort. There are ten-year-old quotes and jokes of hers that we still repeat in the basement.
I’ll never forget how kind she was to Sara and I, and how welcome I felt in her presence. When we were younger, Petunia used to be the boys’ babysitter when Brenda and Fran went out. She took the time to learn the names of the two neighbor girls that would come over and play Monopoly in the basement almost every night. Actually, she learned more than our names. Every time I saw Petunia, long after the babysitting days were over she asked me how I was doing, what I was doing with myself, what I liked and disliked in school. Though I was only in her life every once in a while, she remembered me and cared about me.
I once complained to Petunia that my life was going by too fast—college was on the horizon, and I didn’t feel up to the task of moving away from home. She told me to enjoy life while I was young, and to experience everything to the fullest before I got old like her. But something tells me that Petunia didn’t let a single day go to waste.
Petunia taught me to treat people like family even if they aren’t. I miss her dearly.
No matter how much I wish I were, I’m not related to Petunia; I simply don’t have the connection to her that the Brunings do. For every memory I have, they have a thousand; as sad and empty as I feel, they must feel infinitely more so. Over the last year, I’ve noticed that though it is large, the Bruning clan is a tight, loving bunch. I know that they got that way because of Petunia. And I know that she’s in Heaven playing Nintendo 64 and cheering her family on, just like always.