January 28th, 2009

The Zombie

And We Shelby Healed

January 27 -  I'm back.  It's been a tough few days - in fact, it's been an entire week - since my aunt, Shelby Mundt, died, but I'm hanging in there.  I've got lots of comic-booky type stuff to tell you, but, first, let me just tell you a little about Shelb.  She was easily one of the most amazing people I ever known (and I've met two Presidents).  Everything about Shelby was bigger than life.  She was a social rebel, a wicked wit, a loving educator, a strong leader, a leadfoot daredevil, a daring entrepreneur, a Hall-of-Fame bowler, and a legitimate genius.  Some of the local newspapers have tried to sum her up in news briefs and obituaries and such, but, try as they may, all have fallen far short of painting a truly recognizable portrait of the woman who was my father's twin.  Never married, Shelby led a life free of such pedestrian entanglements (perhaps remorsefully, but she never showed it).  No, she not only marched to a different beat, she always led the parade.  Examples?  Well, she is probably best known as the longest serving mayor in Iowa history (whether that's actually true or not....although I'm pretty sure that she is still - by far - the longest serving female mayor).  For twenty-two years, she was the snow-plowing, lawn-mowing, budget-crunching, butt-kicking elected ringleader of little Castalia, Iowa.  Stories of her mayoral exploits are legend, and are nearly impossible to believe...unless you knew Shelby.  Short in stature, and tough in appearance, she was once publicly described as looking like "John Belushi from The Blues Brothers channeled through an aging Truman Capote."  This was no shrinking violet.  Even when Shelby was a bundle-of-energy little girl, my Grandma called her "Spitfire," and, although the nickname faded away, her rapid-fire mind continued to "spit fire" for the rest of her life.  Intense and intimidating when spurred to action, she personally took on anyone who needed "a good talking to," from lackluster politicians to armed gunmen (really!)...but she was also a sweetheart surrogate mother to every kid in town.  An entire generation of Castalia children (two generations, really) grew up under her loving, watchful eye.  It's not surprising, since she'd earlier had a career in education, including several years as a public school librarian.  Shelby was also an incurable bibliophile who enjoyed books about history just as much as a good Ellery Queen mystery.  Her mind was always buzzing with off-beat information and obscure words, although she spoke in the "down-to earth" vernacular of her Iowa farmgirl upbringing.  Shelby also had a strong, moral sense of community, which was, perhaps, instilled by my grandparents, who served on local boards and committees for years.  In addition to her mayoring, Shelby served (usually as President of) many charitable organizations.  Her leadership, even there, was remarkable.  Once, her efforts to help desegregate local schools prompted one White Supremist to threaten her with "a hemp chiropractic adjustment" for being a "race traitor."  And that was in 2003!  Yup, Shelby was bigger than life...which is why it's hard to believe that she's gone.  Still, what I'm going to miss most is Shelby Mundt, the person.  When I close my eyes and think about her today, I can still hear her laughing.  Ever since I was an itty-bitty kid, one of the purest joys in my life has been to make Aunt Shelby laugh (a laugh, by the way, virtually identical to my own).  She was my first audience, and my first fan.  As we've been dismantling her new apartment this past week, we've found virtually every single thing I've ever produced, from grade school projects to copies of The Adventures of Monkey (embarrassingly, many of these were actually framed).  For whatever reason, I now have that stuff here in WOMP Headquarters.  Amongst the items is her T.A.O.M. embroidered hat, which is so worn that it now only says "The __v__es of MO___Y."  It's odd to see what is essentially tangible evidence of her love for me, but I'm so happy to have it.  I know that Shelby knew how much she meant to me (mostly because I told her several times, thankfully), but I'm having a hard time dealing with how much I meant to her...if that makes any sense.  She had no children of her own, and, although I'm the second-born of my generation of Mundt kids, I was the first one who lived near her...and I am, after all, her twin brother's son.  I guess it's only natural that we'd have had such a strong connection.  And, in many ways, I suppose we still do.  Shelby will, of course, always be with me.  Whenever I take a stand on principle, or talk to a little kid, or just laugh out loud, my Aunt Shelby will be right there too.  So, on I go.  That's what one does.  That's what Shelby would want...no; that's what she'd demand.  Get back to it...keep going...keep doing.  So, OK.  I will.  Tomorrow, I'll get back to more 2008 review and such.  See ya then!

(yep, that's cute little me with Shelby, circa 1967)

(yeah...that pic of Shelb in a dress isn't as indicative of her as is this one)

(ah, yes; the old "purse gag."  Anything to make Shelby laugh, y'know)

(Bowling champs!  Shelby is the first one on the left,
of course.  The gal on the far right is my Aunt Linda)

(this is from the January 24th Cedar Rapids Gazette)

(one of my favorite pics of Shelby)