i first met andi when i was about 8 years old. she often described herself laughingly as a "tough old broad" in her sarcastic, gravelly voice; to this day, i don't believe i've ever met anyone who better fits that description.
she was 21 years older than my dad when they met at a mutual friends' dinner party. andi said she was immediately taken with my dad's blatant disregard for conventionality and the way he rolled up his cigarette pack in his tshirt sleeve, 1950's greaser style. andi was always a sucker for bad-boy charisma; and younger men.
she had a life that negated normalcy, and she was unapologetic in who she was. her bad-assedness was visceral; her toughness formed through a life filled with experiences that alternately fascinated and shocked me. she did not have an easy life, and didn't hesitate to name the darker aspects of her personal journey.
as a little girl, i had never encountered so much power and directness in a woman. she was larger than life to me. i was in awe of her prowess in the kitchen, social encounters, and with my dad. growing up very poor in small towns in central minnesota with little to no schooling in social mobility, i had not often felt empowerment.
my mother and stepfather, who i lived with, were very overprotective. sex (among other things) in every capacity was disallowed. so different from our catholic, conservative home, her house was a vision of taboos. a lifelong atheist committed to and entertained by radical politics, sacrilegious artifacts, and hedonism generally, she had filled her home with all of the enticing things i yearned to explore and experience.
andi was also an art collector; the first nude paintings and photographs i ever saw were framed images on her walls. she normalized and modeled healthy sexuality, self-expression, living and managing mental health issues, and critical thinking in a way i had never experienced. she unfailingly spoke the truth to me through my life.
the kitchen was andi's domain. she worked for the fargo forum for most of her professional career, first as a librarian, then as a food columnist, and for the later years of her life, she wrote a history column about the old fargo she had known in her younger years. she lived her whole life in fargo, yet i was continually amazed at how many people she knew, in fargo and beyond. simca, colleague and co-author of julia child, was andi's personal mentor and dear friend; andi's parents had entertained a slew of influential people through her younger years (including JFK one epic evening), salon-style in their beautiful victorian mansion in old east fargo; musicians, writers, philosophers, chefs, composers and politicians were all woven in and out of her life stories, and she had the memory of a librarian for the epic and mundane details of her life.
in february of 2015 my dad called to tell me that andi was sick. she had been diagnosed with a fast-moving lung cancer, and was already putting her affairs in order. her typical pragmatism shining through, she told me over the phone that life was a bitch, but she'd been living on borrowed time for too many years already, and it was time to say goodbye.
my little brother, desmond, and i drove up to visit andi a few weeks later to spend the weekend with her. she was connected with a hospice service shortly after she was diagnosed, so was able to spend her final weeks at home, with my dad. i was struck, while i was there, by how empty her house felt. her energy had so filled up the rooms i had explored so many times since i was a little girl; i already felt her absence. the vibrance of the colors in her home had always felt exciting and energizing to me. that visit, they felt gaudy, over the top, sacrilegious.
i tried to capture my reality there that weekend. i tried to embody her unapologetic honesty and rawness. i tried to tell the end of my story with her, to capture her spirit in its very absence. i tried to take the pictures i was afraid to take.
i think, somehow, she would have liked that.