Thursday, September 17, 2009

My aunt

My aunt died on St. Patrick's Day. My mother's older sister. At the moment she was passing from this life to the next, I was in the local Irish pub, having a Smithwicks with a couple of friends and trying to be polite to the weird old man that was talking to us. We finally moved indoors and whiled away the time with random conversation and peeling peanuts from their shells, depositing the empties on the table. I remember it was a warm night, the warmest in weeks and the warmest in weeks to come, because I wanted to wear my leather jacket and it was too hot.

The next day I got the email. I knew it was coming, but still, you just think, that maybe, there will be a miracle. It was breast cancer. My mother's mother also died from breast cancer. The pit of my stomach churns thinking about it. Two cases, on my mother's side. It's a worry. But maybe, we'll get lucky.

It was a little weird getting the news via email. I could quietly grieve, instead of loudly grieving over a phone, but it seemed weird to me none the less. At least it wasn't one hundred years ago, or even 60 years, when a letter came, weeks or months after the fact, telling you a relative died. But I'm not sure I'm ready to be entirely in this emailing, texting world. At least it wasn't a text.

I saw this aunt, cousins, uncle occasionally and much less now than I had as a youth, which wasn't much to begin with. We were introduced to much less midwestern fare, not that my mom and dad were typically midwestern in the meals they fixed for us, but still, I had my first taste of some more exotic foods. We had some kind of oriental food, possibly Thai (my parents already made Chinese at home). My oldest cousin graduated from high school and we visited (or maybe that was college) and we had blintzes and I was introduced to bagels, lox, and cream cheese. My uncle was a professor and Jewish, my aunt was a nurse, and my cousins played violin, viola, cello. I wished I could be as cool playing an instrument like that.

My aunt was one to give thoughtful and thought invoking gifts. When I was nine, she gave me a lined book for writing in. Inside she inscribed, "For you to write your poetry in." It had not yet occurred to me, until then, that I had poetry to write, let alone having my own book to write it in. I remember bits and pieces of my nine year old poetry.

My desk may become a mess
But if you may
Please let it stay
In my room for more than one day.

Practice makes perfect, some people say.
But it seems like I get worse every day.
Sometimes I like it and sometimes I don't.
I feel as if I'll quit, but I won't.

Immediately after my aunt died, I went digging in my basement. I'll admit it, I'm a bit of a pack rat. But, don't you think that a historian should be? It is my own personal history. I went digging and digging and digging. I know that book is in my house. I took it to college with me. I couldn't find it. I think, at that moment, that made me more sad than anything else. I have hope, I know it is here somewhere, I just didn't have the gumption at that point to haul everything out and dig through it. Another day.

Here it is, another day. My aunt never met my daughter in person. Who is named after the grandmother that first died from cancer. I'm sorry about that. We just didn't have the money or means to get to Seattle to see them before things went badly. My parents enjoyed visits with them out there in their retirement home in Seattle. I'm glad they did and they had good times.

My aunt had, what to me appears to be, a meaningful life. And she imparted a lot of great traits to her daughters, my cousins, whom I still admire a great deal. And I still admire my retired professor uncle. I believe we still need to make that visit to Seattle. I hope he can heal some from such an emptiness in his life. He has a passel of grandkids and another on the way. And the girls will tell such wonderful stories about grandma to their kids. They also know what it's like to be missing a grandma. I was eight when my grandmother died. I remember it pretty well.

I count my blessings that my own children's grandmother (both for that matter) is relatively healthy and well and can be there to impart her own special wisdom.

1 comment:

Aliceson said...

At least you have some wonderful memories of her.

My Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just 35. I was 7. She's fully recovered but now I worry for myself and my daughters. We just have to be extra cautious and make sure we do those always fun self exams.