Write an advanced eulogy. A eulogy for someone still alive
My aunt Christine was my cool aunt, that's how we saw her when we were young. Single, when my other two aunts were married and my uncles were either gone in the navy or messing around in one fashion or another, Chris had her own apartment and I was 9 or 11 or maybe younger and got to visit her.
She had a heavy gauge plastic bag of hair ribbons, all wadded up and unused, that she let me take out and choose from. I took many. I never wore them. I love the novelty of the idea, though, and I can still remember her ironing out these pale pink and harvest gold and navy grosgrain ribbons for me to take back with me to whatever place my family was calling home at the time.
Through my aunt Chris, I saw a view of my own parents that I didn't have access to otherwise. She was highly critical of them, but still seemed to love them. This view continued on into my adulthood when I would visit and we would talk about family. Or we would go to the bar with my other living aunt and perhaps a cousin or sister.
She married, and divorced, and I believe married again and divorced. Then she married another time, and was widowed when their son was only 20. I remember her holding that baby when I was pregnant with my oldest. Somehow she handled all of that.
When my oldest aunt died, I sat on my grandmother's couch while Chris took a scanner and surreptitiously copied all the photos she could find for a slide show my cousin wanted to put together. She would hand me photos to resort into albums and boxes, all the while talking with guests and my grandmother and pretending nothing was happening under the coffee table in front of us. She balanced grieving for her sister with hiding from her mother and handling a husband dying of early onset dementia.
When my grandmother died the same year as her husband, she had me come over and sort much older photos, pictures of my grandfather's family, pictures of genealogy I had no idea or hope would exist, right in my shaky hands, afraid to handle too much or leave fingerprints on.
Chris was never afraid to handle things.
And as the oldest sister left alive in St. Louis, her mother and husband both gone, she handled things with the same frankness as she'd given me the hair ribbons--"Of course you need hair ribbons, girl, your hair is plain and long"
Handling things when she's standing in her bedroom yanking pillow cases off vintage cotton telling me I wasn't here to FIX an antique quilt, I was here to TAKE an antique quilt and get it off her hands. Telling me to shut the door while she gave me the box of photos from her dad's ancestors because I was the only one who would care for them.
Handling things when she's giving my dad the ring my grandfather had promised him, a ring that had been his father's and his father's father's father's but which my grandmother stated my dad didn't deserve and maybe she could sell it and give the money to another son who needed the cash more than anyone needed shit like that, handing that to my dad in this moment of grace between two siblings who grew up and apart like I'm watching my own sibling group do and trying to stop that tide and realizing that one day maybe we will just handle it.
When I call on the phone my mom says I sound like her. My sister Bevin has her hair, her face. We all together have that blood harmony of voices that only happen in families who sing and live and handle things.
I find your family stories so intriguing. I feel they merit a sprawling and complicated novel.ReplyDelete
And based on your online persona, I feel you could handle most anything.
Yes, what Helen said. All of it. This was fabulous.ReplyDelete
I like your Aunt Chris. And I am glad she's still among the living.ReplyDelete
"Chris was never afraid to handle things." Perfect.ReplyDelete