Monday, January 6, 2014

Reunion with a Relative

As far as technicalities go, she has not been my aunt for around four decades. Still, I could think of nothing more fitting to address her by than Aunt Nancy.

Calling her Nancy would be out of the question.  Though I am a 50-year-old woman, I still adhere to my mother's teachings on proper respect in addressing individuals in deference to who they are.  Aunt Nancy is my senior, by, well, she told me her age, but I shall leave it to her to tell others.  I will say this, she could easily have told me ten less years and gotten away with it.

I cannot remember the year, but I was a very young girl, when I was first introduced to the concept of a divorce.  People didn't do that so often in those days, and only now did I learn Aunt Nancy tried for two years to keep it from happening.  

The details don't matter.  People deserve to have their past be just that.  I have a real problem with people who like to dredge up other people's past anyway. My mother and grandmother, Aunt Nancy's former sister-in-law and mother-in-law were appropriately discreet with information that a child didn't need to know.  What I did know was an aunt who used to visit fairly often didn't come by anymore.  

As years went by, my grandmother was eventually placed in a nursing home and I was happy to learn that Aunt Nancy visited her regularly.  When my still-Aunt Nancy's former husband died, an uncle I loved dearly, I was in the room when my mother telephoned her and welcomed her and her current husband to come to the funeral and be with her children.  My mother's words expressed that she didn't want her and her husband to feel awkward in this situation.    

There was a graciousness in these interactions that isn't as common in my generation, sad to say.

In recent years, my husband and I began to bump into Aunt Nancy and her current husband at dinner time.  All of us were at the stage where it was easier for two to eat out than to cook for two, or maybe we just didn't want to cook, whatever the case, it was good to see them.  I did address her husband as Mr. L--- as I'd never known him as an uncle, and he was an older gentleman, and that would be exactly what my mother would prescribe, so Mr. L--- he was, and each time I'd see them, he would greet me kindly, shake my hand, which again, is what Mom would have suggested I do.  

Long ago, I said to Mom that I'd seen a former classmate and I didn't know what to say to her.  She was in a wheelchair as a result of a self-inflicted bullet wound, a failed suicide attempt.  Mom didn't miss a beat.  She said I should say, "Hello, it's good to see you."  

Oh Mom had a temper from hell, I'm told I'm a bit like her, but when it came to appropriate behavior in polite society, she was as dignified a southern woman as was ever born.  I aim to be like her in that way as well.  

Anyway...I was sending out Christmas cards mid-December, and Aunt Nancy and Mr. Lamb came to mind, so I sent them one.  I was thinking of the lovely cards she would bring my Grannie on her birthday and other special occasions.  Shortly after sending the card, my husband and I ran into Aunt Nancy and Mr. L--- at Olive Garden.  I was saddened to learn that he now resided at an assisted living facility.

Mr. L--- enjoyed collecting Christmas village sets and Aunt Nancy said she still will put them out to honor him.  She invited me and my husband to come see the display, and the picture below she sent me shows but a fraction of the collection.     

This picture captures the essence of the young Aunt Nancy I knew so long ago, pretty, polished and well-dressed.  The lovely scarf, she made.  I know I'm not supposed to compare people, but I can't help myself.  Aunt Nancy wore lipstick and perfume and had her hair done, unlike my mother, who hated the feel of cosmetics on her skin, was allergic to most perfumes, and combed her naturally curly hair into the same pompadour her entire adult life.  Mom's idea of being well-dressed was having "my behind covered."  

I bet most women can remember being a little girl, seeing a lovely woman, and thinking that it was not possible to ever become like that.  With my uneven ponytails, freckles across my nose and tomboyish ways, it didn't seem likely, but Aunt Nancy gifted me with the encouragement of lip gloss appropriate for a child and shampoo decanted from a Charlie Brown bottle, both from the Avon line she sold.

I mentioned the shampoo and Aunt Nancy laughed and said someone asked her son what his mother did, and he informed them she didn't work, she sold Avon.  

She lives in an adorable brick home that belonged to her late parents.  I did not remember ever visiting there, it would still have been her parents' home when I was a small girl, but Aunt Nancy felt sure I'd been there "with your Grannie."  And that is likely so, as where Grannie went, I often went, too.  I once told my Daddy a man came and picked us up and took us downtown.  My Grannie, long widowed at the time, explained to Daddy we'd taken a cab.  

And that is about the level of innocence through which I saw the world along the time the path of Aunt Nancy's life and mine diverged.  It was wonderful to spend time with her again after so many years.  She spoke only briefly and factually about her marriage to my late uncle, and blessedly for both us, without an iota of bitterness or vitriol, another example my generation could take a cue or two from.  

I marveled at how adept she is with modern electronics--digital camera, e-mail, texting, and she even looks at Facebook but doesn't participate.  I don't blame her there as I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, but that's a blog post for another day.

She took a picture of me and my husband with her Christmas village as a backdrop, then we all went to Cracker Barrel for dinner.  We plan to do that again soon!  

Back when Aunt Nancy used to visit my childhood home, also the home of her then mother-in-law, I had 24 aunts and uncles, plus scads of great-aunts and great-uncles, Grannie's brothers, sisters, and their spouses, who visited regularly.  I never knew who would walk in the door--at our house that was the way it was, doors weren't locked and family didn't have to knock--and was always happy to see whoever it was and who they brought with them.    

Through life's attrition, I have only one living aunt by marriage and she lives in Michigan.  Man, am I ever glad I was wrong about having only one.  

I found another aunt who lives about ten minutes from my current home and to say I'm delighted is an understatement.  She picked up with ease where we left off, didn't stay long there, and brought me up to date with the last few decades of her life.  

The chance meetings we had over the past few years have evolved into something even better, a renewed relationship I will cherish.