Monday, January 30, 2012

The California Aunt -- Auntie M

They say you do not remember days, you remember moments.  One moment (well, it lasted a bit longer than a moment) that sticks with me was the summer I was almost 16.  My mother's siblings had come to Southern Alberta on their annual pilgrimage from the South (California and Arizona, specifically).  Each year they would come up and start some project or other in the 'Big House'.  The 4800 square foot, two storey brick home where my grandmother lived with my maiden aunt (didn't everyone have one of those?) and my perpetually childlike uncle. 

One year they expanded the back porch so that it covered the entire area between the backroom (aka summer kitchen) and the far corner of the house.  It gave us a large space not only for barbeques and hanging out in the summer, but also an area to stack wood for the fireplace in the winter.  The new porch and steps also had the advantage of not crumbling under foot, as the old concrete had seen much better decades and was starting to randomly give way without warning.

This summer's project was more massive than anything to date.  They were going to turn my grandparents' old bedroom into a large, expanded bathroom.  Grandma was getting well passed the age where getting in and out of the cast iron clawfoot tub in the main bath was easy or safe.  A walk-in shower, complete with a chair, was going to be installed and a door created between what had once been the "rug room" which would now serve as her new bedroom and the new bath suite.

Anyway, as the adventure continued my aunts and uncle discovered that simply knocking a hole through the wall for a door sounded easier than it was going to be.  Why?  Well, my great-grandfather had the foresight to make the house a solid structure.  Solid -- as in 3 layers of bricks for the exterior walls and 2 layers for the inside walls solid.  Yes, this was going to take more than a reciprocating drywall saw and wheelbarrow for the debris.  It was going to require sledgehammers, muscle and possibly explosives.

So, there they were: three middle-aged women and one man going at the wall with an assortment of tools.  It was messy and, at times, hysterically funny. BUT the thing that I remember better than anything was my Auntie "M".  

Auntie M was smack in the middle of the 'Change'.  This meant hot flashes . . . intense hot flashes.  Add to that the summer prairie heat and a house without air conditioning.  One moment she was just standing in the kitchen having a glass of iced tea and the next she had whipped off her top revealing a bra reminescent of Marilyn Monroe or early Madonna (but this was, of course, before Madonna).

She was my mother's younger sister and the undisputed rebel of that generation.  She married for the first time at age 15. . . to a man who would be considered by many of us her love of a lifetime.  Even after they divorced, not too many years after they first married, he continued to visit the 'family'.  I, in fact, remember him stopping by the Big House in the 1990s to visit Auntie M when she was doing her caretaking duties.  It was like watching time wind backward.

Auntie M went on to marry twice more . . . with the last marriage ending in her mid-thirties.  After that she had what I believe was an active social life, but she had decided to pass on those marriage vows again.  I remember her comment to me (when I was nursing my own broken heart at her place when I was 21) about marrige and men.  She said that she much preferred being 'the other woman' because she didn't have to do the man's laundry and when he got on her nerves, she could send him home.  Although I have a different personal view on daliances by married folk, I have to say she had a point.  And it worked for her.

Her last marriage produced her only child, my cousin B.  To say he was the light of her life would be an understatement.  He was more of supernova.  From birth he was larger than life -- with blond hair and dazzling blue eyes that produced more than one crush among my friends when they would visit from California in the summer.  B was the quinessential surfer boy and we had a teasing relationship that grew from the fact we were both doted on by our mothers and, as was often pointed out by family members, spoiled.

Sadly, B developed stomach cancer when we were in our early thirties and passed away at a time when he should have been delighting in his three growing children.  Thanks to Facebook, I see much of him in his daughters and son.  Auntie M, well, I think her spirit only comes along once every few generations.  I don't think the world is quite ready for it again, yet.  But her oldest grandchild is pregnant, so you never know!

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