Aunty I am wearing your sweater.
I love it because it was yours. Because we both loved it. You found it at some kind of sale for five dollars and it was the perfect warmth and structure to throw over my shorts and t-shirt, or my bikini. To sit at the beach when the wind stirred the water. You know how I loved propping myself up against the wall with my notebook and listen to the rush and hush of the waves and breathe the wind into my bones and my words.
Borrowing your sweater was a delicate dance. Because I knew you loved it too I could not do it often, or wear it down. Sharing without taking.
Like I am doing now on Easter. Sipping a diet soda under this big mama tree whose heavy trunk breaks the cold breath at my throat. I am at the park. The wild one that reminds me of your cousin’s place, the one they sold. You told me the story of this park –how the town took it from the camp ground and I am so deeply grateful for the willows who stretch their fingers into the sky and the gravel-tousled dirt and the scraps of brush that push out of the weather swept sand. I remember your voice telling me the story with a sense of satisfaction. Your voice, your words. You are so quiet now.
How do I share that you were the unspoken everything?
I see the letters of your name on the hand drawn card at the hospice table. F.R.A.N. Fran. I have written those letters thousands of times with the eager enthusiasm of a child crawling into a pair of loving arms. Fran. Frani. Aunty. Auntella Snortellina.
You were the other mother. The plural in girls. The girls. Mom and Aunty. Gran and Fran. The Ladies.
You were the thread of plot, meticulously woven. Slipped into the small details.
I remember your childhood room, in the orchard house, the only place I would wake up with a sense of wonder and warmth to the smell of eggs cooking and apples growing in soft sunlight but also to being the apple of someone’s eye. Your walls were covered in felt flags and newspaper clippings and strings and strings of buttons. Your dressers were adorned with jewelry boxes filled with pins and keepsakes and letters dangling from chains. You drove around in a shiny red Beetle with a tiny compartment in the back that my five year old self could tuck into and an even tinier space behind that one, likely meant for a small bag or case that Kristi could contort her itty bitty body into and we would go driving around the town like that, in our magic carpet secret cave, somehow staying alive.
Now they’re telling me stories of your wild side. You Aunty with a wild side. I laugh and I laugh. You used to drive that Beetle into forbidden lands where you could find the best beaches and well now that I reason it out it does make sense because you just didn’t have much time for painful stupidity. Or sorrow.
Remember when you lived in the Varsity apartments in Calgary across from us? And I was sure I saw you coming home from your job at the bank and I ran up and grabbed your coat and yelled BOO! That woman’s startled grimace, who was not you. Not the Aunty. It was a surprise to see a coat of love and find it squatted in by a stranger.
And remember the time I surprised you and drove all of the way to Osoyoos and I knocked on the door in my new pink jacket and you stood there as if I was the mailman and I had to tell you “Aunty. It’s Erin!”
We were roommates, you and I, at the Lakeview house and I felt so lucky to have Aunty Fran in my room, but then I would wake up to your snoring and in the darkness I would know that there was a tiger in your place, ready to pounce across the tiny bedroom and tear me to shreds. Miraculously in the morning I would awaken to find the tiger gone and in its place your sweet face, and I would feel so very sorry at five years old to have doubted your existence, for letting fear get the better of me and for seeing fierce where there was only gentle.
You took care of everyone with such gentle mastery that they just didn’t know. They felt loved and safe without question. You did it with so little and yet you made so little a treasure trove because you gave it your joy. I want to somehow go back and give you more, but how do you give more to the all giving?
There was the ONE time I saw you cry. The Christmas when Grandad had passed and no one could decide what to do for dinner, whether to cook or whether to dine out and everything felt sad. I tried to read the room at ten years old. DID I want to go out or was that somehow a loss of the sacred? I was studying my mom’s face for cues. Maybe it was a loss. A horrible one. Maybe it was the worst decision of all time and we should all just get cooking something, anything, Stove Top, canned goods, whatever it took to sit as a family around our little table in our little dining room. But before I figured it out, before I could read whether I was catastrophically sad or ready for an X-mas adventure, your face pinched and contorted and you burst into tears. Big loud tears. And that is how I knew it was The End Times (*it was not The End Times, dear Reader, but it is The End Times now).
Sometimes I see you in the orchard on that fated day when Mom fell into the well on your six year old watch. Watch out for your sister! The well that was decorated with ribbons, like a doll house whispering come hither small child. What will scare off an adult will sometimes lure a little one to her death. The day mom fell and almost died, landing across her back on a pipe twenty feet into the dark dankness. After the hospitals and the scary days she feigned a recovery and made it so many years with just the remaining kidney, until that one failed too. I whisper to that six year old girl, it’s not your fault. Does she hear me?!! It wasn’t your fault Aunty. Not the fall, and not the long struggle afterward, the failure, the loss of work, and sometimes the loss of will. I hope you can hear me. Let me raise my voice. I know you have been taking care of mom since. Not out of guilt but because you are inseparable. A Sisterhood. But I want you to hear it from me in case no one ever said it to you. It’s not your fault!
They tell the story of the time you’d had your wisdom teeth out, and your face was swollen to deformity and you didn’t want to play with me. Gasp. I was a toddler, maybe three. And, UGH, as the story goes *lowers head in shame* I bonked you over the already throbbing noggin with a small but deadly children’s sized A & W mug. Yes it was heavy glass. I guess I did it out of hurt and frustration. It’s one of the few memories I don’t experience first hand. Probably because I trauma blocked it out. I’m so sorry Aunty. I was such a small asshole that day. But doesn’t it tell us so much? How shocking it must have been that YOU the ever loving every playful ever accommodating buddy, couldn’t be there for me? How scary, for even me, a passive lamb of a child.
You had a particular laugh for the grievous. And no words for certain headaches of the world. A silence of refusal for tiny injustices and major heartaches, willing them out of existence. You certainly had no patience for death and dying and that whole distasteful rigamarole.
I know you’re just on the next page. You read ahead.
Auntella Snortellina. You made things blossom and grow. Plants, and kittens and flowers and people.
All of those scares with mom. You were the voice on the line. Your mother’s fallen. Your mother’s gone to hospital. Your mother.
It was so like you to turn the attention everywhere but on you.
For days now I have been sorting through pictures, looking for some of your smiling face. But it was always you behind the camera, making all of us beautiful.
What makes a compelling story? The narrator’s belief in their subject. And you believed in us.
And now the story teller tenders the ultimate trick, pulls the thread taut and we see at last what was always there. The picture in relief.
The meaning of everything revealed.
It was always you.
And here you are doing it all over again, your big reveal. Filling the sky with breath. Casting the world into blossom. Warming the sun to a perfect glow and then splashing it across the lake. Capturing it inside the cap of a wave.
Auntella Snortellina, the Queen of Everything is everywhere.
Wrapping around us, like the perfect sweater.
Borrowed and given.
P.S. 2021 I am bringing on the love. I’ll be featured in a podcast all about better loving, from healing your broken heart to intentional dating to creating a relationship that thrives, and I’ll be launching a sister site for all of you relationship and love enthusiasts, with all kinds of insights and offerings. Stay tuned!
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