I remember hearing Garrison Keiller, on the News from Lake Wobegon, talking about coming to the time in his life when his aunts and uncles all seemed to be dying. He said he thought of them like sturdy old trees, always there, always dependable, pillars of the family, passing on, one by one.
Ray's aunt Bessie was never a tree, but a slender and frail tiny twig of a woman with a hilarious crackly voice and the devil in her eyes. Ray says she was always the most fun to visit, as a child, because of her secret stash of candy bars and comic books and her willingness to conspire with the boys in playing practical jokes on the other adults in the family. We visited her in a nursing home last spring. She sat on her bed with her birdlike little legs folded in the lotus position and cracked jokes about her age and infirmities. When an attendant came in to give her pills she flirted outrageously and as he left she whispered loudly behind her hand, "He loooooves me!" followed by her signature cackle. I believe she was 96. You couldn't not love her.
My aunt Virginia was definitely a tree—something tough and graceful like a madrone. She was a horsewoman and cut a striking figure in boots, jeans, hat and chunky silver and turquoise bracelets stacked up both arms. She could fix a horse or a child with her clear blue penetrating eyes, put on an exaggerated scowl, and they were putty in her hands. She had the best laugh ever, deep and throaty and totally infectious and found a lot to laugh about in life. The New Mexico sun baked those laugh lines and crinkles at the corners of her eyes into permanence and she had a little twitch at the corner of her mouth that implied that she might burst into laughter at any second. I always thought she was quite beautiful, even at 90.
They never knew each other—different sides of the family, different parts of the country—but each has left us, within days of each other, with lovely memories and thankfulness that they were part of our lives.
I am climbing out of the black hole that has been this last week. Thanks for all the kind messages.