Friday, September 28, 2007

The Aunts

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.


  1. memories last forever

    many hugs

  2. Anonymous7:15 AM

    Lovely evocative post. Your word descriptions are as powerful as your visual art.

    Yours, Cynthia, Aveyron, France

  3. Anonymous8:42 AM

    You are a powerful story teller. I feel as if I have met these women of the West.

    I only have one aunt left. She was the youngest of all of them and is only 15 years older than me.

  4. I love Garrison Keiller and hubby and I listen to him here in Chicagoland on Saturday at 5 - 8 pm.

    I am 50 and the oldest living female in my family and the next is my sister at 47. The past year my mom (70) and Cousin Gail (55) passed away. My Cousin Steve is the oldest male at 59 and the next male is 25.

    Our kids do not know what it is to have older family and they are missing out on so much.

    I am send hugs to you and your family.

  5. Anonymous4:39 PM

    Thanks for sharing your aunts, Terry. I wish you comfort and joy in the wonderful memories of these remarkable women.

  6. You are very fortunate to have had such wonderful women in your life and your tribute to them was wonderful.

  7. what a wonderful description of two very great women who clearly had a positive effect on the poeple in their lives. That's a great testimony ot a life well lived. I think we would all like to be remembered in such a loving tribute.

  8. Such vivid pictures of both women! Thanks for sharing them with us, Terry.

  9. Anonymous5:19 PM

    Hi Terry,

    Ijust returned from being away for a week and one of the the first places I wanted to go when I turned on the computer was to your blog. I check it daily to see if you have any updates. I feel such a kinship with you since you are originally from Idaho. Thanks for posting and letting us peek into your life. I enjoy your blog immensely.

    Carol in Boise

  10. I in a neighboring state to visit my mom and my "aunties." Blessings to you and your memories. They help me appreciate what I need to appreciate this week, in spite of the excentricities.