My Aunt Gail was a big part of my life when I was a kid. I remember so much of the time I spent with her. When I was about 7 or so, she lived in a neat little trailer and when she babysat me, I’d spend hours at the trailer park’s dirt bare playground only to come running in at dark to eat supper – most likely a huge plate of my favorite spaghetti. I remember that the radio was always on and sometimes we would dance around the tiny kitchen galley. She listened to Simon and Garfunkel at that time and I loved it. (I vividly remember that song playing on the radio while she made a big pot of spaghetti sauce).
One time, when I was maybe 8 years old, I got mad at my parents and wanted to run away and live with my Aunt Gail. I packed a tiny suitcase and got in the back seat of our family car so that my Mom could drive me over there. And I think I called Gail and told her to come and get me. My Mom was not amused.
Way back then, Gail was neat and knew things – she read tarot cards (so cool and even then the images resonated with me) and could type really fast (on an actual typewriter – no computers back then!). She had beautiful handwriting – over the years I received letters she’d written on sheets torn from a steno pad – she wrote in careful cursive loops about this and that. She smoked cigarettes and cooked up the most yummy things – biscuits and gravy, apricot fried pies, banana pudding – so much of the food I remember from my childhood. She was a single lady and did things on her own terms. To me, it seemed, she did what she wanted rather than what was expected.
Then she moved back to the tiny town where she was born and raised and tried to raise her daughter there. When she had the baby, I guess, I started to grow up and we grew apart. Though I still remember a few times when I visited her – when she lived in that little apartment in Cleveland and Whitney was just a toddler. It wasn’t as much fun then.
I think she had a spiritual epiphany in that apartment. That was about the time that she became Christian (I assume she was born again) and put away the tarot and never looked at the cards again. She told me, one time, that she’d woken up in the middle of the night and saw the devil standing in the doorway of her bedroom. She said she opened her heart to God that night. I guess she never looked back.
She never had any money to speak of and at Christmas I’d pull out whatever cash I had in my purse, usually just a few dollars but every now and then a $20 or so, and stuff it into the envelope along with the cards I sent her. I always told her that it was just for her but I’m sure she gave it away because that’s how she was. She never saved it for a rainy day.
I remember how happy she was when she got married – she proved she was no old maid and we thought it was great that she’d found love after all those years (though, he turned out to be kind of an ass, I think – they broke up years later). She was always there for her family though and would take them in and give them everything she had. I don’t think they minded using up what she gave them. But at this point, I was living on the very edge of her life – I am sorry to say that I don’t know about all the happy times or little joys that may have been in her life (or the suffering).
In the handful of times I’ve seen her over the past 20+ years – she always had a hug for me and a kind word. She always seemed “tickled pink” to see me or talk to me. I think there was a hint of longing for those far away days when we danced in that tiny trailer.
I have always wished for more for her.
She had a massive heart attack a little over a month ago and I called her at the hospital and we talked for awhile. I asked her, if she felt up to it, to send me some of her recipes because I was putting together an heirloom recipe book. She did…she sent me a collection of recipes that she wrote out on thin, lined notecards. The cursive of old transformed into a simple print with little notes like, “really good!” and “mama’s favorite”…
She called me a couple of times to chat but both times, when I heard her voicemail, it wasn’t a good time for me to call her back and then I’d forget about her call until I heard her voicemail – and again, not a good time to call Cleveland – never a good time. Now I feel like an asshole. I really wish I’d called her back. There’s never enough time is there? Never enough time to tell people that you love them and want so much for them.
Well her heart and lungs couldn’t take it anymore. Yesterday, at 10:20, or so I’m told, she took her last breath.
Rest in peace, dear Auntie.