No one ‘s draping the mirrors, no one’s dropping casseroles, no one’s hurrying the children out the door to stay at Auntie Neighbor’s for a few days, no one’s letting me put the world on hold.
As children, my brother and I spent the summer with my father in Ohio, and a few of those weeks were always Connecticut, visiting with his sister. She and my uncle lived on thirty acres, in a farmhouse overlooking a steep, winding path to a pond where deer went through salt licks like there was tequila on tap. We rarely saw them—oops! There he goes—but we knew by the licks and the trampled grass that they spent a lot of time on the far shore.
They had cats and cats and cats: Mow Mow, Minuscule, Max, Nellie Blue, Paulo, Stray—I swear Stray was half-bobcat; he left long scars on my hands and forearms when we wrestled and he weighed at least twenty lbs. The hills were riddled with dens. The road they lived on was called Cathole Road. I’m sure I’m missing at least five cats. They rescued so many. Most of my crawling skills were honed following them in and out of screen doors, them trying to find a quiet place to curl up away from the baby frantically slapping Mexican tiles just behind them.
They liked to spoil their cats, feeding them delicacies, mostly giblets and kidneys (always accompanied by the old joke where a man walks into a butcher’s and says, “I’d like some kiddledees.” “Don’t you mean kidneys?” “I said kiddledees, diddle I?”). They trimmed the fat and gave us the scraps to offer to the circling birds at sunset.
My aunt passed away on Friday, and no one called me until this morning. When she had the stroke, her friend at the hospital, convinced she wasn’t going to make it, asked if she should call me. “No, no, don’t bother her.” If she weren’t already gone, I’d strangle her. Stubborn woman.
My aunt was like a another parent to me, my closest confidant behind Mom, Dad, and my step-dad. Uncle Mike, who passed away 17 years ago, was my hero, my knight. He played us Bach at night as we went to sleep, taught us to dive and climb trees, and how to offer scraps to the vultures without being carried off. He hooked me on “Claire de lune” and “What I Did for Love.”
She was a Ford model mid-century, and I feel fortunate to also have met with Eileen Ford, if only so that she could eliminate me in person for the “Face of the 80’s” nationwide modeling search. Michael was an actor, appearing once to his chagrin in a Howard Stern special. He was made of much better stuff; an Olympic-class diver and classical pianist.
I never laughed so hard in public at so many inappropriate moments as we did together. They are largely responsible for my cultural upbringing.
They took us a one Broadway play each summer. Once is was the revival of “The King and I” with Yul Brynner. Another it was “Annie” with Sarah Jessica Parker. Our favorite, by far, was “The Wiz” with Stephanie Mills—the original Broadway production, not the Michael Jackson film remake. We knew every word to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” and Petula Clark’s “Downtown.” We spent hours playing the LPs and dancing around the living room.
Sometimes we’d stay up late playing Monopoly. Side note: they had a very liberal policy concerning the local wildlife. We named the raccoons and even the skunk babies. One night the game went well past midnight, and as we were arguing over the rent on some property or another, Ricky the raccoon pushed through the kitty door and ambled into the kitchen. Pat grabbed a pear from the bowl of fruit on the table and tossed it to him. He picked it up and shuffled back out the kitty door.
Anyway, I didn’t get to see her before she passed away, and I won’t be there when they scatter her ashes on the shore of the old pond to join Michael’s ashes put there seventeen years earlier. It’s my birthday tomorrow and there’s no question of traveling to the East Coast in time for Tuesday.
I have here a photo book of all our ancestor’s photographs from the outskirts of Glasgow, where her mother and stepfather lived before crossing to America. I never did get the chance to send her one to make sure I’d gotten all the labels correct.
I love you very much, Aunt Pat, and I miss you and Michael every day.