Bittersweet as the pies bake

November 24, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | Leave a comment
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I am in the middle of pie fixings, Dan rolling out the dough for the crust.  My good friend Doug Berch’s CD is coming to us through the kitchen speakers.  Chloe, freshly (one hour) home for Thanksgiving break, is ensconced with Rachel in one bedroom or the other, admiring Rachel’s recent happy Goodwill purchase (a prom dress or concerto dress, whichever comes first).  Bella the dog is enjoying her bone in the girls’ company.  All is right in the world.  In this house.

My aunt, at age 80, moved here from New York City, where she had lived all of her life except for her college years.  She was married sometime in the late 1940s or early ‘50s, a brief union that ended in an annulment.  This past summer, on July 4, she celebrated her 84th birthday with a sandwich and a cupcake that Dan and I brought to her senior citizen apartment house.  As we dined together at the picnic table, she commented that her mother, my maternal grandmother, died at the age of 84.

I called her today to see if I could convince her to join the four of us, along with my mother and brother, for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.  She is as low as I have ever heard her.  In all the complaints she has spewed out during these past four years of living here – the noisy college students outside her apartment, the thumping on her ceiling and/or walls, the lousy care when she was recuperating from a broken hip and wrist after a fall, how her newly claimed home town can’t hold a candle to the Big Apple – never have I heard one word about not feeling well.  Until today’s phone call.

A woman in her apartment building took her own life two weeks ago.  To my aunt, who is suffering from a chronic and worsening respiratory condition, it was a stark tolling of what lies ahead for her.  What can she look forward to but the same four walls within which she has found a peaceful refuge, an increasing struggle to take each breath, and an occasional trip downstairs to visit “the ladies” or across town to the doctor’s office.

I do not believe she is lonely.  Having chosen to live alone, I am fairly certain she has been content that way.  I believe she is beginning to let go of her attachments here.  And though it saddens me to think about it, I cannot blame her.  I have watched her these last few months coming to grips with the disease that evidenced itself shortly after she settled here.  “I didn’t expect this,” and “I’m still getting used to all this,” her succinct hints at how she feels about her body betraying her.

Betraying us all!  I was so looking forward to trips together to the art museum, the movies, lunch and tea together.  When I was a child she would visit us once a year, staying with us for about three weeks.  My father would drive us to the train station – she was afraid of flying – and we would get to go ON THE TRAIN and see her sleeper compartment, truly a highlight of her visits.  I loved her voice, her New York accent, the leather brace on her left arm from a serious car accident during her college years, and her straight dark hair.  I would sit and watch her unpack her suitcase, fascinated by the amazing versatile manner in which she used her right hand, which often had to do double duty, and by the scars on her leg where they had to take bone to try to save her damaged limb.  As plain as she always was in the areas of fashion and self-expression, I found her glamorous.

I have not seen her as much as I thought I would, these past four years.  She definitely prefers solitude.  She has had little or no interest in going out together.  We mostly talk on the phone, and sometimes I visit her or take her to my mother’s house for a holiday or birthday.  Tomorrow after lunch I will call her and see if she feels like she is up to a family Thanksgiving dinner.  If not, then Dan, Chloe, Rachel and I will pay a short visit to her on the way to my mother’s.  Either way, it will brighten her to see my two teens, reminding her of me when I was that age.  I hope my presence can offer a little comfort, even if it cannot help her lungs take in more air.  Not touchy-feely, she probably wouldn’t let me hold her hand, so we will chat and she will reminisce a little and ask Chloe a few questions about college and then not listen to the answers.

I know I need to enjoy what we have now, and I will.  The passing of my father taught me to listen differently – she is beginning to speak a new language, sprinkled with hints and clues.  I will do my best to atune my ear and hear with my heart and my intuition.

May we all take in whatever blessings avail themselves to us during this holiday of gratitude, and may we spread them as we receive them.  Speaking for myself, they are all around, even when it’s hard to distinguish them through the tears.

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