Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Sunday Morning Chats with Aunt Pat
My Aunt called me Sunday morning, early Sunday morning. She likes to call early, I think she feels it gives her the advantage, catch me when I’m sleepy and I might say something that will provoke the response.
“You really should show some respect …”
So the phone rings – did I mention it was early.
“Charlton Heston died”
“Hello? Aunt Pat? Is everything OK!? Who died?”
“I told you, Charlton Heston died” she sounds annoyed yet strangely amused. My spider senses are awakening.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear about that”
“Don’t you watch the news?”
“Yes I watch the news but not yet today, it’s very early you know”
“Well I thought I’d call before I went to church”. I’m awake now. Anytime Auntie can get death and church into the first 30 seconds of a conversation I know it’s time for a full alert. When I was a teen we argued over everything – clothes, politics, music, movies, and most of all religion. When my multi-racial son was born we added race to the line-up.
Aunt Pat is in her 80s. I think. There is much mystery surrounding my Mother and her siblings. I didn’t know until my Mom died that she had actually been born two years earlier than we had been told, and on a different day. To this day no one has come up with an explanation for that. To honor their Mother, my beloved Nana, I learned as I got older to not sweat the details. “Born, schmorn” Nana would have said. “You’re here aren’t you!?”
Another one of Nana’s pearls was – “What a shame to get older and not be any wiser”. She would say that as we sat in the old neighborhood park where she was routinely snubbed by the other ladies because she was Jewish and had married a Christian. I think free-spirited living skips a generation in my family. Nana – open to all, embracing the world in all its colors and religions and opinions. Her children – closed and cautious and suspicious of the world. Then came me – the only grandchild she lived to know, the one she called “Schmutz Face” and the one she swore she had known in a previous life. And now I watch my son become somewhat prudish and I see him roll his eyes at some of my opinions, much the way my aunts and uncles did with Nana. My grandchildren are going to be a blast!
“You always hated Charlton Heston”.
“Are you talking about when I was a kid? That was 40 years ago, how do you remember that?”. “Plus I never hated him, he scared me, he gave me the creeps and you always made me watch his movies”.
“The man was a saint”. I am frantically trying to recall whether Aunt Pat and I have ever had a discussion (argument) about guns and the NRA. Damn the early hour. I need coffee for this.
“I’m going to light a candle for him this morning”. “Do you know the candles are $10 now! That new pastor raised the price, he’s a thief”. I want to remind her that I have always said that the church is far too materialistic but I want to avoid – “you really should show some respect”. That never leads to any place good.
I tell her that I think it’s lovely that she will be lighting the candle for Heston.
“He’s in heaven now” she assures me. “Where he belongs”. “I know you don’t believe in heaven but I do”, her tone gets a little cranky and my nerve endings are screaming for coffee and a way out. I try, for the umpteenth time, to tell her that it’s not a problem that we don’t believe the same things.
“So, you still believe in reincarnation? Like the Buddhists and the Communists?”
I fight the urge to mention the Hindus and I let the Communist label slide. “I don’t know if you can call it reincarnation exactly. I believe that all forms of life have energy attached to them and that energy never dies, it takes new forms”.
I entertain myself by imagining Charlton Heston’s energy come back as a small bird at an elite hunting club or maybe as a terrorized child hiding under a desk while gunshots scream around him.
“Are you listening to me!”
“I am, I am, just a little sleepy, where were we?”
“Charlton Heston and you being scared of him, I watched his movies all night. I have all of them on DVD, in a beautiful gift box” she speaks so lovingly of her collection.
“I know you do” and I don’t bother telling her the DVD’s were a Mother’s Day gift from me. I put them in a giant hat box covered in tulips. It was the closest thing I could find to the hat box Nana treasured for years and years.
“Took you forever to find that hat box didn’t it?” – Aunt Pat has an incredible knack for being in my head at times. I laugh and tell her it did but it was worth it. I can hear her smiling.
“What’s that noise” she barks, never one to leave a nice moment alone.
“It’s the new cat” I tell her, “she’s crying for breakfast”. “It is very early you know”.
“Another rescue huh?” “You were always like that, finding things and animals and riff-raff , you had to save everything and everyone”. “Your Grandmother was like that”.
Memories are flowing back and forth across the phone lines, across the miles and across the generations.
“Nana was special” I say quietly and Auntie agrees. She tells me she needs to get going for church, she has to make the earliest mass otherwise she gets confused and might end up in the Spanish mass again.
“It’s full of those Mexicans” she tells me. Let it slide, let it slide.
“OK, enjoy mass and light the candle; it will make you feel better”.
“How do you know I need to feel better?” – she sounds surprised and annoyed. I didn’t know I knew she needed to feel better until I did so of course I can’t explain.
“Just figured you were upset about Charlton Heston” – it sounded lame even to me.
“Well he was Moses you know” she laughs, pleased with her sarcasm. “I just got to thinking about your Grandmother and that made me think of you and I was feeling old and out of touch”.
“You are old and out of touch” I laugh back, “I’m old so you’d have to be very, very old wouldn’t you?”
“You really should show some respect” and we both laugh. And I tell her I love her and she tells me I am a good girl, a pain in the “tush”, but a good girl.
“I’m going to be late for church”.
“OK, I’ll call you next Sunday, early!. Have fun at church and tell God I said hello”
“You really should show some … I Love You, Bye”.
Love You Too Auntie.
I’m so glad this was one of the posts I started and then dropped. Originally it was all about Heston and guns and the NRA and my old arguments with my Aunt. I became exhausted by writing it and it didn’t feel right.
If it doesn’t feel right don’t do it – that’s what I always say. Actually I have never said that but I’m going to start.
So I left it alone and then I had a dream about Nana. Nothing spectacular or earth shattering, just a sense of Nana’s smile, I heard her voice – thick with her Russian/Yiddish accent, I could smell her – she always smelled like flowers and cookies. She didn’t garden or bake so go figure. I felt her feeling at peace. And I heard her say my aunt’s Russian name.
Nana would be so pleased that I didn’t argue with Aunt Pat. I think it was Nana who made me know that Auntie needed to feel better.
I’m going to call Aunt Pat every Sunday morning – early!
Note: the image is of a painting by ‘Harriet Wiseman’ that I found here
It looks a bit like us.