Friday, October 13, 2006

Banner by Gladys (1918)

One Aunt - Now Gone

This is a true essay, though the names have been thinly disguised ..

My Aunt Madge died two weeks ago. Heavy all her adult life, she had melted down to just over 100 pounds. Kidney failure was the big problem, but there had been a litany of health disasters near the end. I didn’t see her during her final illness; our only contact these last few years had been Christmas greetings. Probably because I had not witnessed her decline, the news hit me hard. My Aunt Madge had never been the sick old lady type.

She and her husband, Uncle Harry, lived in a small city in central New York. I’ll call it Boster. They had two sons, Rod and Will.

My Aunt always had the brassy manner of a career fifth-grade teacher and sometime-performer in light opera theatricals. For instance, if she called your name and you responded “yeah” she would pretend she didn’t hear you. You could keep saying “yeah? yeah?” until the cows came home. Until you said “yes” she would just keep calling your name.

In his working days, Uncle Harry owned the furniture store in Boster. They lived in Boster’s best neighborhood in a sprawling flat-roofed house, ‘50s chic, derivative of Frank Lloyd Wright. One could easily imagine Gregory Peck wandering around the living room, mixing martinis. Of course, as owners of a furniture store, they had nice furniture. I saw the first VCR of my experience in their den. It was the size of a microwave and heavy as a cinder block. They had a little cloth doll labled “the flasher”. He wore a trench coat that opened to reveal he was anatomically correct.

Aunt Madge and Uncle Harry had a boat called the Globus. They had a pool table in their finished basement. They had a refrigerator with a built-in beer tap on the way to the pool table. They had parties. They had a van. They had a good time.

Aunt Madge was also prone to immodesty which I, something of a natural prude, found slightly alarming (witness, “the flasher”). I remember my aunt commenting my cousin Rod’s inability to waterski: “He’s like Crisco, too much fat in the can!” and letting out one of her braying laughs.

As kids, we got Christmas gifts from Aunt Madge year in and year out with the names of local banks on them and things recognizably used.

For a period after her retirement from school teaching Aunt Madge was the mayor of Boster. Her supporters put “Madge for Mayor” bumper stickers on their cars. She always wore a skirt and came to City Hall on a moped, with the skirt flying all around her. She conducted business on the City Hall steps.
My cousin Will once told me that Aunt Madge never once admitted to being wrong about anything, including things like dates of battles or state capitals.

I last saw Aunt Madge at a cousin’s wedding back in 1999. She looked the same as ever then, though slightly grayer. Uncle Harry, however, looked like he might fall over dead at any second. That “kegerator” had done its damage. He was enormously fat riding around on a scooter. I saw him again at her funeral. No change. That she departed this life before him is a source of family amazement.

The loss of my Aunt Madge brings home to me how long gone are the days of gathering round the Betamax and eight-ball versus the cousins in the basement. God only knows what happened to “the flasher”. I have been busy for years now with my own little children. In these last few preoccupied decades I haven’t taken much notice of those people and places of years gone by and now, too late, I am suddenly sorry.