My Aunt Ruth is gravely ill… an all-of-a-sudden blast out-of-no-where of how-can-this-be?
This is Aunt Ruth. Lively. Funny. Vibrant. Opinionated. Beautiful. Brilliant. The rock, the glue, the very legs of my Mom’s family…
I got the message about Aunt Ruth from her granddaughter, my cousin Gina, two days ago. Yesterday, I drove my Mom the hour north to a hospital in Boston where Aunt Ruth, my Mom’s baby sister, lay fighting for her life in a CCU.
My Mom is a rock in a crisis. It’s in her genes. She listens, assesses, thinks, assesses, listens, thinks and acts. I think this kind of strength is born in you… but even this great strength cracked for a moment… a brief moment… as my Mom grasped her sister’s hand… and then my Mom composed herself as she softly, softly, talked to her sister, her baby sister… talked to her as if Aunt Ruth was listening… answering…
Aunt Ruth is 11 years younger than my Mom. Aunt Ruth is the baby of my Mom’s siblings. First, there’s Uncle Ed, a WW II Veteran, who is 90 and living in Florida. Barry and I visited Uncle Ed a bit over a year ago and he’s as dapper as ever… fun, funny, witty, handsome. Then there’s my Mom. She’s 86 and still the fitness guru and fashionista of the family. Next came a baby girl named Dorothea… a baby girl my Nana told me so much about… how she was born very sick and died at 3 months. I know now that my Nana never fully recovered from that tragedy.
Uncle Bob came next. Uncle Bob was quite the athlete in his day, served in WWII and will still give you the shirt off his back. Uncle Bob owns and lives in the same house he grew up in… the very house my Mom and all of her siblings grew up in… the home that I visited and stayed overnight in countless times during my childhood. The same home I visited yesterday to pick up my cousin Carolyn’s daughter Gina… before we headed to the hospital. My Nana lived in that same house until the day she died at age 82.
After Bob came 3 girls… Jean, Joan and Ruth… in quick succession. Jean was the dreamer, I think… the romantic, especially about her husband, Uncle Ed… the romance novel, soap-opera aunt. Aunt Jean was a widow at age 36… a widow with 3 young children. Aunt Jean died in 2004.
Aunt Joan, as my Mom describes her, is the “beauty of the family.” Aunt Joan has the softest voice, the most intensity as she listens… and suffered the most unthinkable pain when her daughter Cathy, my cousin, died after suffering unthinkable pain with breast cancer.
Then Aunt Ruth. Aunt Ruth was only 16 or 17 when I was born. My first memories of Aunt Ruth swirl around her beauty. I always thought Aunt Ruth was the most beautiful woman in the entire world… with her blonde hair and perfect posture and incredibly contagious laugh. Aunt Ruth loved dogs, too… she still does. I think of Aunt Ruth whenever I think of my Jane and her love of dogs. When I was little, Aunt Ruth had a boxer named Dutchess. Aunt Ruth adored Dutchess. I was terrified of dogs back then… but Aunt Ruth never forced me to go near Dutchess and she never chastised me for my fears. My cousin Debbie LOVED dogs, too. Debbie is a bit younger than me and I always marveled at Debbie’s courage around dogs. Aunt Ruth told us that she named Dutchess after Debbie (the “D”) and the “shuss” sound after me, Sharon.
I’ve always remembered this.
Aunt Ruth is TALL in my family… mostly because everyone else is not. My Mom is the tiniest sister and Aunt Ruth is the tallest. Aunt Ruth also has the L-O-N-G-E-S-T legs! I still remember my Dad telling me that Aunt Ruth had “perfect legs”! Hmmmmmm. And you know what? She does!
I remember one day back in… oh, 1957?… when my cousin Debbie and I were playing with my younger brother’s stuffed animal in one of the bedrooms in my Nana’s house. We were throwing it way up high toward the ceiling. Well, one toss landed that stuffed animal right inside the light fixture… where we stared and stared at it until we heard footsteps running toward the room. The animal was singed… smoking, actually. The footsteps were parents, horrified parents, and aunts and uncles. But I still remember Aunt Ruth making us lunch that same day… calm, beautiful…
My family moved to California when I was almost 6 years old. The following summer, my Nana, Aunt Ruth and my Mom’s cousin Claire flew from Boston to visit us. None of them had ever been on an airplane…
I got to spend one week… maybe two… with these favorite women in my life. I remember Aunt Ruth’s blonde hair, her bobby-pins, her white button-down sleeveless blouses, her laughter, her shorts, her hugs… to this very day. I remember Aunt Ruth telling me that she wasn’t an “ANT”… she was an AUNT. Seems I had picked up a west-coast accent that first year. I will NEVER forget that… ever… and I never used the pronunciation “ANT” for AUNT again.
It also seems that Aunt Ruth unwittingly broke me of my habit of sucking my thumb. I had a blankie… I still remember it. I was 6 years old and still very attached to it AND my thumb. I distinctly remember my Mom telling me that Aunt Ruth would be surprised to see my sucking my thumb… and I stopped. Just stopped. I remember this like it was just yesterday.
We also did so much sight-seeing when these favorite women visited. I remember being terrified of the lighthouse we visited… and Aunt Ruth holding my hand while walking me around the railing on the second level… staring out as far as the eye could see, but feeling so safe locked in her hand.
Yesterday, holding Aunt Ruth’s hand while she lay in her hospital bed… these memories came flooding back. Aunt Ruth’s hands helped me lose some of my childhood fears way back then and everything seemed to be part of the same moments… like the universe was swirling back to the past and then back to the present… simultaneously. I could still see Aunt Ruth’s freshly ironed white blouses and hear her incredible laugh…
I remember dancing in our California living room with Aunt Ruth, Nana and Claire. I think these were the happiest times for my Mom, too… her family all the miles across the country, with us, in our tiny living room… dancing. I treasure these memories.
I remember getting a phone call in that same little home in California… telling us that Aunt Ruth had gotten married… eloped, if you will… to a man named Charlie. Do I call that guy Uncle Charlie? I remember thinking.
Then my family moved back to New England when I was 9… New Hampshire… and we would see my Mom’s family often. I met the Charlie-guy that I would call Uncle Charlie soon after we arrived from our cross-country trip. My cousin Debbie had already told me all about Uncle Charlie and how nice he was and all that… and I remember being rather put-off and actually envious that Debbie knew this guy Charlie who had stolen Aunt Ruth’s heart.
Then I met Uncle Charlie. I will say here that I remember the moment, again, like it was today. I was standing in the doorway of my Nana’s hallway and Aunt Ruth and Charlie walked in the front door of my Nana’s home. Uncle Charlie was probably my first crush… oh, my… he was the most handsome man I had ever seen. Of course, I didn’t know anything about crushes or stuff like that… but I could see why Debbie was so enamored.
Uncle Charlie and Aunt Ruth would welcome Debbie and me into their lives and into their home for weeks at a time in the summer… cook-outs, walks to the Metropolitan Pool where Uncle Charlie would pick up Deb and me and toss us multiple feet into the air and to the other side of the pool. Uncle Charlie was a kid at heart and we loved him! Uncle Charlie would make his famous “tah-tah” sauce that I can still taste today. I think “tah-tah” was “tarter” now that I’m all grown up… but Uncle Charlie grew up on Long Island and had the best accent of anyone I’ve ever known. Oh, man… I remember those summer days with Aunt Ruth & Uncle Charlie. Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you that Uncle Charlie pronounced my name “SHAAA-ron”… extreme emphasis on the first syllable. I still love to think of Uncle Charlie saying my name.
Then. THEN. One day Uncle Charlie told us that Aunt Ruth was expecting a baby. WHAT? What would become of Debbie and me and our place in the family of Aunt Ruth & Uncle Charlie if their BABY was coming? I still remember being… well, jealous. Then Carolyn (Uncle Charlie pronounced her name “CAH-lyn”) came along… a precious little bundle of baby that Uncle Charlie just fell in love with. OK. I couldn’t help but loving Carolyn, too. And Aunt Ruth & Uncle Charlie STILL invited Debbie and me to stay with them for a couple of weeks each summer.
Two years later, a baby boy, Chuckie, was born. By then, Debbie and I spent summer weeks with our Nana at her house, just a few blocks away. After all, we were nearing teenage-hood and Nana was a teeny more lenient in letting us go…
(These are stories for another time… yikes. Right, Debbie?)
I’m not sure when, but many, many decades ago, Aunt Ruth & Uncle Charlie with CAH-lyn and Chuckie would move into the hugely spacious 2-story apartment above my Nana… where Aunt Ruth and Carolyn still live today. My Uncle Charlie died several years ago after suffering with cancer. Sad, sad, sad…
Yesterday, helping my Mom walk up the front staircase of her childhood home, memories came surging back to me from places far, far away and long, long ago. I remembered years of Thanksgivings, Christmases, Easters, Mothers’ Days, summer days with Debbie, snowy days, sunny days, happy days, unthinkably sad days. Generations of babies napped on that front porch. Parents pushed strollers, kids pulled wagons and rode tricycles and played ball on the sidewalk in front of that porch. Inflatable pools were set up on the side lawn. I did all of these things…
I remember sitting on my Nana’s front porch with her as she smoked her Lucky Strike cigarettes… as she told beautiful stories of her children, her 2 boys, her 4 girls and of Dorothea. My Nana remembered all the girls who fell in love with her sons and all the girls’ suitors. I remembered sitting on that same porch after my Dad’s funeral… pouring with tears like a river that I thought would never end… and my Aunt Ruth & Aunt Joan coming to comfort me. Both of them had lost their Dad young… my Mom was 18, Aunt Joan was 9 and Aunt Ruth was 7… when my grandfather died of lung cancer after serving years in the Brighton, MA Fire Department. They knew this pain.
So much happiness and so much pain have been both celebrated and healed on that front porch with the same screens from forever ago. My Mom walked down those steps on her way to her wedding… and 25 years later as a widow. I remember my Uncle George, my Nana’s brother who was legally blind and lived with her, tapping his stick along those same sidewalks on his way home… sometimes humming and most always talking to himself.
I always remember Aunt Ruth as part of that house…
I think if I could sum up Aunt Ruth… she makes me laugh. She makes my Mom laugh. She is succinctly accurate in her assessments of people, she is honest to the core, she is still beautiful and has the best posture… and she LOVES from her heart. LOVES. LISTENS. LOVES.
I owe my colorful language to my Aunt Ruth and I remember the first time I heard something so wildly funny that I knew I had to say things like that when I grew up! I was in the back seat of a car driven by my Uncle Charlie. Someone cut him off. Aunt Ruth let go a tirade of prime choice words that colored my life and my language… ’til this very day!
My mind was a tapestry of thoughts yesterday.
Gina greeted us at the door… tears of worry, pain, hope even, streaming from her eyes. Hugs. Big, strong hugs. I walked into the parlor and there was Uncle Bob, in Nana’s chair. It took me aback to see how much Uncle Bob resembles my Nana.
I walked down Nana’s hallway and passed the bedroom where Debbie and I tossed that stuffed animal into the light fixture… and further down the hall to the bedroom where Nana slept AND brushed the hair of her daughters Rita, Jean & Joan as they went off to marry the men they loved.
I walked into the kitchen where Aunt Ruth made us lunches so many, many times… but the time I remember best is the stuffed animal fire day.
I thought oh how I love this house with all the memories locked into its walls and how these memories walk through doors and into windows and sit on that cozy front porch. This home was built by my grandfather and never, ever has it belonged to anyone else.
I could SEE my Nana, my Dad, my Uncle Ed and Uncle Charlie. I could see my cousin Cathy and my Mom’s cousin Claire, who was just like a sister to the 4 sisters who lived in that home. Yesterday, I felt in that big old homestead in the city a sense of all the people, the angels, the love, the making and living and loving in that home.
And I never, ever, ever thought Aunt Ruth would not be there to greet us at the door… the rock, the glue, the very legs of this family with her great laugh, great wit, great vitality.
My Mom, Gina and I then headed the short drive to the hospital where we met Carolyn, Chuck and his wife Diane, and my cousin Debbie… and Uncle Bob would come a bit later.
I pray. Everyone who knows me knows that I pray. I believe in prayer and the love and connection it brings to God, to the universe, to the angels, to the living.
I pray that Aunt Ruth opens her eyes, wakes up and fully recovers to the great love of her family. I humbly ask that you pray for my Aunt Ruth, too. She’s a fighter… a feisty Lady with a heart of gold and a will of steel… but Aunt Ruth needs our prayers.
It is so funny how we carry around so many memories in our heads and hearts… but we don’t often enough put them to words. I don’t think I’ve ever told Carolyn, Gina, Chuckie or his kids these memories of Aunt Ruth & Uncle Charlie that I hold so dear and that helped shaped my very life.
I don’t think I’ve thanked Aunt Ruth enough for her love and concern and care for my Mom, her big sister. Aunt Ruth is who sends to me the greatest, most brilliantly written emails IN ALL CAPS… and who is my rock, my glue, my legs when my Mom isn’t feeling well.
I wanted to take TIME to tell of my beautiful Aunt Ruth and what she means to me. And I know that one day soon she will read this for herself and KNOW that her TIME with me means EVERYTHING to me.
And next summer we’ll sit on the front porch and I’ll tell even more…
I LOVE YOU, AUNT RUTH… XO! I LOVE YOU AN ALL-CAPS LOVE…