A Parent Just The Same
"I live with my mom and my aunt."
That's what I said for most of kid life (because it was just easier to explain) until I hit my late teens and that seemed like too much of a mouth full - "my mom and my aunt".
So I shortened it - to what I felt to be wholeheartedly true - "my parents".
I don't remember my Aunt Cardie's grand entrance into our family living together. She was always just there. I could throw at you a thousand stories but her arrival came during that time where your brain just doesn't save those memories permanently to the hard drive. My point is that I was young - young enough to have this sense that she was around for practically my entire life.
When the memories start becoming stronger (and not just passed down stories), the first thing that pops into my head is the morning ritual my aunt and I had. Before heading off to school and work, we would get ready together. This is when I was first introduced to the power of song. She started off with teaching me a few musical numbers (Oklahoma in particular!) and then one day I came to her with a challenge.
"I have to learn the Preamble to the United States Constitution and recite it to my teacher."
She didn't skip a beat. In her repertoire of music, she remembered the School House Rock jingle that boasted every word of the Preamble. It took me less than a week to learn and I proudly marched up to my teacher and recited what I practiced with my aunt. I didn't have the guts to sing it but I got it out just the same. The power of music people - it works.
Around age nine, my aunt and I started a new tradition - Sunday grocery shopping. My mom gets hives when she enters a grocery store (although she has been really good about it recently!) so my aunt and I took on the task. We held this tradition for almost 18 years. We had a brief hiatus during my college years and when I spent a year in Florida but we picked it right back up when we came together again in Tennessee. The grocery store brings a sense of calm for me and I think it was all those years of strolling the aisles with her .
We started off just grocery shopping. But then somewhere along the way we picked up breakfast out for bagels and menu making. Two Sundays before she died, we were doing just that. We dropped the menu making and stuck with bagels and chatting - and then of course grocery shopping to follow. One of our most memorable trips was earlier on in Pennsylvania. This was the grocery shopping only phase so we browsed around and then checked out. This was during the check paying days. I remember her flipping to her ledger, writing down the total and then filling out the check. It was a very fascinating process for a young person. Although, on this particular day, she forgot the checks. She looked at me and then the cashier and then back at me and said she was going to get the checks at home. With a cart full of groceries, she parked me on a bench next to the check out stand and asked me to wait until she returned with payment. Since we had been frequenting this particular grocery store for a few years now, the employees were kind and kept a close eye on me. I don't think she forgot her checkbook or form of payment ever again. Ha!
I have many more memories of her that I think I will share over time but the point of all of this is that she wasn't just a distant relative. She wasn't somebody I saw every couple of years on Christmas. She was a real deal parent. On the Saturday before she died, with very close family surrounding her that traveled from Seattle, Denver and New York, a doctor still asked us when her husband was going to arrive. With five extremely close family members, this is what he asked us. I wanted to shout - all of us, we are ALL her husbands. If the guy you are imagining is not here at this point, the point where you are telling us she has a 1% chance of living, then he is not worth your time or consideration anyway. Can you tell this comment rubbed me the wrong way? In retrospect, after months of fuming, it is entirely possible that what he was trying to do was make sure that all significant parties were in attendance. The room was tight and this was probably his first and last visit with us before the next round of doctors came in.
Our family dynamic isn't conventional (but who's really is?) so when the world sees her as an "aunt" - I am all too happy to jump in and prove that she is a parent to me just the same.