For Aunt Margaret, who would have been over 100 years old today July 14.
And so it goes
the life running through our bones and our space and our blood
we create a structure full of ivory china laced with gold
and little pretty pots of flowers lining the shelf
real or fake, does not matter
our days go by, slowly some, swiftly others
the sun gleams into the living room, early morning
brisk, fresh air, we bake the cookies in late October to
be stored for the gift in late December
the spring comes with its sweet bird song
we visit Aurora to see the geese, so many geese
and Thursdays not spent there, spent somewhere
a luncheon, a shop, it goes on and on
and the structure we have made
Church on Saturday or Sunday
the neighbors, oh that Jody Rhode, what is he up to now?
no family to speak of, some connections down there in Binghamton
and slowly, we start to
until one day, we wake, and we pack for the hospital
no need to look back, we know that our journey’s end is here
and we know that the structure we leave behind
really never stood anywhere except in our mind.
The story behind this poem…
Aunt Margaret was our adopted aunt and she spent holidays and Saturday evenings with us throughout my childhood and into my thirties, when she died of old age. She treated us like family and we did the same. Aunt Margaret taught me many things over the course of my journey with her but most important, she showed me how important it is to be intentional.
Intentional in that what we do, say, write, and how we do it, counts, everything. I need to remind myself of her example. We need to think of the consequences of our actions and the feelings of others.
Every year at Christmastime, she asked me to go out to dinner or lunch with her one evening and help pick out gifts for her to give my younger siblings. I usually researched ahead of time and then brought a list with me. One specific year always comes back to me at Christmas.
It is cold out and dark, only the Christmas lights and lanterns shine in the town streets. Blustery, the snow kicks up into swirls on the road and sidewalks as we trudge from store to store, looking for the gifts. The gifts, one each for all five of us, will arrive on Christmas day, wrapped in paper and ribbons and little candies, each in different papers and each designed specifically for the recipient.
We walk down an alley way toward what was the Gorton Coy building and department store. To the right, we enter a charming little restaurant, I have no idea what the name of it is now and I do know it is gone, washed away like a lot of things during the Flood of 1972. We sit down to a prime rib dinner and there are little pieces of evergreen under a lighted candle in front of us. We chat about many things, stories told over and over, etched in my mind now.
Aunt Margaret adored her father, a German immigrant who made a lot of money in the stock market during the 1920s. You can see from the picture below that she was well taken care of, the fur around the beautiful little girl illustrates this point. She never mentioned that I recall, loosing so much during the Stock Market Crash of 1929, but it became obvious to me as I learned more about her. Aunt Margaret became for the times a big woman and a very devout Catholic, she never married. Her schooling must have ended at high school as she worked her entire life in a furniture store as a clerk. Just not the life I see for the little girl in the fur. Despite this, she never appeared bitter, just grateful for everything people did for her and for each day on the earth. Intentional in all her activities.
At the end of our dinner, she told me the story about why you must always come when your parents call you.
“I was playing with my friends and I heard my Father calling and calling me. I did not respond. He told me several times in the past this was not a good behavior and that he expected me to come when he called. I am about 12 when this happens and it is in the summer. ‘Margaret, Margaret, come home.’ I continued to ignore him.”
“Later that day, I arrived back to the house. Father looked at me and said, ‘You know that pony you wanted, well, it’s been here and gone. I told you young lady, to come when you are called.’ I felt bad but Father was correct.”
A little harsh in my mind given what we know about a 12 year olds natural proclivity to rebel against parents. All the same, it showed the consequences, not getting the horse, to the intentional behavior of not responding to her father’s request that she come home.
At the end of our meal, Aunt Margaret said to me, “This Christmas, I am going to give you a gift that you can keep forever and someday, you will hopefully, look back and say that my old aunt gave me this and you will remember me.”
We walked to the car and I said I was excited to get the gift. I waited patiently for it to arrive on Christmas day and as a girl, felt like I was growing up, when I opened it to find a beautiful engraved stone box for keepsakes. I think it is the only gift I have still from the Christmases of my childhood. I use it and I’ll never throw it out, I will just have to find someone to pass it to, along with the story of Aunt Margaret. Perhaps that was her intent.
©Claire A. Perez