Aunt Barbara was an amazing woman. She left her home in Jersey City at the ripe age of 19 and moved to Connecticut to live with Aunt Mary. I could not imagine leaving home at 19, 21, or even 25 for that matter when I married my husband. Life was too easy to leave. Aunt Barbara left. At 19. Connecticut wasn’t a foreign place for her. It was the home my grandmother, Aunt Mary, and their other siblings had grown up in. Well, it was modified a bit … there was running water and a bathroom INSIDE. Aunt Barbara made it work. She got a job, made friends, and established a life for herself; a life no one had known about until after her death. You see, Aunt Barbara was never one to speak about anything personal. I never thought anything of it growing up. After all, I was just a kid who loved spending summers on the farm; swimming, picking berries, hanging out in the tree house she built, while waiting for her to come home from work. She didn’t come home exhausted (or at least she didn’t show it); she didn’t walk in the door and complain we were being too loud; she didn’t say she needed time to unwind. Nope, Aunt Barbara tore off her work clothes, put on her painter’s clothes and we got to work. Aunt Barbara was an artist. That was her talent. Not working in a lab mixing medicine (which I though was amazing).
One particular summer each night we went to the local theater to work on the backdrops for one of her productions. (I wish I could remember the name. I’m sure she documented it somewhere. Something I never understood, until she died.) I felt so important working beside this woman, a famous artist. Well, she was famous in her small town and in my mind. Aunt Barbara loved the Arts. She loved sharing them with me as well. Even at 10 years old she didn’t think I was too young to see a small-stage production of “Barefoot in the Park.” Do you know, I still remember that play like I saw it yesterday? It wasn’t until I saw the movie version with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford years later that I understood it. But that didn’t matter. Aunt Barbara never thought twice about broadening my horizons. There were so many productions we had seen together.
Spending time with Aunt Barbara was precious. I understood that. She really was a special person. She was my best friend, my confidant, my advisor and now my angel. I know she is looking down on me and smiling. I hope that I am following in her tradition and exposing my girls to the many joys of life. I hope that I am as encouraging as she was. She was my biggest fan. I could do anything I put my mind to. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” she’d say.
Now I know why she prospered in life. Why she was happy and carefree. She never shared her dreams or thoughts with anyone. The world is full of haters. The world is full of jealousy. She lived in her little bubble of happiness. No one could talk her down, take her dreams away, discourage her from wanting more. She shared NOTHING. Sad? I think not! She opened herself up just enough to know her, to like her, and some even loved her and I’d like to believe that is all she needed in life. But they never knew what was deep inside. I think that’s my problem. I’d like to ask her advice on this. What would her answers be? “How did you feel when you could tell no one you’ve found love? How did you feel when your love died and you couldn’t attend his funeral? Who did you turn to? Why didn’t you pursue a career that used your talents? Did you really enjoy working in a lab? What was the real reason you left home at 19? HOW CAN I BE MORE LIKE YOU?”
Of course after her death, we found many of her notebooks and scraps of paper. I am so grateful she had notebooks filled with words: words of wisdom, random words, words I had written to her, words describing her dreams, words, and more words. Not only was she an artist but she was a writer as well. Who knew? Perhaps she was living vicariously through me or at least hoping to by encouraging my writing. There were so many things we did NOT know about her. To her sisters she was now a stranger. To me, she was everything I wanted and more. All the memories swirled in my mind, now making sense. Yes Aunt Barbara, you did the right thing. Keeping your life a mystery kept them on their toes. They dared not ask questions or meddle. You didn’t give them an opportunity. That is why life was blissful for you and everyone around you, right? So, how can I do that? The only mystery here is the absent remote control. Really, where the hell did the remote wander off to now?
Why do I feel the need to dig down deep and pour it all out? I’m deceiving no one. I think I might like looking down on my loved ones reading through my journals and seeing their expressions of awe, anger and maybe embarrassment (really, I can’t believe she DID THAT?). Who cares, I’ll be dead. Isn’t that what Aunt Barbara did? She enjoyed seeing our reactions and piecing things together. It was too late. She knew it and no one could ask questions and expect answers – she was dead. She lived her life exactly the way she intended right to the end. Bravo, Aunt Barbara.
I want to be more like you. I want to be courageous. I want to be confident with the decisions I make and the actions I take.
By the way, was your cup-of-care empty too? Aunt Barbara, I bet you were gladthisended!
P.S. I think you would be proud of me. I’m starting, slowly, to do what you encouraged me to do.