My grandma’s last surviving sister, Aunt B., died last week.
While she was very different from my grandmother, I hadn’t realized how I had found her life to be a connection to my past until now.
There were three sisters who grew up on the wild prairie in a painstakingly-built and beautiful stone house. My grandmother was the oldest. Then my aunt B and the baby aunt L. The three girls had a reputation of being beautiful and intelligent.
My grandfather’s folks thought my grandmother a bit wild, which just shows how Puritan they were. My grandmother’s wildness came in her quiet but wicked sense of humour and her love of literature, learning, and flowers.
This she shared with all her sisters.
Aunt B was the only ‘city girl’ who moved to a small prairie town. Interestingly, most of her grandchildren live and work in the country. She loved books, but her speciality was history. She helped found and run the local museum. Her house was a museum and one guest room was only to be looked at since it was actually a display.
Aunt L also loved books. She read philosophy, politics, and erotica (according to her extensive collection of books I loved to skulk through; I doubt her family had any idea of what she read). Her grandchildren are white collar professionals and success is the word to describe them. Well, business success anyways.
My grandmother always quoted humorous stories and poems. I discovered forgotten fairy tales and autobiographies such as Black Like Me at her house. She encouraged imaginations and experimentation. Her grandchildren pursued higher education in the humanities and mathematics. (Yes, they are related in that they use language to explore the substance and meaning of the universe.)
My grandmother’s house was never neurotically neat and tidy like her sisters’. In fact, ‘neat and tidy’ would not have been appropriate at all. But, it was alive. Her gift was community. While her sisters got involved in community organizations, my grandmother got involved in people’s lives. Quietly and deeply.
Aunt L was the brilliant and fluttering one. Always on the go, collecting awards and accomplishments. A big flashy peony.
Aunt B was the steady one. You could count on her like clockwork. Always ready to welcome you into an immaculate kitchen full of food, never late and always with a joke to share. A reliable morning glory.
My grandmother was the wildflower. At first, unnoticed, but unforgettable. Full of secrets, mischief, knowledge and an everlasting love. As evidenced by the number of people who came to her funeral.
Part of me wants the success and accolades that Aunt L earned in her life. Another part wants the security and steadiness of Aunt B with time to just enjoy hobbies. Part of me mourns the lost dreams I imagine my own grandmother to have. Most of me rebels against choosing a life of continual giving I perceived in her.
Can I have success and follow academic dreams without short-changing my family? At the end of life, what becomes the most important?