My paternal grandfather (who left my grandmother and their three sons when my dad was an infant) died seven years before I was born, when the controls of the plane he was flying locked and he was unable to steer out of the way of a mountain. My family spent many hours with my grandmother and the members of her extended family while I was growing up, but the people who my grandfather had called his family were rarely part of my life. Except for my Great Aunt Anne, my grandfather’s younger sister. She lived outside of Philadelphia with her mother (until her death in the mid 80’s) and then with her younger brother until his death several years ago. Aunt Anne sent birthday and Christmas cards to my sister and me throughout our childhoods that would always include checks for $10 or $15, drawn on the Bryn Mawr Trust.
Yesterday I drove out to her house in New Town Square with a new tv in the back of my car and a tuna sandwich on wheat from Wawa. The sandwich is my regular offering, the tv an 86th birthday surprise from the members of my family. She was equally excited about both.
Aunt Anne never married, but she fell in love twice in her life, both times with men she couldn’t have. Her first lover was her dentist, and years later, after their affair had ended, he apologized for the state of her teeth. He never drilled or filled her cavities, because he couldn’t bear to cause her pain. Her second lover was a man who worked with her at the newspaper. She tells me he would have left his wife for her, but she didn’t realize how much she loved him until after he died.
Aunt Anne hates President Bush passionately, and says she would like to die. All her friends are gone, with the exception of her best friend Doris, who lives in the city with her daughter and relies on a walker for mobility. She tells me that she’s thought about killing herself, but that she doesn’t want to suffer. And what would become of her cat?
I spent an hour and a half with her yesterday afternoon, singing happy birthday, setting up the new tv and talking about what happens to you after you die. She said I was a nut (but that it’s okay to be a nut, as long as you aren’t a walnut or a pecan) for getting a tattoo and that I should get married.
When I left, I made sure to tell her to call me if she couldn’t remember how to use the remote. I give her what I can in terms of time and energy, and I always leave knowing that it isn’t nearly enough.