I drove out to New Town Square today to visit my great-aunt Anne. This is not the first time I’ve written about visiting her, as it is always a bittersweet experience. When I view my time with her from one angle, I can recognize what a lovely and fortunate thing is it that I have this opportunity to really know her. She is the last surviving member of her generation in my family and she is smart, funny, sarcastic, loving, insecure (who thought you could still be dealing with insecurity in your mid-80’s?) and a font of interesting stories.
However, there’s another angle from which I perceive her and this is the one of obligation. Sometimes it’s hard to make the time to drive 45 minutes to see her. She talks constantly of wanting to die and is so angry to have gotten so old and be stuck in a body that is falling apart. For the last year, every time I’ve gone to visit her, she has mentioned how she thinks about killing herself, but she doesn’t really know how to do it, so is still alive. Spending time with her requires a mental shift, a lower gear into which a sandwich takes an hour and a half to eat and walking 12 steps is enough to bring on exhaustion.
Today it was fairly easy to be with her. I called before I headed out, to ask if there was anything I could pick up for her along the way. She requested some Breyer’s Vanilla Fudge Ripple ice cream (and if I wasn’t able to find it than nothing at all, please). I picked up two half gallons, as well as her standard tuna on wheat from Wawa (I am always amazed at how much pleasure that simple sandwich brings her). We sat and talked for a couple of hours, about life and its purpose, about trees and how their beauty can be threatening during a windstorm, about how she wishes she had gotten married and, as always, about how she would like to die.
Towards the end of the visit, she sent me downstairs to look around to see if there was anything I wanted to take with me. I poked a bit and discovered two bags of old pictures that were slowly curling and fading. We sat for awhile on the couch in the living room, looking at some of them, and talking about family. I took them home with me, to see if I couldn’t clean some of them up and stop the falling-apart process that they have embarked upon.*
Looking through them tonight has been a joy. I found pictures of my dad that I had never seen before. I discovered a tinotype of my great-grandmother sitting on her own grandfather’s knee. That makes him my great-great-great-grandfather. It boggles the mind a little. I also discovered my great-grandmother’s postcard album, in which all the postcards date from 1905-1907. It has made me giddy with excitement.
*To any members of my family who are reading this, I am happy to share the pictures and have no intention of hording them. I just couldn’t bear the idea of letting them continue to rot in the basement.
Aunt Anne at age 12
My dad’s brother Mike, my dad Mo, Lorna (Mike’s first wife) and Dick, my grandfather
Aunt Anne, my grandfather Dick and their brother Don in 1939
My mom with me at Aunt Anne’s house, when I was about three months old (it was the newest picture in the bag)