21 Feb 2018 21:56:18
aunt died the last week of November. What stands out, of course is that the
holiday season began somewhere near that week?—?perhaps the next.
Without a substantive pause, we made cookies, cut down our tree and wrapped the
staircase with a rope of garland.
And the beat goes on.
Some 5 months earlier I was inside her home, performing my annual act of unlocking her plastic shed in the backyard and hauling her two hulking air conditioning units into her rented 1950s bungalow in Ferndale, Michigan. It was our thing. I felt like she looked forward to ‘air conditioner day’ like a kid does Christmas morning and me?—?well, I though it the “right thing to do”. Maybe I thought more of it at the time?—?I don’t know. But I did it and although I didn’t always want to, once I was there, it felt like I was connecting to a part of my past I could not find anywhere else.
To be truly honest, my Aunt was somewhat of an outsider in our family. She liked living alone and generally keeping to herself, the better part of her life. Certainly, for the early part of her life, anyway. The distance she imposed left her 70-some years old and looking to reconnect with her family. I was a part of that re-connection.
Walking into the home, your first step was right in the living room. The decor of the house?—?not counting the general uncleanliness (the home was long overdue for a deep clean) could be described as “disorganization with a tinge of vintage and tacky love”. The kind of décor that you smirk at on the surface, but over the years, grow an appreciation for. I continue to be infatuated with the things that we keep around in our homes.
After the air units were lugged to their place in the kitchen and bedrooms windows?—?the same routine now for 6 or so years?—?I would sit on her couch and being our dialogue. The damn 5 pound dog would jump up on me and with hyper-persistence, try to kiss or lick or do something of the like to my face. I would casually push the thing aside until my aunt would call it over.
At some point in all of our conversations she would almost always tell me that she regretted the way she was?—?the way she kept away from the family and did her own thing. Further, we would talk about her perspective of growing up with my grandparents, uncles and my mother. I would do a lot of listening. These felt somewhat like a Penance for her. When it came to the topics of close family members, I did a fairly good job of not buying into the baiting questions?—?when she would see I was not hooked, she would change the subject. In total however, I would listen with care?—?a pensive care I felt she received from no one else. We all want to be heard and she was no different. We would sit among her disarray of mail, diet Coke cans and in more recent years, bottles of pills. I enjoyed those talks in that living room.
Like I said, I have been running with this routine at her home for 6 years now. Over that time and in that home, I have observed her battle with aches and pains?—?her battle with getting old. The aging knob turned significantly this year to Cancer.
“I just want to feel normal again?—?when am I just going to feel normal”. I will not forget those words as I sat in that couch. I knew this was the last place she would life her life?—?there would be no senior living. Of all the apartments and homes she had lived in over the years, this bungalow was her last one. I could not pick up the cancer and put it away in that plastic shed. If she knew it, she didn’t act like it?—?but she was not going to get better.
After the funeral, we cleaned up the house?—?it is stunning how much one person can keep in a 900 square foot home. Anyone who has cleaned out a home after a loved-one has passed, will start to see their junk as memories and footnotes to their life. She was no different. It was sad clearing out her house?—?I think it always is when someone dies.
BrickStory is very much about telling the story of the American home and is often associated with 6,000 square foot Victorians, hulking Romanesque mansions, etcetera?—?but it’s the homes we live in, build our little lives within and memories of the moments lived there that are by far the most abundant. These mean quite a bit to us. The living room, the conversation, that bungalow?—?that is the place that I will remember most when I think of my Aunt. That is our little brickstory.