Friday, 16 April 2010

aunt hermine

Aunt Hermine is the only 94 year old I know whose hair never turned grey.
It was once striking, a pile of wonderful, chestnut brown shiny hair, like my grandmother's. The colour has faded and dulled, but not a wisp of grey. Unusual.

Aunt Hermine is unusual, she is a real character. My mum's eldest sister. Had she been young now she would have been someone to reckon with. A rock-bitch, a powerful business woman, a high class madame. Something outrageous.

Her husband, uncle Ad, a little younger, 88, but by no means a toy-boy. Never was - always the dependable, solid, slightly boring accountant. As kids we thought the most interesting thing about him was his glass eye.
He is said to be 99% blind now, so what does the 1% eyesight amount to?

Femke and I almost slunk away after ringing the bell. We waited for what seemed ages and were just deciding what to do now, when uncle Ad's voice came through the intercom, wanting to know who was there.
'Surprise! Your nieces, Femke and Katie.' Silence. 'Can we come in?'
'Suppose so' he says gruffly, as if we turn up on their doorstep every day. Haven't seen them for years.......
By the time we make it through the building's front door, reception, corridors, lifts etc they have regained some kind of composure and are standing at their open door.
I realise now, uncle Ad can't have seen us coming, aunt Hermine looked agitated and somewhat cross.
They were actually both dead pleased but taken off guard and our aunt always needs to be in charge.
10 years senior to my mum, who was in awe of her all her life. She used to terrify us when we were small but look at her now - a frail,old, bird-like lady.

She goes straight for the kill.
Her sharp beady eyes don't miss a trick and before we have our coats off she is interrogating us. Wanting to know about our families, our love lives, jobs and journeys.
It is amazing what she knows and remembers, as if we are all very much part of her life, she still wants to boss us around.
She cares. In her own obtrusive way, she is letting us know we are important to her.
And for the second time today I feel a pang of remorse. Family;  we too are responsible for these people, we share the same genes - I look at my aunt and see some of my mum. Tears well up.
Aunt Hermine must have been thinking along the genes line too when she approvingly remarked on Femke's bust and then sharply turns to me, pointing an accusing bony finger at my décolleté:
'And you' she says, 'aren't you done with that by now?'
Huh?  I look down to check my bosom, surely not that tacky?  A sideways glance at uncle Ad, he has an amused expression on his face. Ah, I'm sure he'd give an arm an a leg if he could see my, or anyone else's, cleavage.
 It is something short of a miracle the two of them are still together after more than sixty years. Uncle Ad could never curb Aunt Hermine's passion and waywardness, instead he turned a blind eye. No pun intended, but fitting, it seems.
And as the saying goes, an old fox never loses its tricks. Layed out on the table are aunt Hermine's water colours. The tubes twisted and the paint dry. She proudly talks of her arts teacher, the one she never met, the lessons are conducted by mail.
She is in love with him. She doesn't use those words but she doesn't have to.
It shows.
She casts a defiant look at us. Dare say she is a fool, too old to be in love, to be desirable.

Ah, aunt Hermine, she looks me straight in the eye and knows I know.
My heart goes out to her but I am proud of her, too. Till the very end, she won't give in, comply or deny who she is.
She will live her life, regardless of the waves, with what I can only call a wicked relish.

Our two aunties. Two very different women. Both special and worthwhile.

Femke and I drove back musing about the day, what took us so long to make the effort and how good it was to see them again.
We too had been surprised. We were impressed.

Funny how you sometimes overlook things, people, when they are right in front of you.
If only you could focus on what really matters.

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