Wednesday, 14 April 2010

aunt marie

Last Sunday my sister Femke and I dedicated the day to visiting two old aunts.
Surprise visits, for they are 90 and 94 years old, and if they know you are coming, the stress is almost too much for them to bear.
We don't see them often, I am ashamed to say. Quite a drive, and then a good hour's distance between them.
Both still live independently, albeit in the shelter of an institution.
Small, modern little flats, more like bedsits, amongst the remnants of a whole life; bits of furniture, crockery, paintings.
It's depressing, is this what's left at the end of the day?
Aunt Marie, she remained childless,  has been a widow for many years. The last surviving of my step-father's siblings, her late husband was a keen antiques dealer.
What happened to all the beautiful pieces she once owned? There is not one thing in her home worth admiring. Ugly, sturdy ageless furniture, tired plants, a large outdated television. The view from her window, anonymous houses and boring little gardens, she must spend hours watching that, is giving away nothing.
It could be anywhere, it has no connection to her life as it was.

She is, very, surprised when we show up on her doorstep. We have obviously disturbed her routine and she is noticeably  struggling between the pleasure of seeing us and the fact that she'd just popped a pre-fab meal into the microwave.
Good manners prevail, of course, she is a very formal, stiff old lady. In spite of our protests to go ahead, tuck in, she sits down with us, relieved to hear we don't want anything to drink and are not staying for long.
We haven't really got that much to say and after the polite inquiries after her health and the extensive reply, it seems we have done our duty, on to the next.

Suddenly I realise this might be the last time we ever see her. When she dies all her memories go with her, there will be no-one left who knew my step-father as a boy, who can explain what it was like for them being adolescents during the 2nd world war, who was there when our family arrived in Holland after my daddy died.
There is so much I want to know, private, intimate things. But dare I ask, we have never been close.
Will she think I am cheeky or will she care to go back and reminisce?

Our stony, bourgeois step-aunt's face softened as she spoke of the secrets, the love and the shame she had met in her life. Behind the fa├žade of correctness and reservation was a woman who had lived and loved but had learned to keep these things to herself, whose stories shall soon die with her.

An irretrievable loss of precious knowledge, family history, hidden tales - what a pity.

I hope to see her soon again.
I'd like to get to know this distant old lady.

(to be continued)

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