When you reach a certain point in your life, you can’t ever really go home. Home becomes your daily life, even without kids of my own. California is home. Wherever Mariela is, is home now.
But we went to St. Louis and on a short tour of my family in the midwest this week. We rented the equally ridiculous car that we almost bought instead of our Mini convertible, a Jeep Sahara 4x4. It was so fun and enormous compared to our little Mini. But the top covers weren’t on quite right so it sounded so loud—like your head was outside the car window on the highway. After a few short highway trips we discovered the problem and after fighting to get the covers sealed, it was a much more enjoyable experience. But I have to say, It’s an awful lot of work for a glorified sunroof! My Mini drops the top on her own and at a stoplight. I just have to push a button, not crawl to the roof and fight with large ceiling panels. Whew, I know we made the right choice. I mean aside from the fact that the Mini is a rocket, it also just feels so much nicer. STILL, I want a Jeep now. Of course.
The point of all of that is that it was a perfect car for driving over the flooded Mississippi River and through extreme deer country. All of the flood waters have caused the deer populations to seek high ground—the roads were full of deer at 2am. Absolutely frightening.
This trip was to celebrate my Granny turning 80 years old! And it was also a feeble attempt to find some way to accept or ease my mind over the passing of one of the most important people in my raising…my Aunt Donna. I’ll be honest, I’ve been extremely depressed since we lost her in November. I cannot think about her without tears streaming immediately. I know she wouldn’t want that. She was one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. She only brought laughter and happiness (AND PHOTOS—lots and lots of photos) when she was around. I know she would want me to keep carrying on.
I always thought she was silly to have all of these cemetery plots for the family, but in my guilt of missing her funeral—it was the one place I could go to find peace, or so I thought. There was some relief to see her dirt square next to my Uncle’s grave, to know that their headstones would be fused into one soon. I placed flowers to hang over the two of them. I sat and cried into the mosquitoes and cleaned up their area before saying goodbye. I stopped in on Beulah, my Great-grandmother’s grave, watching over them nearby. Beulah was the head of this family of amazing sisters and one traveling uncle. My Grandma came from a large family of 6 girls and 1 boy. When I was a kid, my (great) Aunts were the core of our family. They kept us together because they needed to be together. They would bring their kids and dogs and pile into Aunt Donna’s house for holidays, summer cookouts or just to hang out and craft together. My Aunt Donna had a salon in a huge room off the house and they would all bleach, color, perm, braid and cut everyone’s hair, for sport. It was the best times of my childhood. They all have an Oklahoma twang and beautiful native-american influenced skin. They are strong and willful women that never accepted smack talk. They looked out for each other in ways that families just don’t anymore.
It shouldn’t be surprising, but it was kind of surprising to me that I found the most connection with Aunt Donna through her baby sister, my Aunt Nita. We stayed with her for most of our trip. When I was a kid, Aunt Nita was the coolest Aunt. She was military and my cousins got to live in amazing places like Hawaii and Germany. It was always so exciting to hear that Aunt Nita was coming home. It was a real reason to rollout the best and for everyone to try to get together. The aunts would make giant vats of potato salad and bust out the crafts!!! It was always a reason to celebrate. Aunt Nita and Aunt Donna were so close in age and in absolutely every way in life—even though their lives were opposite. The oceans and life experiences never kept them apart. They talked on the phone all the time and shared kids stories and craft obsessions. And they made time for each other whenever they could.
I think a lot of my sadness comes from her loss. I know how important my Aunt Donna was to her. But seeing her and hearing my Aunt Donna in her voice really started to heal my bruised heart. The last time I saw my Aunt Donna was sitting at Aunt Nita’s dining room table. I hugged her and told her I loved her… and never saw her again. This time, we sat in those same chairs and cried and laughed about Aunt Donna.
I feel so incredibly lucky to have walked in on Aunt Nita making one of her talk-of-the-town CAKES!!! I’ve only ever seen them in their magnificent final states, but this time we got to watch and learn from a cake master. Mariela frantically took notes and I tried to snap pictures and just enjoy the crafting magic once again of my aunt(-s). Mariela struggled to help turn the cake and Aunt Nita just laughed it off when she failed and her icing line broke. It was the best thing that’s happened all year. It’s my family line—broken and tattered, but patched together and continuing to delight with it’s own little bits of magic.
My Aunt Donna taught me that kids come first. She severed her relationship with my mom because of the way she treated us kids. We’re the opposite of my Grandma’s family—we were separated and never really raised in the same house. I have that staunchness from Aunt Donna and I carry it forward. As a result, I will never have the chance to be apart of one of my nephew & niece’s lives. That makes me sad because I know how important family is to my great-Aunts and Grandma. But kids come first and I will not apologize for standing up for the little guy. I would do it again. Today.
My brother and sister were too young or not there to see my Aunt Donna fighting for their futures. I saw in her the person that I wanted to be. Strong, unwavering and believing in something bigger than herself.
The other part of this trip that helped so much to heal my heart was the fact that my baby brother took his kids out of school for the day and drove them 2 hours to Granny’s birthday get together. I haven’t seen them in years. They barely know how/if we’re related, but that didn’t stop them from climbing all over us and wanting to find out! It truly meant the world to me to see them and I love him forever for it.
When I was a kid, I was so smitten with my Aunt Donna because of her camera. She had fun with it and made us have fun because of it. I always wanted to be THAT Aunt, ya know. Imagine my surprise that my wife was actually THAT aunt… The kids loved my camera right away. My niece pointed to it and wanted to see it. I showed her and let her take a photo, but when Mariela busted out the Instax Mini 90 Classic and handed it over to the kids…she became THAT aunt. She would reload it over and over with her special hand-checked film cartridges. She taught them double exposures and gave them their own photos to take home in their little pockets…
“It looks so OLD!” Lucas said kind of disgusted but amazed.
It was like the universe smiling at me in the best possible way.
My niece was standing in a group of tall adults. She looked a little unsure, so I reached out my hands to her just to reassure her and she jumped into my arms like we were connected souls. She reminds me so much of my brother at that age. I’m so incredibly grateful that he gave me that chance to see them. I hope we can make the future in each other’s lives somehow, even if it’s random visits from an aunt that lives far, far away. After all, that Aunt for me is the only one that could ease this burden right now.
Happy Mother’s Day to all my amazing aunts out there…and up there. I love you and all that you stand for.