Talking to my Aunt

Post-vaccination, I made a recent trip to my parents’ house, the first since October 2020. I did the usual daughterly things: climbed a ladder to clean the gutters, sewed a quilt with my mom, got take-out for dinner, dusted the china.

Mom and Dad and I know what to talk about and what not to talk about. We have learned to avoid serving baited hooks to one another. The fact that Dad is hard of hearing and doesn’t like wearing his hearing aids makes this easy. I can always mumble my snarky reply to his latest FOX-inspired query, and when mom brings up Seuss, I make the sewing machine whir faster. We want to stay a family. I want to honor my friends who are deprived of inalienable rights by some of the policies the party not currently in power spews: LGBTQ friends, friends of color, friends of libertarian leanings, friends who want to shove that MyPillow guy into one of his own zippered cases, and friends who want to put a pillow over their ears and la-la-la into Spring.

I’m done trying to be all things to all people. I answer to Jesus, I want my family as a family, and I love my friends. I have begun ignoring those who scream I’m doing it wrong because I must choose truth and justice over family, or family over truth and justice. It’s come down to a case by case decision-making basis. No wonder we’re all exhausted.

Anyway, my aunt called while I was there. This is the aunt who bought us Christmas presents every year without fail. Snow White necklaces, fuzzy stuffed animals, our first watches. She and her husband ran a chain of stores similar to a Big Lots thing; they always had good stuff like Godiva Chocolates around, so of course she was our favorite. She was also the most fun. We did cool things we never told Mom and Dad about at her house. Mom’s still annoyed Auntie took me for an unauthorized haircut, but Auntie and I both knew the adhesive was never going to come out.

Auntie had mentioned to my parents a couple of times that she would love to hear from me, but did I get around to calling her? I did manage to drop a spontaneous card over the summer, which made me feel virtuous. So when Dad unexpectedly had her on the phone this recent trip, I asked to say hi.

We exchange how are yous and love yous and whacha been up tos, and then my aunt says, “I was rereading your book Little Bookstore the other day, and thinking about all Jack went through to be an American citizen, and got so mad. These days all anyone has to do is walk up to the border and they get right in. It’s awful, they’re rapists and murders, the lot of them.”

When I could speak again, I asked, “How is the food at your nursing home?”

She spit out more racism 101. In that gorgeous Midwestern accent so familiar to my childhood ears. The voice that said “wanna go to McDonald’s” when grandma made the hateful tuna casserole, and we snuck out of the house. The voice that asked, “Did you hurt yourself” followed by the laugh that let me know the broken lamp was of no consequence, after my sister and I faffed around indoors despite being told not to. It was an expensive lamp.

I stammered out again that I loved her, wished her well in recovering from the latest nursing home infection (not COVID) and gave the phone back to my dad.

Every day. Every day, we negotiate the edges. She’s in her ’90s. She was my childhood, she can’t be our future. I still love her. Dammit.

12 thoughts on “Talking to my Aunt

  1. Wonderful childhood memories! Is this the Aunt in Ohio?
    God bless you for keeping the politics out Of family conversation such a hard thing these days.
    Love and God’s blessings to you and your family all the family!

  2. Wendy, Thank you for articulating these edges, of navigating the paradoxes of humanity. Of the heartbreak and shock in navigating and *identifying* which edges to leverage and try to change and which to let be in peace. Thanks for reminding us readers of our own humanities and contradictions.

  3. Oye, how I can relate to this! I try to keep most of my beliefs to myself these days. I can change the subject like a boss! Or say, “Gee, look at the time, I have a roast in the oven MUST go! Love you ‘bye!”

  4. Decades ago I did work in nursing homes, but for another employer, so I could not debate when residents said racist things to me – white person to white person. But I had to reply but, for my soul, without seeming complicit. I would say, “That has not been my experience.” That was as far as I would go, and if they persisted, I’d repeat it up to two times and then just tell them, “Clearly we’re not going to agree here, so let’s talk about something else.” No one can argue with MY experience. I have used this reply, sadly, many times in the years since.

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