Sarah Palin is everywhere. On every magazine cover, every TV screen, and now she’s taken over my entire incoming email, plus my phone calls and conversations. Everyone wants to talk about Sarah. I still have a lot to say–but I planned to take the weekend off. So it was a relief this morning when,as predicted, my Aunt Helen called, and we did NOT discuss Sarah. Even though at 90, she is better informed than most people, probably including the Governor of Alaska. Today we had other fish to fry—she has no computer and I wanted to tell her about my “aunt-rant” (as I think of it.) Aunt Helen is not my real aunt, but as my mother’s close friend, she knew my mother’s sister–and I read yesterday’s blog about my mother over the phone, both of us in tears.
Then, as promised, and to prove I do NOT procrastinate about everything, I called my Aunt J.
I reached her husband (I’ve never met this one but have known 2 others). He sounded nice, told me she was asleep, not feeling well lately, and warned me that she has some dementia. I was kind of relieved —it would make an awkward conversation easy and fast, and my aunt might not even remember who I was.
I called back two hours later. She was awake. Very. “Is this who I think it is?” her voice was the same as ever. “I love you, Darryle. I’ve ALWAYS loved you.”
No dementia there. She meant it. In her own way, it was true.
She said the same exact thing when we said goodbye. In between, we shared family updates. The last time my Aunt J saw my sister, she was a teenager. I told my aunt my sister just became a grandmother. At another point, she asked about my brother, a doctor, who was 13 when our mother died. Her words were so poignant they were almost funny. “Always stay in touch with him,” my aunt advised. “You’re like a mother to him.”
People often remark as they get older, “I’m becoming my mother.” I would have liked a preview for myself–but there’s no way my aunt provides any clue–she and my mother were polar opposites all their lives. I wouldn’t have traded anything about who they were—except that my aunt has evaded the cancer gene for 84 years…and lived to see 3 great-grandchildren. That hurt.
She isn’t taking much joy in her longevity these days. “I feel ready to die,” my aunt said. “And I know I’ll die soon.” Although in the next breath, she asked me to be sure to call again. I have a feeling this was not the last time I’ll talk to Aunt J. And I’m glad I called.
Except for one lingering issue that’s a bit of a dilemma. After a lifetime of little or no communication with my 3 aunts, now another aunt has also reappeared, from my father’s side: my aunt E is reading my blog. Who knew 80 year olds are on the internet?
This was unsettling at first. Not due to her age. Or her politics. (We haven’t discussed Sarah yet .) My problem with Aunt E reading my blog is religion.
But unlike my parents, by mid-life, my uncle and Aunt E became Orthodox Jews—and spent half the year in Israel. Although both brothers are gone now, I wasn’t sure how Aunt E would handle blogs about my marriage to a Christian--and my daughter’s marriage–a scene out of “Meet the Fockers.”
Aunt E hasn’t mentioned those blogs, though she sends wonderful and witty comments by email. When she read about my mother, Aunt E asked me to send her regards to my Aunt J if I ever did call her, and she was proud of me for being forgiving.
I’m hoping Aunt E will be forgiving too when she finds out this last little twist. Which is extra ironic after reading the comment yesterday from a childhood friend, describing Shabbat dinners in our house. My mother’s sister is no longer Jewish. Years ago, she became a Christian. So did her two children. I speak to her daughter every few years. And today I learned for the first time that my aunt’s son, my first cousin, is a very prominent writer/lecturer in the Christian community, writing about the relationships people have with God. I’m not sure what Aunt E will make of that.
It just goes to show how much diversity can exist even in one small family–all blood relatives of mine—that includes Orthodox Jews, devout Christians and everything in between. It’s not how I imagined my family, but it’s an increasingly common picture. And I believe it indicates how tolerant we all need to be. Because I can assure you that in addition to everything else that I didn’t expect, I never signed up for this.
Whew. Life can be complicated. Tomorrow I’m going back to politics.