A Gift

My Aunt Dickie — my mom’s youngest sister — was definitely her own person. Somehow, she liked me very much. I’ve thought since that as kids are growing up, they don’t know what adults see in them. The first mysterious experience I had with my Aunt Dickie was after my Aunt Kelly died. All this was sometime in the late 1970’s.

Aunt Kelly lived in New Mexico, Aunt Dickie in Montana and my mom and Aunt Martha in Denver. Aunt Dickie and Uncle Bob drove down in their motor home, picked up my mom and aunt, and went down to New Mexico together to the funeral.

I went over to my mom’s that afternoon to help her pack. I was going to stay at her condo and take care of Misty, the geriatric miniature white poodle of unparalleled courage, the heroic dog of song and saga. “Bob says we an only take as much stuff as fits in a boot box.” She was sorting clothes to fit into that comparatively small space.

The doorbell rang and my Aunt Martha came in, an overnight bag in her hand. “That wasn’t easy,” she said. My mom and aunt were very sad. Aunt Kelly had been their friend and champion in their childhood and they loved her very much. They started talking about Aunt Dickie’s complicated relationship with my Aunt Kelly. As the youngest of 10 kids, Dickie had grown up in a different world than my mom, Aunt Martha and Aunt Kelly. The older kids had contributed to the well being of the large family. Aunt Dickie had had piano lessons, gone to the prom, been a cheerleader — all things that Kelly, Martha and my mom could never have done during the impoverished years of the Depression when their only income had come from my grandma driving the horse drawn school bus and my grandfather’s not-all-that successful farming. The way I heard it during dinner-table talks, they would have starved if they hadn’t grown their own food.

My Aunt Dickie’s life had been a little different.

My Aunt Kelly had a heart as big as the world but, in a way, she was very stern and narrow in her thinking. I loved her — we were close, her daughter was my “big sister” when I was little — but there was something sour and repressed about her. I could imagine plenty of battles between my Aunt Kelly and my Aunt Dickie during Aunt Dickie’s teen years.

Aunt Martha and my mom weren’t sure how Dickie was going to take Aunt Kelly’s death. I had heard my mom say, “They never really got along.”

Uncle Bob and Aunt Dickie finally arrived. Mom, Aunt Martha and Misty all clustered at the front door to welcome them. There was much, “How was the drive?” conversation. They’d driven from Billings to Denver in one day, 12 hours, and the plan was to keep going to New Mexico that night. If they got tired they would pull off the road and sleep in the motorhome.

My mom wasn’t sure about this plan and said, “You can stay here the night and we can go early in the morning, if you’re tired.”

I was standing in the living room, quite a distance from the entry way. Suddenly I saw my Aunt Dickie had broken away from the group discussion and was heading my way.

This woman was not “touchy-feely.” She didn’t say “I love you” to her kids or anyone. For good reasons, she was very self-contained. The story was that you didn’t talk to her before she’d had her morning coffee, and that was true. I’m the same in that. You can imagine how surprised I was when I found my Aunt Dickie in my arms, her head on my shoulder. “I’m so sad about Kelly, Martha Ann.”

Why could she tell me?

I hugged her and didn’t say anything. It was bewildering, but somehow I felt complimented, as you feel when a dog who’s afraid of people comes to you for friendship.

Over the many years that followed I came to understand that my Aunt Dickie simply loved me. There’s no “why” for that, no “how.” It is a gift.

P.S. The photo is my Aunt Jo and Aunt Dickie at the family house in Hardin Montana, sometime in the late 1920s.


10 thoughts on “A Gift

  1. I think it is the hardest being the oldest, as my sister tells me what it was like for her. I was the youngest, quite a bit younger, so my experience was completely different than my siblings. Your Aunt may have clashed with her younger sister, but my bet would be it was the untangible…not the person. She probably sensed that you wouldn’t judge her for her sadness.

    • I think you are right. She knew I wouldn’t argue with her or tell her to stop her crying. I know from my own experience that was a likely response from those cowboys who raised me.

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