Saturday, April 10, 2010

The original tough old bird

i woke early this morning........ very early before the birds and most definitely before the sun. But it seemed ok today to be awake so early..... in the still quietness that happens just before dawn. It is a time i find my mind wanders here and there and soft memories wrap themselves around me like an old blanket.

i have been thinking about the possibility of growing old alone. i made reference in a recent email to becoming the "crazy cat lady". i was thinking how it is scary to be sick at 3 in the morning with no one around.

And all that thinking led me down the path that leads to my Aunt O...... the eccentric one in the family. She was born into a family of 8 children, in England. Her family came to the Great White North when she was heading into puberty. She told stories about playing out in the fields on the farm they lived on.... playing around farm hands from god only knows where .. and no one ever worried. She used to talk about how money was tight....... she talked about going out to work at the age of 15 to help make ends meet.

That's all i knew about her for many many years.

Then i grew up. And my family moved away. And Aunt O was here. And i had the honour of getting to know her really well.

She had met a woman - an older woman - when she was walking to and from school. This older woman had spoken to her parents about Aunt O coming to live with her and work in her store....... learn a trade so to speak. Her family had readily agreed cause feeding and housing 8 kids in a small farm house was tough. There were stories about the girls sleeping 3 in a bed.

Miss B and Aunt O bought a cute lil home down by the water. There were 2 bedrooms, a tv room.. a kitchen and big living room with a fireplace. And dogs. Always at least 4 dogs - boxers. They were show dogs and i wasn't really ever allowed to play them. i remember thinking how unfair it was that Aunt O's room was the smallest room in the house....... even the TV room was bigger than her room. But you could tell her room right off. It was purple........ the bedspread .. the skirt around her vanity.. the walls.. the pillows ......... even the pictures had purple accents. She must have loved purple........ but it wasn't something we talked about. BUT no matter where she lived - for years after that first little house by the water - her bedroom was always purple. It makes me smile now to think of it.

Skip ahead a few years (ok more than a few years) and Miss B is sick... very sick .. and she died. When she died Aunt O and she had been together for 35 years. Miss B was in her 80's when she died. Do the math. She had been in her 40's when she took in the 15 year old girl to learn a trade....... and no one raised an eyebrow. The day we buried Miss B was the one and only time i saw Aunt O cry....... quiet soft tears that simply escaped and trickled down her cheek. i realized she had lost the love of her life. Aunt O and Miss B had been lesbian lovers for all those years and no one dared utter one word. It was as though if the word "lesbian" wasn't spoken then Aunt O couldn't be one.

Aunt O stayed here for a few more years.. she sold the store ...........the little store that had gum balls and jaw breakers and licorice in big glass jars at the cash.

Aunt O went to work for a big chain store....... and hated it. People had no work ethic she used to say. She was into her late 60's when she decided to sell up everything and move closer to my mom and dad. i missed her terribly. i missed our treks out to antique fairs and garage sales. i missed her weird twisted philosophy on life. i missed her dogs.

When my marriage broke up.... and my first relationship after the marriage..... it was Aunt O who stood by my side. Who told me i would get through this. Who told me i was strong enough to beat them at their own game. Who held my hand when i was scared and who slipped me envelopes of money to do up the new house i had just bought - on a wing and a prayer. i did the floors with the money she slipped me quietly. There isn't a day that goes by that i wash the floors or mop them that i don't think of that phone call from her ..... after the money had arrived. "I only have so much you know .......... and I have to be fair and divide it equally between all the nieces and nephews when I am gone......... BUT ............what I do with it when I am alive - is no one's business"

She came to visit the new home........ she even had her own room....... and she loved my lil house....... she said it reminded her of living in an English village. She loved the house...... i loved the time we got to spend together.

But for all her "normal-ness" she wasn't really all that normal........ Her favourite expression was "farting ass" ..... farting ass weather..... farting ass political situation.. farting ass twit ... just farting ass !!!

She didn't dress like everyone else either. She was always in big over sized trousers with over sized sweaters or sweat shirts on. Her hair was always washed and brushed but was never "styled". She never wore make up not even lipstick. She slapped on whatever cream was on hand when her skin would get dry in the winter. She had the best stereo system money could buy (at the time) and had classical music booming through her apartment all the time.

She was one of a kind.

And she was my Aunt O.

When her health started to fail.... she had managed to outlive my mom and my dad....... she gave me guardianship powers. She told me about the DNR order (do not resuscitate) she told me she didn't want any heroics. She was ready.

i thought she would live forever....... always be there - a phone call away..... but then i got the phone call at 3 in the morning. She had had a stroke - a major completely debilitating stroke. i drove like the wind to be by her side. i became the poster child for the right to die. i fought the hospital andthe doctors and finally the Chaplin. And got the right to remove all the tubes and breathing devices. i held her hand and cried and whispered to her i was doing everything i could ..... i owed her that much!

The baby finger of her left hand stroked the back of my hand. She knew.

8 years next week - i buried her. In a small lil grave by the edge of the cemetery. NO headstone had been Aunt O's war cry. "I don't want anyone coming and crying over a hunk of dirt. They should have been here when I was alive. "

She marched to her own drummer........ she was eccentric ..... she was the original "tough old bird" and she wanted nothing less for me....... to live my life free.. anyway i wanted. She was fiercely proud of me....... and i loved her with all my being.

i miss her still.


  1. One of My regrets I never met Aunt O!

    you aren't going to die alone, you have your ever growing family.


  2. W - i know that !!

    i thought i was writing about "doing it your way" and damn public opinion...

    living large and having no regrets

    i thought i was writing about everything but death.....

  3. Well done, Sheila. She sounds like the type of woman I like. You're lucky to have had someone like that in your life. That you fought for her dignity ... good on you, girl.

  4. Orage1:17 pm

    You make her alive againt. Very moving.
    Thank you for sharing these memories.

  5. Wish I had met her.


  6. How wonderful you had such an advocate in your life and you were able to repay her in kind.

    We are proud of you too:)


    Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined.

  7. A beautifully written post about a beautiful woman. Reading that brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing such a moving tribute.


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