Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A blast from the past

With the change of seasons underway, I recently went into the closet & pulled out the plastic bins where I keep my extra placemats & tablecloths. I had some fall-appropriate placemats I wanted to start using, and I had recently bought some new ones I wanted to put away.

As I went through the bin, I pulled out a flat square cardboard package. I wasn't sure what was inside. There were some lace doilies wrapped in tissue paper (slightly yellowed) and, inside, an envelope addressed to me & dh in familiar handwriting, with a card inside. It had a picture of a rose on the front, and a Bible verse inside.

It was from my great-aunt, my grandmother's older sister. She & my grandmother had a fractious relationship: they lived their entire lives in the same small town, but they could go for years without speaking to each other. It made things very difficult for those of us who loved them both -- but, to their eternal credit, they wholeheartedly loved and welcomed each other's children and grandchildren, even if they couldn't tolerate each other. My grandmother never objected or made her disapproval known (that I noticed, anyway) when we went to see Aunty E., and my mother would always take us to visit her whenever we were in town. When we got old enough to roam around town by ourselves, my sister & I would often stop by her apartment on our own. We knew there would always be hugs, cookies &/or a generous bowl of chocolate chip ice cream waiting for us. :) Sometimes we had sleepovers at her apartment with her granddaughters (our mother's cousins' children).

I always had a special relationship with Aunty E. I was born a few months after her husband died suddenly, when she was in her mid-50s.  She was in a deep depression, until someone suggested that she should come stay with my mother after I was born and help take care of me (instead of my grandmother). I guess I was a welcome distraction. "You're my girl, Lori," she said to me once, one of the last times I saw her before she died, as she gave me a big hug. "You always have been. Remember when I came to take care of you?"  I did not remember, of course, but I always knew she loved me.

I read the card. The lace doilies were, apparently, a housewarming present. I was reminded that I had sent out "New home" announcement cards when we bought our house in 1990. (I had them designed by a graphic designer I knew at work, instead of using the standard bureaucratic change of address cards provided by Canada Post.) (I hadn't thought of this in years, and I'm not even sure I kept one for myself?)

Anyway, this is what the note inside said:
Dear [Loribeth & dh],  
The day I received your announcement I could tell by the feel it was a card so of course what did ol' E. think -- it's a baby!  But it was still a surprise, I've never seen a house announcement -- fun to see something different!  
Sincere good wishes for oodles of happiness in your new home!  May God bless you always.  
Aunt E. 
When I got that package, I was in my late 20s, married five years -- hoping for babies, eventually, but now a new homeowner with a daunting mortgage. I knew that babies would have to wait a while longer.  I don't remember how I felt when I first read the note -- but I am sure I was slightly irritated. ;)  I wanted babies, yes, but even then, long before the shadow of infertility, nothing pissed me off more than questions or assumptions on the subject of our plans to procreate, even from beloved great-aunts. 

Reading the note again, almost 30 years after I received it, it stung to realize that my aunt had assumed I had sent her a baby announcement. It hurt to think I had disappointed her in some way. I felt guilty that I never produced a baby for her to cuddle and fuss over. (And seriously -- did she really think I would have had a baby without the family grapevine letting her knowing I was pregnant??)  It was one of those out-of-the-blue "ouch" moments that I'm sure all CNBCers have experienced at one time or another.

But I knew then, and know now, that both package and note were well-intentioned and sent with love. Aunty E. was in her 80s then. She died four years later -- and four years before I finally did become pregnant -- before stillbirth and infertility entered my life -- before the hopes we had for that little house died too -- the house we sold two years ago, when we bought the condo where we now live.

I could hear her voice saying the words as I read them, and hear her throaty chuckle.  Tears stung my eyes. Partly because of what the note said.

But also just because I miss her.


  1. You see disappointment? I see pleased surprise at something unexpected (but then, I had unconventional aunts who enjoyed when we would do something unusual because we were soooo boring and traditional, whereas they were not. Our frames of reference are different).

    1. I agree. That's exactly what I saw. Especially, if I read this correctly, she didn't have children?

    2. No she did -- two children and six grandchildren. Her daughter (my mother's cousin) is one of my godmothers & her oldest grandchild (granddaughter) & I are the same age.

  2. It’s always hard to read these notes, but the fact you are able to look at them through a different lens, seeing the intentions of love and well wishes, speaks volumes. Sending love.

  3. How lovely to have had that relationship with her.

  4. I'm sorry you had that ouch moment out of the blue, so much loaded into a box of doilies and a housewarming note. I think it's hard not to think of what could have been in those moments. Sending belated love.