My Auntie K is my Mum’s younger sister.
She’s intelligent, educated, travelled, interesting and quite lovely.
I haven’t seen her for nearly 20 years.
When the Family Nasty all came out, and I felt an overwhelming need for a ‘grown up’ she was the one I turned to, despite us not really being very close.
In recent times we have chatted on Facebook occasionally, and talked vaguely of meeting up, but never seemed to quite manage it.
I knew she was still very much in touch with my Mum (how could she not be, they are sisters and I of all people know how that tie binds you) and yet we managed to carve an independent space for a her-and-me relationship. I LIKE her. I respect her.
So when she messaged me to say she was travelling to Cornwall for a family wedding, and asking if she could pop in on the way? I was thrilled.
C was less thrilled initially – not anti-her, but nervous as to what effect a meeting might have on me. It’s been a long time since I had any proper contact with my own family, and he wasn’t sure how I would handle it emotionally. I tried reassuring him that I didn’t see her as a mother replacement, that she wasn’t coming as an envoy from my mother, that she had always respected the boundaries of what I was willing to discuss with her… but we both knew that no matter what I said, neither of us really knew what would happen.
C also had a wedding that day, so it would be just me and her – which was actually better for me, as I could concentrate on her-and-me, and not worry about anyone else at all.
And so today rolled around. Children were got to school, C went off to his wedding, and I waited – and wasn’t nervous at all, just excited.
And she came.
And we hugged.
And it was… wonderful.
We sat and talked and talked and talked. About nothing important – my cousins, her neighbours, our jobs. She had brought with her a couple of old photo albums, which I greedily pored over. One was filled with pictures from before my Grandmothers time – I found myself gazing at people from the turn of the century with my son’s eyes, at my Granny as a young and achingly beautiful girl, as a newlywed, at the Great Uncle I was supposed to look like, at my Great-Grandparents all dressed and ready for a night out. And it was wonderful.
She unravelled family relationships, filled in half-remembered family tales, connected seemingly-random dots in my mind. It felt like… coming home. It’s hard to describe. Suddenly, after all these years. I had connections. I had roots. I was no longer adrift and floating, but could see backwards too. And a loss I wasn’t even aware of was soothed and healed. And it was wonderful.
The second photo album were more ‘recent’, showing me images of the Granny that I remembered, but younger, more rounded and softer. Sitting under the tiniest, sorriest looking Christmas Tree I have ever seen with her three girls, apparently the year after her husband died. And there she was. My Mum. Just a little girl with the biggest widest smile. And another image, a few years older, grinning with my Auntie K for the camera.
And I could see her as my Auntie K saw her. Her sister. With none of the baggage that goes with my memories today, it was lovely to see her as she was – as she probably still is inside. It made me sad. It made me miss her. But it made me happy too. I saw images from family events I had attended as a child. Events from before I was born that I had heard talked about. And through them all threaded my Granny. And it was wonderful.
I never knew my Granny well – as a child I took her for granted, as you do, she was just always ‘there’. As a teen I became the self-obsessed teen that we all do, and I spared not time to think of the tomorrow’s that night not be there to sit and chat with her and to learn her stories.
And then she was gone.
And I’ll probably never learn the name of the pet cat that used to wait at the bus top to meet her after work each day and walk home with her. Or the white cat with blue eyes that was NOT deaf, despite my airy confidence when my 8yr old self informed her that ALL white cats with blue eyes are deaf.
Lastly I admit I was rather greedy in my poring over her third album of current family photos from a shoot she had done last year, seeing how my cousins had grown into the grown ups I guess I now am too, seeing them with their children, her with her grandchildren, and being fiercely glad for them all.
I loved that this lady who I knew not was happy to cheerfully blag some lunch. Only family do that.
I loved that we never ran out of things to say, that there were answers to questions I had wondered for years and years.
I loved to listen to her casual stories of “when I was in China…” and to understand and commiserate her difficulties with organising an International Conference in London this year (despite being officially ‘retired’).
I loved that with an unspoken understanding we never once ventured near topics which would be difficult to talk about, or may ruin the gentle friendship we were forging. There may come a time for us to talk about those things. But not now. Not today. Today was ours – and my Granny’s.
And when she whisked away again, onwards to Cornwall after her too-brief stay? How was I?
I was wonderful.