Wednesday, December 13, 2006

40 Years Ago...and Today's Loss

I got in from buying Christmas presents tonight and found a message from my sister. The tone in her voice and the decidedly brief message that ended with "Call me tonight, even if it's very late," told me that she was not going to be delivering good news. But what could it be after six years of nursing, burying and saying goodbye to ailing parents. Was there a bastard sibling we'd not known of suddenly showing up on the scene? Twenty years of unknown tax liens on the family property.

Well, it was sad news. Our Aunt Barbara, the last living blood relation of our parents generation, died this afternoon. She was found with a note "do not resuscitate." She was 69, and considered an incredible catch in her day. She was always the supporting player, the Lee Radziwell to my mother's lead row in our family. She had her brand of style, but she always felt insecure. Those are strong words to say about someone who died less than 24 hours ago, but I say them with great respect. I share a birthday, September 26, and a gap of 19 years between us.

She frequently tried to convince me that we shared much in common by the nature of our star signs, much to my mother's chagrin. (Not the star sign, but that she would dare to say that we were similar.) Despite my mother's constant discouragement, I often longed for aunt Barbara's style and sense of taste. I remember my mother telling me at age six that Barbara did not own a lamp in her home while ours were all purchased with Green Stamps.

My mother characterized her as selfish and driven by material things. Yet I remember her as generous and the one that bought me my much lusted after Nehru jacket in 1967, taking me to the road show of "Funny Girl" on Christmas Day of 1968 that included reserved seats,intermission and a deluxe, 48 page program. Taking me to the Nelson-Atkins Gallery for the opening Henry Moore installation, and then having tea and dainty sandwiches with Westport dowager docents. Attending a brunch with her "bachelor friends" on Carey Place in 1973, each of whom circled me like carnivores as they told me I had "obscene luck" to have an aunt with so many Yves Saint Laurent scarves and ability to be so witty even before the third martini.

Her final days had tragedy, but I will recall the image of her in 1962 as her Impala convertible ground the unworthy gravel in our circle drive with impeccable grace, her Dior scarf performing a ballet in front of our face in the late September prairie wind. I will miss what she was and what she could have been...


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