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My Favorite Aunt

March 13, 2010

When I reflect on my childhood, it’s kind of broken into two parts.  The before and after.  Before, being the years that my mom was alive.  And after being, well, after. 

Every other Saturday, she and I would travel to her hometown.  Her mother was older and, as far as I know, didn’t drive.  So, my mom would take her out to lunch and to the store and run whatever errands she could help out with.    

My mom’s twin sister worked at a Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop. We’d stop by and visit her. And she’d always give me these filled doughnuts with gooey stuff on top and inside.(I’m a glazed girl, but no one seemed to notice)  It was nice of her to try though.  She and my mom and grandmother would visit, while I wasted the gooey doughnut in front of me, and then was scolded for playing with it and not eating it.   

I couldn’t wait to get back to my grandmother’s house when we were finished though.  Because, my mom’s older sister, LouEllen lived there.  She was “retarded.”   It makes me feel a little sick to write that. That word is hands down, my least favorite. But, in the late seventies, early eighties, that’s how they described her.  Retarded. 

They meant nothing malicious when they called her this ugly word.  It’s how they saw her. Some sort of fever had gone through her family.  One of the children had died, and the other two were left with some pretty serious brain damage. 

LouEllen was my favorite aunt.  She would have known immediately that I didn’t like jelly doughnuts.  She paid attention to me when I was with her.  For some reason, and there’s no one left who is alive for me to ask, she never was included on our outings.  But, when we got back, the fun began.  She had dolls and loved playing with mine.  She had cats, and they always had lots of kittens.(Bob Barker hadn’t made the spay and neuter push just then) And she’d play with them, she wasn’t at all like the other grown people.  They were so boring, with all their sitting around and talking and drinking second cups of coffee.  If only they’d been so lucky as to be retarded too.  

She and I would color and write our letters.  And cut out paper doll clothes, and dress them.  And we’d talk too, but about interesting things.  Like what the kittens should be named, and we’d blow up my Barbie furniture.(Not sure anyone but me remembers inflatable Barbie Furniture) 

It’s so strange to me.  I referred to everyone else as “aunt” or “uncle”, except LouEllen and her “retarded” brother Dan.  I wish someone was left to ask about this.  

I don’t like it one bit. 

When I started school, I can remember having such a connection to the kids in the “special” class, because of my connection to LouEllen.  When one boy, Thomas, would drink milk, sometimes it would come out of his nose.  He was loud and big, and it seemed that his teachers were always trying to “shush” him.  Everyone would laugh at him and point.  We only saw them briefly, during lunch or as they walked down the hall.  God forbid we socialize with them.  They were “retarded.”    I can remember crying because of how much it bothered me. 

I’d tell my mom, and she’d tell me stories about getting in fights at school because of what people said about her brother and sister.   She said back then, people looked down on your whole family if you had a family member like her.   And that left me crying too.

It still does.

I couldn’t have asked for a better “aunt.”  After all, how many grown people actually cared about your “Baby Alive” doll that actually ate weird baby food and then pooped in her diaper?  

Once, my mom and grandmother had a funeral to go to.  My Dad came and sat with LouEllen while they were gone.  She had a pretty severe speech impediment.  I had grown up with her, and had no problem understanding her.  Since she had no professional help, she was sort of hard for most people to understand. 

Throughout the day, she chatted it up with my Dad.  He nodded and agreed and smiled at everything she said.  I’m sure with one eye focused on whatever ball game happened to be on that day.

I would estimate that he understood about an eighth of the conversation.  

After the funeral, as my parents were making the drive home, my mom asks my dad, “Why did you promise LouEllen a cocker spaniel puppy?”  God love him, he didn’t know that he did.  But, after that, he was determined to track one down for her.

She was my favorite aunt.  Who wouldn’t have wanted one just like her? She was a grown up aunt who acted like a cousin.  Far superior, if you had asked me. 

My grandmother died the summer that I was 12.  By September, my mom had passed away too.  A lot of things bother me about losing my mom.  But, today, I’m writing about my aunt.

After the deaths of my grandmother and my mom, our connection to the family evaporated.  There were conflicts within the remaining family members.  Hard feelings that had been hidden because my grandmother and my strong, strong mom could keep everyone in line. 

My Dad and I spent the Christmas after her death with her twin sister and her family, her in-laws and brothers and sisters of her daughter’s husband.  And lots of other virtual strangers.  It was weird and uncomfortable and it was the last time we bothered.  Within no time, we hardly had contact with any of them ever.  A Christmas card, maybe. 

Years later, I regret disappearing from my aunt’s life.  She was a great aunt.  Wish I’d been a better niece.   

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 13, 2010 5:06 pm

    That is such an incredible story. All the things that we saw through such different eyes when we were kids; it really is extraordinary… I’m sure your aunt knew how much you loved her.

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