She wore rings on every finger, even her thumbs because she liked the way they sparkled. Her hair was long and fuzzy all the way down her back, like a doll.
While my cousin, her son, never appeared malnourished by any means as a kid, I’m not sure the poor thing knew a stove from a washing machine.
A couple of summers in a row, I grew sunflowers as a kid and was so thrilled when the seeds were ready to eat. They lived down the street from us in the same mobile home park and I can recall sitting in the little sunflower patch that I grew, braiding her shiny hair while we ate sunflower seeds and spit the shells in the tall grass. She just talked and talked. I couldn’t tell you what she talked about because most of the time she never made a lick of sense. But we just laughed like we didn’t have a care in the world.
Others in the family tried to help her and my cousin from time to time because my uncle had a substance abuse problem and he could be pretty rough around the edges.
I’m quite certain she likely faced harsh criticism from those on the outside looking in because of the way she handled her life – or in her case, didn’t handle it. But I remember how innocent she seemed, almost like a little girl trapped in a grown woman’s body. Consequently, I was drawn to her, likely because she was more of a peer than an authority figure.
When I was about eight or nine years old, my mother left me with her while she went to town for something. We sat at my aunt’s kitchen table and made anatomically correct paper dolls. I didn’t think a thing about it and likely didn’t even notice the extra pieces and parts the figures sported on the tracing paper. But I remember she and my mother had words because apparently, my mother was not quite ready to explain the birds and the bees.
Most people have a relative like this in their family. The strange uncle or the auntie who appreciates an afternoon nip. We came from a family of very strong women, so she was sort of a fish out of water among the sister-in-law’s. She had no siblings or even friends that I can remember.
I always felt bad for my cousin because he really was all alone in the world with an alcoholic father and mother who spent most of her time picking daisies in a field, both figuratively and sometimes literally.
Eventually, my cousin became more like a big brother than a cousin. My parents sort of took him under their wing and gave him a feathered nest to call home when his parents were skipping and tripping through La-La Land.
Likely, his memories of his mother are not as lighthearted as mine and that is to be expected and certainly understood. My life was not adversely affected by her inability to make choices or be grown up the way that his was.
The older I get though, the more I realize that we are all capable of good and bad, of being strong or weak, or becoming something amazing or perhaps becoming nothing at all.
Most people who have some accomplishments to speak of, can very specifically look back on their lives and lay a finger on those who invested their time and talents into helping them become who they are. Not everyone, however, had that luxury.
While my cousin’s life was very hard and difficult beyond belief as a child, if you ask him, he will say that he was lucky. Lucky because my parents invested themselves in him and helped mold him into who he is today (he is pretty awesome for the record).
Sadly, I’m not sure that my aunt had that same investment in her life, but perhaps she did. Who knows? What I do know, is that somewhere along the way, she gave up and gave in. She let go and stopped trying and eventually, that took a toll on her life, her mind, her body and the worst part, her relationships with the people who loved her most.
Usually, we deem it a tragedy when people leave this world sooner than we think they should have. She was young when she passed, in her fifties I think. As innocent and carefree as she seemed on the outside, she was a troubled soul on the inside. For her, letting go could have been the only possible way she would find peace.
I hope she is skipping through fields of flowers with lots of shiny, sparkly things to keep her interest in the after-life. Mostly, I hope she finally found the peace and comfort that she could not find here on earth.