Tuesday, September 21, 2004

MaTante Irene

I was so privilaged to spend so much time out in the country as a child with my grandmother and my aunt Irene. It was the house where my mother grew up, youngest of 15 children. Yes you read correctly, I did type 15. My mother lost her father at a very young age but my grandmother lived on to be cared for by my aunt Irene.

I guess many would have termed aunt Irene as the "old maid" of the family. I only ever termed her as my favorite aunt. She was this cool lady that always had time for me and spent hours telling me stuff. Stuff about the days when my mom was little or how this nicknack and that old photo came to be. My aunt was a modern woman for her time. She was never afraid to open up an old radio and figure out how to repair it or change the oil in her car. She had her own tool belt and wasn't afraid to use it.

In the early days my grandfather had a general store with the country post office, off the house. The store was long gone by the time I was born but the post office was still in service when I was small. I remember aunt Irene letting me play with the big official stamps and pretend I was the post master on a tall stool infront of the counter. The smell of the old wooded floors, ink pads and paper will never leave my mind.

How many people do you know, would let you jump up and down on a bed while pretending to be a rock star playing air guitar with an OLD VIOLIN!! She would so enjoy me doing that , telling me that it sounded better then when she actually played the violin. She'd said , the whole family threatened to start paying her to stop praticing.

The old house was the kind with the veranda all around it. I was always found playing with the white kittens . I can't count how many batches of kittens were born to the old house cat. They were altimately always given away to good homes. Cats were always welcome , given it was out in the country, there were always field mice to contend with. I remember being surrounded by kittens. I had a little red purse that I would stuff them all into and stroll around untill my aunt would calmly remove them before they got squished to death. (I was 3) btw lol.

There was a big field behind the house and when I was still small, my grandmother and aunt had a single pet cow . His name was Little Joe and to call him my aunt did the best mooo inpression, I, to this day have ever heard . Little Joe would come running everytime so we could pet him. Ok, um maybe it was a bull? Childhood memories you know.

One winter my dad, little sister and I made a snowman. I was 5 and sister around 2 . Our snowman was so awesome it turned out to be a bear-snowman sitting on a stump with paws out stretched to give a bear hug. We didn't have a camera to preserve its beauty but my aunt Irene drove all the way into town to take a picture of it for us.

Irene was an avid antique collector. She was very good at spotting a treasure in a junk pile or a fraud on a pedistal. As I got older we spent hours going through her old gramophones and spindles. She taught me how carpenters used the different old tools she had accrued. I was forever fasinated by this glass bottle that had a tiny ballerina in it that danced to music when you turned the crank under the bottom.

I always looked forward to spending time with aunt Irene and my grandmother. I was lucky to have had so much alone time with them both. It gave my mom and dad a break from me when they had a new baby to tend with, I eventually had 2 sisters. To me it was paradise . Weeks in summer or times at xmas. I was always thrilled to spend time there. Later when we moved far away, a week in the summer was short but sweet indeed. I never got enough of spending time with my aunt Irene.

When my grandmother died my aunt was approximately 55 yrs old. She had never married even when she had recieved a few proposals over the years. Do not be fooled in thinking because she was the pseudo *old maid* that she was not attractive. Irene was a very beautiful, tall brunette with big black eyes that could melt your heart. She was also hilarious and full of ingenuity. Always coming up with something, her ideas were unique or practical, one time comes to mind. In the prairies when it rains hard you can hardly see while driving even with the wipers working. One rainy day the wiper broke so she stopped to pick it up, tie the end of it to her arm with a scarf to have more strength then to just rely on her hand. She proceeded to stick her arm out the window to swish the wiper on the windshield to see as she drove. Think about it, if you stuck your head out the window your face would just get plastered with rain . She always came up with solutions.

She had dedicated her life to her mother. After her death she married a man she had known for atleast 30 yrs. He had formerly been her boss way back when she was his head secretary . Over the years always keeping in touch but not on a romantic basis. It changed only after my grandmother died. She was married in her late 50's and I know he made her happy as did she, him. They moved out east to Toronto and by this time I had left home to live on my own so years went by without seeing her.

When I was 20 and already had 4 years of being on my own under my belt , I decided to move out east for a change. My aunt and now Uncle George were both thrilled at the prospect of me staying with them till I got my own place . They lived in a huge seniors complex. When buzzing at the entry door , to any given apartment, the visitor would be on camera in the entry hall that then showed on the recipients tv. I so loved doing a little mime act or dance number infront of the camera for them everytime I came in. Both my aunt and uncle would do the same even if they had the key if knowing I or the other was home. I was in my funky ,styling days back then and decided to get a total brush cut with blonde tails at the nape and bangs. That day I stroled into the lobby again and buzzed the bell , my aunt saw me on her tv monitor. I hear over the speaker system ..OMG you look like a refugee ....thank god I know you.

I had so much fun with these 2 special seniors. They were 2 peas in a pod. Always laughing and telling jokes. Preparing funny surprises for me that had me rolling with tears of merth. As I mentioned before, I had quite a style, I wore wierd tights, ties, a fadora hat, lace up ankle boots not to omit the mention of different gloves with the fingers cut off...many odd pieces of clothes to say the least. Once in awhile I would arrange to go out and party with a few friends I already knew in Toronto. My aunt and uncle knew not to wait up or expect me untill the next day. On more then one of these occasions I would arrive back from my forays to find peculiar effigies of my odd clothing all pined together hanging in the living room on a hanger...stockings with a shoe and fingerless glove and tie all assembled on the hanger. I would fall down laughing as they explained how much they missed me and needed to construct these odd abstracts to help them cope with my absense. All said with tongue in cheek.

I eventually moved on to quebec but I cherish those times and she always spoke of them fondly. For years she sent me clippings of jokes or recipes and boxes of stuff to unpack with glee. I would call her and gab for hours telling her about this boyfriend or that. She always loved to know what was happening with me. We could laugh for hours as we shared old jokes and just talked as 2 women who had spent a lifetime being special to eachother.

My uncle died and she found herself alone so she decided to move back to the saskatawan praires where she had more family .A few years went by as she sang in a chorus group, made funky earings to match her moods and/or holidays. No matter what she did or where she went she was always liked and made friends easlily.

A few years ago, she became sick with a painful and rare desease called CBD=Corticalbasal Brain Degeneration. It quickly started to affect her body and take away her ability to control it. What started off feeling like severe arthritis became worse all over. Although her speech started to slur her brain was wide awake. So much so that even the doctor specializing in this field couldn't believe how she was so present of mind . He was even so fasinated he asked my aunt if she would be willing to let him study her brain when the time came. She told him sure, aslong as he made damn sure she was dead when he removed it.

It was time to put her in a care home. My mom and other aunts helped to pack and go through her things. At one point the phone rings, Irene answered it then hung up after a second. My mom and other aunt asked who it was, Irene said "it was a ??mumble???mumble???????"..they said WHAT? she says "it was a ??mumble??mumble?????" ...WHAT???? again...she says "it was a Hearing Aid Salesman!!"...Even while sick and seemingly out of it, she could always pull a fast one and get you roaring with laughter.

Over the 2 years she was in the care home, she was quickly loved by all who met her. The nurses or orderlys, the physical therapists or doctors, the maintanance crew or volunteers all have funny stories to share about my aunt Irene. A few nurses tell of trading the best dirty jokes ever with her when she was still able to talk. How they enjoyed changing her funky handmade earing to match her clothes just to see her big brown eyes sparkle.

The last 6 months have been the worst. Trapped in a prison of a body unable to communicate or cry. It has been a slow , painful existance. Living across the country, I have not been able to comfort her myself or just be near to hold her hand. I am so thankful and greatful for one of her sisters, my aunt Francoise. She was there through it all to do what I would have and much much more. As the time progressed we all just prayed for her suffering to be over. To leave this earth in a final peace.

Our prayers were answered yesterday September 19th /2004.

I was so lucky to have had her in my life and I could only hope that others had someone like my matante Irene in theirs.

Je t'aime matante Irene gros becs commes toujours. Donnes des becs a mémére et mon oncle George pour moi quand vous les voyez au ciel. oxoxo
translation;(I love you aunt Irene , big kisses as always. Give my grandmother and my uncle George kisses also when you see them in heaven.)
I am adding some pic from the past of me and my matante Irene


JustSue said...

Monette, that was the most beautiful memorial anyone could ask for. There is no denying the love that flows through every word you have written. From just these few short paragraphs we all have gotten a chance to meet your Aunt, smile at her zest for life and fun loving personality - indeed a gift, thank you! Hugs to you my friend - LB

lab munkay said...

I'm a better person for just reading about her. Thanks for sharing.

Scroller said...

How blessed I am to have shared some memories of a woman who has changed the world.
I am sure your Aunt and my Dad will be sharing a laugh the way that you and I have. Thank you for writing such a wonderful account.
Bless you Monette.