Today, first and foremost, I want to remember my Aunt Bea, who is no longer with us—at least not in any physical sense. I choose the word "want" deliberately, for wanting to remember and remembering do not necessarily follow each other. I did not spend a lot of time with her; we almost always lived too far away to make that practical. But I can sketch out some details. First her looks: I remember her always as having dark hair, though in later years the color was lighter, warmer, a carefully selected auburn. I remember the shape of her face as being rounded in youth, with lady-apple cheeks and a chin that formed a soft protruding orb but was also cleft the way her father's was; on her it looked delicate somehow, more like an elegant dimple. She was not tall, and she was slim. She wore fashionable but understated clothing. In the photographs I have of her, time runs afoul of traditional chronology. I have a portrait picture (above) taken in 1950, when I know she could not have been more than about 15 or 16 years old. She looks older, however; it was common in that era. Maybe it was the pose, the hair style, the three-strand faux (I think) pearl choker. Later on, when she was a young adult, and then middle-aged, and finally on into her sixties, the reverse was true: she looked younger than her years, always. Maybe it had something to do with the maxim that we get the face we deserve. Hers was beautiful, I have to say. Next, her manner: she was quiet, in all things. I never heard her raise her voice, though perhaps I just never had the occasion to hear; still, I cannot imagine it. She was one of those people who lived in silent observation, it seemed. She saw things with a fresh eye, a delighted artist's eye (she was, in fact, an artist, though she came to her painting later in life). I remember that she and my mother would spend long hours on the telephone, but that I always felt anxious about saying hello, because I never knew what to say, and because she was quiet, and because silence over the telephone always feels uncomfortable to me. I wished I could see her instead, be in her company, because then the silence would feel natural, peaceful, welcome. What she did say, she said slowly. It always sounded like hesitation, but I think she just took the measure of each thought before she let it out. I wish I were more like her in this way. She liked simplicity, and neatness. She wore a simple black dress at my wedding, and I thought it was wonderful.
I received from her one year a set of antique crystal candlesticks.
One had broken in shipping; I never told her, and I cherish the single candlestick all the more (see photo, right). Another year she sent a silver toast rack from the same shop. These are small luxuries from a bygone era: who uses toast racks anymore? Something about her, too, always seemed to belong to another time, a more innocent time (if such a thing exists). She was not out of touch, but seemed to me somehow disconnected from the ugliness of the world at large. The only other thing I remember in connection with her is my being quite a young child and worrying, as my parents were about to go away together on a trip, what would happen to me if something happened to them? Where would I go, who would I live with? When I asked my mom, her answer was that I would live with Aunt Bea and her family, and I remember thinking this was a small measure of comfort for my fears. In a child's language, Aunt Bea was nice. But nothing did happen to my parents, I am happy to say, and I never lived under Aunt Bea's roof. Today, I think of her—of the life I imagine she led in the silence of her thoughts, of some few facts I possess of her outwardly lived life. I regret that I did not get to know her better, but I feel blessed to have known her at all. I also think of my mom, who has her own memories of a little sister tugging at the hem of her dress; I think of my cousins, who have lost their mother . . . I wish all of them comfort on a sad anniversary, but hope that they will do something to celebrate the life Bea lived, more than dwell on the loss of her. And if anyone who knew Bea is reading this post and wants to share a memory or two, I welcome all contributions. I, meanwhile, will light a candle in the crystal candlestick, and eat kolyva, the traditional Greek memorial dish, in her honor. (For more about kolyva, visit my other blog, Melting Pot Family.)