I visited my aunt yesterday. The last of my mother’s siblings. Two years ago, at age 84, she remarried and moved to Dayton. Sold her farm. Sold the house she’d been born in. Moved into a small cottage in the city with her new husband, also a widower.
He was once a professional musician, and the minute she met him, she says she longed to play piano to his guitar. I don’t know if it was love at first sight, but after six years of lonely widowhood, rattling around that huge farm house–she wasted no time grabbing onto that sweet man. And they began to make music together.
If my mother were still aive, she’d think her baby sister had lost her mind. And maybe Mom would be right–being in love is a bit like being insane.
And yet…and yet…
As I watched her bouncing around on the piano bench, pounding the keys while he played guitar, I thought that perhaps she’d added another ten years to her life with music and hope and companionship. I applauded with my heart as well as my hands. Then Aunt Mary surprised us. She whipped out a harmonica and played a mean accompaniment to his rendition of “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.”
Harmonica? Aunt Mary? When had she learned this?
“Oh, it’s just something I picked up after Forrest and I were married,” she said modestly as she slipped the harmonica back into her apron pocket.
When I was a child, a visit to Aunt Mary’s house was almost on par with a visit to Disney World. It was a house filled with cousins, and there were nooks and crannies and barns and outbuildings in which to play hide-and-seek. We ate ripe grapes off Aunt Mary’s grape vines, and stuffed ourselves with the popcorn, peanuts and apples she grew. We chased each other in and out of that house, slamming screen doors, making too much noise, dragging in dirt and skinned knees and stray cats. If it rained, we spread board games on her kitchen table and fought over Park Place. If we were hungry, she fed us. There was always food and kindness in her house.
Sometimes, if she got a moment between canning hundreds of jars of garden produce, or making gallons of iced tea, or refereeing yet another altercation between cousins–she’d sit down and play the piano for a few minutes. Or possibly steal a peak at a romance novel–as she informed me once, “I like a little kissin’ in my books.”
Before I left her this time, I tried to thank her, yet again, for contributing to a childhood crammed with good memories. She brushed my thanks away. “Oh, my house was old. There wasn’t much damage you kids could do.”
I don’t know if it was wise for Aunt Mary to remarry at 84, or to move to the city, or to sell the home she’d lived in her whole life. Forrest is becoming forgetful, and they suspect Alzheimers. Her legs don’t work so good and she has to rely on a wheelchair on bad days.
But into my treasure box of good memories, she just placed one more: Aunt Mary, gray hair flying, pounding those piano keys while Forrest played his guitar. Maybe not a match made in heaven. Maybe nothing more than two lonely old people grasping at a bit of happiness before tottering off into the sunset. And yet, I hope with all my heart that I have the courage to grasp onto life with both hands when I’m in my eighties.
I hope I have the optimism to learn how to play the harmonica.