Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A life of magic and love

Connie and her great-grands, Adriana and Lily
I was heartbroken not to attend my Aunt Con's funeral, the opportunity to say goodbye and be with all of her children, my fun-loving cousins, and their children and grandchildren. So, I'll say it in my own way, by remembering her from the heart.

There isn't a time I don't remember my mother's younger sister, Connie. She's been a solid fixture all of my life. Tragedy struck her early. With four young children, her husband died suddenly, stranding her in Boise, Idaho, without other family. To survive, she moved back home to Indianola, Iowa. That's where I remember her. First, in the small, grey house across from the Hy-Vee grocery store. Mostly I recall the one big living room and a soft couch filled with cousins and playfulness. To me it seemed like the best place in the world. A kind of Pee Wee's Playhouse filled with love and warmth where not much was off limits.

Con's house on C Street and those recently gathered
Then, the family moved to C Street. I used to think it was named for Connie. Easy enough to remember as a kid. So many of the streets in Indianola are neatly aligned, assigned letter names and dotted with pastel-colored houses. Con's (as we named her in our adulthood) was a neat brick cape that appeared as one story from the front, but three from the steep backyard. I loved the sometimes treacherous rock steps down. When we visited, we all but lived in two rooms: the living and dining. There were concerts (Connie was an accomplished violinist who taught orchestra in the local schools; her children all played strings), movie marathons long conversations, family dinners, pancake and cinnamon-roll breakfasts and, always, plenty to go around. Like she waved her wand and there was more than enough. I've often wondered how that was possible on a single-parent salary. How she could take on extra mouths when my twin sister and I would visit for a month each summer,

This house was the perfect setup for kids. Upstairs were two large bedrooms, separated by a small hall and bath. One was for the two girls, twin cousins conveniently only a year older than me and my twin and two boys: one our age and another, two years younger. Perfect playmates. Unless the genders were warring, in that case, we would jump from room to room, being careful not to knock the coveted fan turned to whichever room was winning at the time. The girl's room was light and airy; the boys, dark and cold. Each perfect for whatever mood you were in.

Me and Connie
We'd spend our days wandering from our grandparents' house to Aunt Anne and Uncle Bill's and visiting more distant relatives; downing Green-River phosphates at the corner sundry; saying we would make midnight runs for donuts with our grandpa, but never being awake enough; lounging in the local pool when the mercury hit 100 and listening to Connie's silly student Phillip recite Shakespeare in the shallow end; popping in on summer string lessons; playing in our favorite park and almost passing out on the playground merry-go-round; stuffing ourselves with Maid-Rites and never learning the secret ingredient even when one of our girl cousins worked there; feeling important waltzing into the local newspaper, where our grandfather was part-owner and our uncle worked the camera room, and always thrilled to get our names spit out of the type machine. You can tell it was magical time. That doesn't cover opera season.

Our mother's youngest sister, Anne, was an opera singer and teacher at Simpson College. During our junior-high years, summer opera opened and we were welcomed to rehearsals and opening nights. Pretty heady stuff for young teens. One time, the girl cousins and my sister and I, all dressed gorgeously, we supposed, in long flowing gowns, walked home to Aunt Con's after a performance, only one of the girls had forgotten the key. We had the bright idea of breaking in the front window, located high above the bushes. What a sight we much have been, dressed to the nines and one shimmying up and into the house!
Connie and her clan

If Grandpa's house was where to go to get one-on-one time and Anne and Bill's to be spoiled, Con's was the one for fun and adventure. Can you imagine a month rotating among all of that?

Now, Con is with her parents, Anne and her husband. But she'll never leave my memory or heart.

• How do we remember those who've left their mark of love on us?
• Who contributed to our childhood magic?
• How has that shaped who we are?
• What imprint does that person have on our lives?
• How do we say goodbye?

something was
going on

Connie in her
jammies baking
rolls or cookies

someone practicing
or playing piano

movies and

sleepovers and
choosing sides

it was the place
you wanted to

was there,

filling it
with her
magic and love

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