I spent every summer from age five with my Aunt Laura and Uncle Gus. My mother, Norma, drove me the three-hour trip to her sister’s in Spokane, Washington. I always hoped Norma would forget me there so I could live with Aunt Laura, but she’d appear again at the end of August and drive me back to Idaho.
How could two sisters be so different? Aunt Laura’s endless capacity to love highlighted Norma’s lack. And why did I have Norma for a mother instead of Laura? These questions still boggle me though now they’re both gone.
From the first summer, my aunt made me feel loved. She’d prepared a bedroom for me, decorated with balloon curtains. She painted the walls pink. Balloons in blue, yellow, purple, green, red, and pink covered the whole bed. I thought of the room I shared with Norma, the twin beds with faded blue bedspreads.
By the end of that first summer, five or six balloons survived to return to my bed each morning.
The next year, and every year I went, Aunt Laura delighted me with another theme for my room. Ponies, teddy bears, dance, painting, Barbies. And there was always a new baby doll and a special book like Madeline, Heidi, The Secret Garden, and Ann of Green Gables which we’d read together.
I knew Aunt Laura and Uncle Gus couldn’t have children of their own, but she made me feel like I could be her own. Like the characters we read about in the books, I felt like I was an orphan, too, and somehow I knew my happy-ever-after would be with my aunt.
So when Norma brought me to live with Aunt Laura my senior year in high school, I believed they would finally adopt me as their own. Maybe it wasn’t too late. Maybe I wasn’t too old. Now I would finally have a real home.
But that fall, Uncle Gus died in a farming accident, crushing Aunt Laura and me. It was a hard year for her, but she had her faith to lean back on.
Though I went to church with her whenever I stayed there, I wasn’t close to God. And when Uncle Gus died, I wondered how God could let that happen. I pulled back from him, and clung tighter to Aunt Laura.
The year went fast, and that August, Norma sent a plane ticket for me to attend college back east, courtesy of a trust fund from the biological father I never knew. When I hugged Aunt Laura at the airport, I didn’t know my promise to see her next summer wouldn’t happen. I didn’t know it would be the last time I ever saw her.
Aunt Laura knew God, and her faith that she’d go to Heaven when she died allowed me to believe that was where she was.
I still don’t know God like Aunt Laura did. She acted like he was a friend who lived close to her, not just a figure you go to church to talk about or someone you read about in a book. I wish I knew him like that.
But maybe I’m still a little bit mad about Uncle Gus dying because I think Aunt Laura died of a broken heart after that. And I’m really mad that she died and left me here without her guidance.
She was my inspiration. I think of her all the time and try to be more like her, but it’s not the same. I can’t touch her or see her or hear her voice. We can’t laugh or read together.
How was she so close to God when she couldn’t touch or see or hear him? And, when she read her Bible, often she’d talk and laugh aloud. How could this be?
Could it be like this for me, too?
Vanessa Parker graciously agreed on short notice to guest blog this month. Thank you, Vanessa!
Vanessa lives within the pages of my first in-progress novel called East from West. She counsels secondary students at a private school in Manhattan and heads up the “Shooting Club” for her students. Her interest in guns comes from growing up in the west where she could shoot a tin can off a rock from the other side of the Clearwater River. She currently lives in an apartment with her cat, Baby, on Manhattan’s East Side from where she walks to Central Park daily.