Life has a way of showing us up sometimes. I mean, we want to think we’re in control at least a little bit and some of the time. Then suddenly we are reaching out to things that are simply beyond our grasp, and all we can do is watch — like old people getting senile, not eating, wanting to die and not dying. Like family members doing that. Like my favorite elder doing that.
And here’s the real kicker. She now exemplifies everything she never, ever was.
My aunt was a childhood hero of mine because she was so damn stubbornly independent. She grabbed life and shook it until it gave her what she wanted. No matter her mother died way too early, leaving her motherless at 12 and that her father put her in an orphanage some months later. He was known around town as ‘Cauliflower Joe’ from his favorite scam of taking his carriage around, hawking beautiful cauliflowers with only the top ones good. He was a short con artist with no room in his life for a daughter.
It didn’t bother her though. She said she preferred the orphanage. But even today, she talks lovingly of her mother and seems to miss her, though she’s been dead for longer than most people get to be alive. 81 years ago. My aunt is 93 now.
She started her own business, went on the world’s longest railway trip — the trans Siberian Express, took trips to Korea, China, Europe, Mexico and others. She took a 3-month world cruise sans husband. They often took ‘separate vacations.’ When she was ready, she sold her business for a tidy sum and retired to Florida. She hated it there. She said It’s like an old people’s home, there’s no kids. So at age 69 she picked up, visited Costa Rica and a week later bought a house there. That was 24 years ago. It’s where she’ll die, probably in the pretty near future. She married and divorced five times, once to a mafioso who was stupid enough to try to go for her money. He lost. Let’s just say he lost big time, and leave it at that.
Avid bridge player, winner of tounaments. Avid theater goer, she turned part of her home into a small theater for the English-speaking community. Self-educated, voracious reader, she played a killer game of Trivia and Scrabble. When I visited her last time she had a thick book near her bed — NYT Sunday crosswords. Most of them done.
All her friends and most of her loved ones are gone. As is her hearing and her ability to get out of bed and take care of herself. Her time is over. And she is ready, very ready. In fact, as in her many years of active life, she’s kind of pushing the envelope.
It’s okay. She had a Life. She didn’t wait for anybody or anything. Within the law, she made her own laws. She reigned. She rocked.
I’ll miss her. I already do.