Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Passing of Aunt Sylvia

The passing of of my dear aunt yesterday, just a few days past her 90th birthday, conjures up an image of an Old Maid card game, played on a big dining room table, covered in Irish lace.

We sat there at that table, my sister Marian, Sylvia and I, passing time, trying to forget that there was a terrible rolling thunderstorm pounding at us and that our mother was at the doctor's finding out if she would need an operation for the cancer that was growing inside her. I may have been 5 at the time and Marian 7 and Sylvia was pregnant with her firstborn. There were so many fears and unknowns that day, that it seemed almost appropriate to play a nonsensical card game.

But then, as Old Maid goes, it came down to two cards and Sylvia was the one holding them. You pick the right card, you get a reprieve, the wrong one, you get the Old Maid. I was the one doing the picking and Sylvia held the cards. Only, it became obvious that I was choosing the wrong card, because, she started to laugh nervously, while holding tight to that card. She was not going to allow her niece to be an old maid.

When you lose someone who has been a part of your entire life, you deal with it by remembering the good times and especially the ones that showed the character of the one who has passed. My aunt had the gift of strength, of no surrender. She wanted to always be at home to receive your phone call, to be your security blanket when times were rough, but she would not allow herself those shortcomings. She preferred to be resolute at all times and reassuring. Her house had an open door and if you came, there were always ice cream and soda in the fridge and fruit on the table. There was never a need for a phone call first because you were always welcome.
As time goes by, so goes the passing of those who came before us and so, tonight, as the New Year rang in, I considered my own fate and that of those I hold dear. We see the fragility of life, how it can be gone with the wave of the tsunami, and we who live by the ocean, may feel it stronger.
Tonight, as we, family and friends, returned from a walk in the darkness of the Everglades, we watched all the cars slowly pull to the side of the MacArthur Causeway as midnight approached, to see the fireworks over Biscayne Bay.

By 11:55, all the cars were at a standstill, and the natives of Miami and South Beach, who don't live by many rules, had taken out beach chairs to see the show. The causeway had become a wonderful parking lot of revelers, who hugged eachother, and reflected their hopes in the seas of the bay and the sparks of the heavens.

As a child growing up in Richmond Hill, New York, I was unhappy inside, longing for freedom and beauty, and a way out of a parochial neighborhood, where the homes were as narrow as my friends' futures- a home that in my memories seems old and worn, covered with dirty autumn oak and maple leaves, and filled with the cries of sickness and pain.

That day at the dining room table must have been a tough one for my Aunt Sylvia. As she sat there with her growing belly, she must have been considering the possibility that my mother could die, leaving my sister and me in her care. So, when I first heard of her passing and thought about that day, how she shrugged off that fearsome thunderstorm and my mother's cancer, and instead struggled to prevent me from being an "old maid", I realized just how strong this woman really was.