Over the weekend, we lost my Aunt Ronda, my mother's sister and only remaining sibling after a few months battling some heart problems and other complications. She was pretty much my default grandmother figure, mostly since my actual grandmother died sort of early but also probably because my sister and I were also close in age to her own grandchildren. Before my sister came along, my aunt lived in this strange farm house out in the middle of what was, and mostly still is, the middle of nowhere. It was an age where details and my memories are fuzzy..I'm pretty sure she had birds that were always loose and flying around at the tops of the curtains. A cat that I chased incessantly. Also, like my grandmother, an actual bar in the house. (I have no idea if this is the home decor trend of the mid-seventies or everyone was just a bunk of drunks in our family..lol..) This same bar, later occupied the basement of her other house, the one that still stands behind that of my parents on my grandmother's plot of divided land, and me and those cousins played down there every party and holiday until we were teenagers, mixing fake drinks and pretending to perform on a small wooden stage my uncle had built. .
The basement also housed her beauty shop business, where I spent long hours while she permed, cut, and later colored my hair periodically, where all of us would congregate even while she working and probably bug the hell out of her. Enormously generous, she was always sending us way with things--sodas, ice cream bars, later clothes she didn't want, anything else she thought we'd like or or put to better use. Over the years, there were countless sleepovers, camp fires in the thin strip of woods behind the property, shopping trips to the mall, movie outings. Countless holidays where she always went just a little too far but it was always good--copious amounts of fried chicken, Easter baskets full of candy, hundreds of Thanksgiving pumpkin pies. Halloween trick or treating exploits even as adults where we left with bags stuffed with treats (and once a giant pink stuffed elephant--a long story..)
I always say that my favorite Christmas present ever was maybe when I was around 5 and she gifted me a canvas tote bag full of notebooks and different colored pens and pencils, which I proceeded to fill with squiggly lines I was certain was "writing". Fast forward 35 plus years and the last few Christmases she'd bought me painting things--this last year a set of Chinese watercolors I've been using a lot. It occurred to me over the past few days that while she always seemed to be sending us away with things, these things are mostly now, outisde of memories and photographs, what's left now that she's gone --a set of watercolors, her giant blue loveseat that sits in my living room and is still one of the most comfortable pieces of furniture I've every had. A couple dresses she insisted on buying me when we were shopping and I couldn't afford them. Somewhere there is a pink and white afghan she knitted about a decade ago tuucked away. My high school class ring which my parents could not afford at the time, so she took me to get it. Her predilection for Elvis and the Beach Boys. My mother's tendency to occasionally say to me.."You sound like your Aunt Ronda."
She was unruly and outspoken in the very best way, and as we all agreed at the memorial service, always right even when she wasn't. Even though some static with my uncle has had my mom& dad avoiding some of the usual larger family gatherings anyway, I imagine, if those gatherings continue to happen on the regular , there will be this great gaping hole in the center of them. A great vaccuum at the center of everything that she so much used to be the center of. I told a friend in Chicago that while I was sad here, going home for the memorial service would be even sadder. The house visible from my bedroom window where she once always was and was no longer in. That particular group of family that she was always the middle of now without her.