Friday, January 20, 2017

A Fond Farewell



Some of you have read parts of this story before, the story of my migration in the wake of my father's death, from California to Ohio. My mother, expecting my younger sister, was with me and I was three years old. Up until that time I had been the much beloved and celebrated only child of proud parents. My father, an optometrist, would schedule no appointments after noon on Thursdays and we would drive most weekends from our home in Mendocino County to the beach and stay there until Sunday while he went scuba diving with his friends. My whole world consisted of ocean and beach, our redwood-fenced backyard with its little square of concrete patio and my beloved bouncing ride-on horse, the mountain at the end of our street, and the green tunnel that was the Redwood Forest, through which we drove to the coast. It was full of love and music and laughter.

Then one day I woke up and my father was dead. My mother got me to Ohio. We moved into her childhood room in her parents' house and after that she was there but not really totally present in my life for a while. For one thing, she had to take classes to update her teaching certificate (I think) and for another she was grieving and pregnant and then after that she was caring for a newborn. Both sets of my grandparents lived in town, however, as well as a plethora of aunts and uncles and great-aunts and great-uncles and even my great-grandmother, and all of them took me in turn to stay them for an afternoon or a day or two or even a week. I can remember my Aunt Iris always had freshly-baked angel food cake for me set out in her immaculate kitchen, and my great-grandmother would serve her homemade Amish chicken and noodles when I visited. We would sit in her pink toile-wallpapered kitchen and she would point to scenes of ladies and gentlemen riding in carriages and strolling country lanes holding parasols and tell me stories of her own childhood world, when people had looked like those in the wallpaper.

However, I am the oldest grandchild (or at least I was then, before marriage reshaped our family) and I was lonely. I was homesick for California and desperately missed the golden sunshine and hills and the towering redwoods and the mountain at the end of the street and especially the ocean and my bouncing horse, which had to be left behind. And when I would get too quiet and morose my Aunt Niki would come to town, a three hour drive, bringing my cousins with her.

Technically, Niki was not my aunt, but my first cousin once-removed. My grandmother always referred to her as the daughter she never had and my father considered her his sister, so she has always been my aunt and she has always treated me as her niece. Her visits were a bright beam of light in the dark Ohio winters and I fondly remember the times I visited her and my Uncle Jim and my cousins at their house.

On the day before yesterday my Aunt Niki was called home and we are all devastated. A glowing star has gone out of our sky for the moment; there's no doubt we will see her again. Niki was everything I have always wanted to be: kind, generous, beautiful, witty, fashionable, loving, and devout and I am grateful for the time I spent with her. I am going to spend a few last moments with her now.

My children and husband, school and work schedules being as they are, are staying home, and I have my teenager minding my stores. He will take care of shipping on schedule, so I am not closing. Please forgive any delay in response to emails; I will answer all when I return.

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