After 61 years of marriage Uncle Bill still refers to Aunt Sophie as his bride. We should all be so lucky.
When I was twelve years old my mother died. It was after her passing that my Aunt Sophie, my mother’s sister and my Uncle Bill, her husband, would drive one hour from their home every weekend to be with us. I would look forward to their visits like a child waits for Christmas. On Friday night I would get all of my homework done so that I could play with them on Saturday and Sunday. I would look longingly at the backyard skating rink, which my brother and I had made. Long cold winters in Ontario afforded many people homemade skating rinks. It would beckon to me to take just a little brake. “No,” I would forcefully say to myself. First do your homework. I can’t believe I had such self discipline, but my reward was coming the next day.
It seems that the whole family looked forward to this weekly ritual. My brothers and sisters and I would make sure that all the cleaning and shopping was done before their arrival. We never did anything special when they visited, but Uncle Bill was funny and Aunt Sophie always had stories to tell of her childhood. Sometimes they would bring a treat, but mostly they just brought their love and joyfulness, something that was severely lacking in our household during the rest of the week. Even my father would perk up with their visits. At Christmas they would play Mr. and Mrs. Santa. I never had such a happy Christmas until they came into my life.
In the summertime we would go to their cottage on Lake Erie. Uncle Bill would take us out in his boat and we would go water skiing and swimming in the deep. That’s what we called it when you couldn’t touch the lake bottom with your feet. I must admit that I wasn’t very fond of this, and most of the time held on to the side of the boat. At night we would play crazy eights or hearts and laugh until we cried. Sometimes we would build a bonfire and roast hotdogs and marshmallows and just sit and tell stories. These were simple times in my life and there are moments now when I wish I could go back. However, the memories are like photographs in my mind that have left an indelible imprint in my mind and heart forever.
We are all grown now. The cottage has been sold and we all lead separate lives, but those years will never be forgotten, will always be sorely missed, and will keep us connected forever wherever we go. There are not enough words to express how I feel about these two precious souls. They have no idea how they affected and saved my life during some very difficult years after my mother’s death.
Recently they have both been suffering with ill health. Aunt Sophie is 94 and Uncle Bill is 87. They have finally decided that they must sell their home of 44 years and move to a retirement apartment. Uncle Bill can no longer do the yard work and Aunt Sophie has been struck with macular degeneration can do very little. They sometimes seem like two small children when I speak to them on the phone. Aunt Sophie is becoming extremely forgetful and has to ask Uncle Bill what they had for lunch and whether it was good. At times she will hold the phone upside down and repeatedly say, “I can't hear you, speak up”. Then Uncle Bill will chime in, “Turn the phone the other way Sophie, jeesh”. And the conversation will go on like this for quite a while but always end in laughter. It's amazing to me that her long term memory is so good compared to the short term. She can tell me all about her parents and childhood but can't remember what she had for lunch. I know that this is normal for the aged but it is so hard for those who love her and remember how vital she used to be. I live far away from them and I asked them if I might come and visit them for a day while they were still in their home.
Uncle Bill said no, it wouldn't be a good idea because they were busy selling the house and they had many doctor appointments. He suggested I could come after they moved. Perhaps I will. Explaining the reason for wanting to come now would be a moot point. I don't think he would understand that I wanted to see them there, where we made so many memories, where their home has a particular smell that only has to do with them, a wonderful smell you only experience when you go home. I speculate that I need to look at this another way. It is they whom I need to connect with, not their surroundings. After all, I can picture them in their beautiful little home as I close my eyes and review my mind's snapshots of them whenever I want. When they moved, I inherited 2 of their most beautiful pieces of furniture and every time I touch them or look at them I can visualize them in their home exactly as they were. It always brings a melancholy smile to my lips. Thanking them for the love they have given me just doesn’t seem like enough, but it is all I have. That, and saying, “ I love you,” completely and purely. When they are gone another piece of my heart will surely die.
© Christine Geery 2010
Addendum: It has been several months since I wrote this story. They have moved into the retirement center but their health is deteriorating. Uncle Bill recently left the hospital having been diagnosed with malnutrition and dehydration and a small stroke. When he was admitted, he weighed 104 lbs. on a 5'9” frame. We are fortunate that he is still with us. Aunt Sophie's dementia is progressing quite rapidly. When Uncle Bill was in the hospital I called her to see how she and Uncle Bill were doing. She said she was fine and that Uncle Bill went out for something and he'd be back shortly. But she didn't know where he went. My heart broke as tears ran down my cheeks.