She was born in an age when women wore gloves and hats, men wore fedoras. I don’t know much about her early years, except that her she attended a prestigious New England women’s college and married my dad’s older brother. Uncle Jake was a HAH VAD man, and did well in insurance. He was an enigma to me as a child, somewhat brusk and the brotherly tension between he and my dad was obvious even at a young age. Jake was the caretaker of the Walsh family; a good Boston Irish family of immigrant roots who prospered and were devoutly Catholic.
She worked in an age before it was necessary or fashionable; at some famous department store in the Boston. I don’t know what her title was, but her career had something to do with procuring art for store displays. She and Jake built an ultramodern Deck House in a chic suburb outside the city. Items such as an authentic totem pole in the yard and a massive Spanish mosaic over the stone hearth were relics from her job. I loved her grace and warmth.
I don’t see her as often as I should, nor do I call enough. When we do get together, as we did this past weekend, it always reminds me how important it is to surround myself with strong women who have weathered many storms and kept a good attitude. Not that she hasn’t utter F*&# on occasion. When I called her on it once, shocked but amused, she looked at me and said, “I have kept my mouth shut all my life, if I want to use that word now, I will.”
Unlike me, her Catholicism was a major force in her life. She gave up the church a few years back. Her reasons are private, but I wondered, after my uncle died, if perhaps it was a loss of faith overall in religion or just a personal disagreement with the church. How does one find the strength to walk away from all those years of tradition and routine?
We drove to a restaurant she has missed since she gave up driving. How do people suffer such traffic? We sat on highways, waiting to creep to our exit. In every car, people were talking on phones and oblivious to the sea of humanity around them, or gesturing impolitely and cursing loudly, though no one could hear them. The restaurant was noisy and that made conversation hard as her hearing aid amplified the clatter and chatter.
From there, she wanted to go to Talbots. “You can do pretty well sometimes at the discount stores but I like a good cut and fit with quality materials.” We were bemoaning the fact that fashion doesn’t seem to favor seersucker for summer anymore, a favorite of ours. There on the rack in her size was a lovely pair of navy seersucker slacks. On sale. She wouldn’t try them on in front of me, nor would she model them when we got home. But I knew she was pleased.
I suspected she also wanted to buy something for me for my birthday. Truth is I used to drop a small fortune there for my career suits. Those days are gone and I couldn’t find anything that would make me more comfortable selling oils and vinegars than my usual choices. Besides, I wear an apron at work, so not much shows.
I could tell she was tiring. On the way back to her apartments she asked if I thought she “had failed” since I last saw her.
“You are passing all life’s tests with flying colors in my eyes.”