In loving memory of Aunty Florence.
Susan is positive it’s odd for a 20-something to covet the complexion of an 80-something but Flo aged beautifully. She was a natural beauty who rarely wore make up with the exception of lip stick. A habit she picked up as a rebellious teenager. Her mother had forbid her from wearing it when she was young because it was a bit scandalous. Nonetheless, she bought some anyway and hid it under one of the boards of the outdoor rink in Wolseley, Saskatchewan. Everyday on her way to school, Flo, The Devious, would stop by her hiding spot, pull out the lipstick and dab it on before heading to class. On her way home, she’d be sure to wipe it off.
Every year, Florence and her son, Brian would travel out to Melville Beach from Edmonton where they would meet Susan and her family. Susan looked forward to it every year because she admired her saucy great aunt so very, very much. Being near her made her feel brave and sassy, too. Their time together was filled with pink wintergreen mints, cribbage, sitting on the porch complaining about the heat, homemade perogies, cucumber salad, pickled carrots, and some hella’ good homemade salsa. One year, a small funeral was held in honour of Ed, a pet balloon Susan’s sister, Elizabeth, managed to keep alive for a good week following an a dramatic waterfight with her cousin and neighbour. Flo was there for Ed’s burial and she wasn’t in the least bit offended a balloon was named after her beloved brother.
Every night, they’d do one of two things: a) Play hours and hours of Rummoli, and/or; b) Curl up by the firepit while everybody told their favourite stories. No matter how the evening began, it always ended with Flo out on the lawn, the grass beneath her feet, watching the moon as it rose above Crooked Lake. She’d wait and wait and watch and watch. Anticipating it like a summer blockbuster, counting down the days. It reminded her of her mom.
Flo, you would always ask me every year if I had a boyfriend yet. Every year I’d say no. One year, you asked if I even like boys, “Larry’s best friend, he’s a gay. It’s okay if you’re a gay.” I assured you I’m not but you seemed skeptical. My love life was one of your primary concerns. I hope you rest in peace knowing I’ll be okay. Being single isn’t the worst thing in the world. I’m sure you’d understand as you never re-married after Jack.
When I was younger, all I ever wanted was to be like you. Strong as the coffee you brewed, as independent as the prairie flowers you planted, as welcoming as the smell of your house, as charming as the little clay men that lined the ceiling of your bright yellow kitchen. I wanted to make people homemade gifts, cook without a cookbook, play cards with a stiff rum and coke in hand, probe my family for personal details and then share my unadulterated opinion about it. I wanted to do all these things just like you.
I’m sorry I never came to visit you when you moved out of your house. I tried calling but you never picked up. I should’ve been stubborn-er and just showed up. You would do something like that. If I did, I would tell you that I loved you. How I never said it enough. I’d tell you I still admire you and I still want to be like you when I grow up. I’d tell you how grateful I am for all our Easters spent together. All our summers, too. For your sassiness and carefree attitude. How you didn’t give a shit about what people thought of you, especially as you got older. How I got my potty mouth from you. How I loved your steadfast faith. They way you memorized all the songs in the hymnal. I’d tell you how I tried to make homemade perogies once. They were a bit chewy but not bad for my first try. I’d tell you how beautiful you were. How I can barely believe your blood that runs so free and wild could sprint through my veins. Then I’d mumble an awkward thanks, thanks for all you’ve ever done for me and Elizabeth, Mom and Dad, thank you for just being you– unapologetically you. I’d give you a hug. You’d kiss my cheek and I’d kiss your Mish forehead. I’d wave goodbye and the door would close.
That night, I’d stand in the grass with a buttload of mosquito spray.
Swatting and cussing as they bit me anyway.
I’d stand and wait. I’d wait on the moon,
And all the while, I’d think about you.