Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Big Life

Our ‘Auntie’ lived a big life: she logged a big number of years; she had big laughs, big cries, and gave big kisses and bigger hugs; she had a big character and yes, she was a big lady despite her modest height! In the kitchen she made big messes and big batches of sugar/cheese cookies for 3 boys she insisted act like (and grow up to be): “Big boys.”

 I remember some highlights:

1. The indispensable story: of Dad coming home in high spirits from the racquets club in a tuxedo at 4:00AM to find Auntie in a dimly lit kitchen baking bread for a Church function in her nightgown and kerchief; the clash of circumstances resulting in: raucous dancing. I was fast asleep and very young at the time but the story became an instant legend to her credit and I always seem tell the story as if I was there myself. In retrospect: the anecdote seems to encompass the magic that was Auntie’s place in our home together.

It should be noted that Auntie’s (almost stalwart) dedication to critiquing dance moves in our house was, and lives on as, a source of so much joy. She could point out your offending technique on a dime; offering corrective example with such confidence and speed that you would forget that you were in fact: white… if just for a minute.

 2. On several occasions she called Morgan Ball late in the evening when he was Investment Banking in Toronto. We’re pretty sure Morgan’s name may have been next to one of her friends or erroneously written in her famous little black book (which I recall, smelled like Tiger Balm), but she never admitted it; she’d chat up Morgan at say, midnight on a Friday as if she meant to. Morgan of course, would chat her right back; filling her in on every juicy detail she needed to know about his (or possibly my) life.

 3. Religion, morality, good manners: Auntie lead by example in a way that was so much more accessible to me than the popular institutions’ campaigns; she cared so much for these values that the fear of disappointing her ‘today’ always outweighed the fear of the certain wrath promised by the bible at our judgment day.

 4. Horseplay & Misc: I lived with Auntie for longer than most of my brothers in part because I managed to parley more years under their roof than any of them! One game I remember best began during my college years when she chased me around the house upon catching me saunter by her door in the hall to the shower in nothing but a towel; I admit that after that, I always ambled at a pace that would surely get her attention…

She just seemed to find a natural joy in goofing around, which (as anyone can imagine) fit very well into my world and it’s no surprise she was so great with children.

I’ll miss: birthday bumps (“one for every year +1 for good luck!”); they were so heavy that more chasing was required to deal them out. No one (or houseguest) was exempt.

I’ll miss her heated debates with Linda over Soap Opera gossip and the facial expressions that adorned them.

I remember (with a sort of masochistic fondness) having her wash my mouth out with soap on more than 2 occasions!

I’ll miss her hip-checks on the stairs (don’t pass me boy!) and negotiating past her in an almost Brothers Grim-esce scenario involving: risk /fear/courage/reward at the family fridge (more hip-checks!).

All this to say: she met the world with courage, pride, humor, and great unwavering faith despite the devastating setbacks including the destruction of her retirement home in her native Montserrat to hurricane Hugo in 1989 and a volcanic eruption in 1995. She returned to Montreal to live with my family for most of my developing years as a teenager through the end of University. I take comfort in knowing that we were all very grateful for her presence every day.

The lasting impressions for me are the perpetual and ambient jingle of her many bracelets and her great big white toothy smile. I’m so glad that Sally got to meet her in good health.

As my best friend Jamie said in his condolences: “What can I say? She was a force…” That she was.

Rest in peace Ms. Eleanor “Auntie” James (1917-2013)

Love, Truck-driver/BRUT/ Duncan