For reasons that I won't go into here, I hadn't seen my Aunt Clara since my grandmother's funeral in 2008. It was not because we didn't want to see her - she was sick and due to circumstances, unable to see anyone. So I can't say I have recent memories with her. She lived in Buffalo, NY, as does the majority of my family on my mom's side, so she wasn't right around the corner. But as children, until about the age of 16, we went to Buffalo every single holiday. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Easter, and at least one of the summer holidays. We spent a lot of time, those days, with Aunt Clara. Her generation always seemed impossibly old, being the eldest generation at the gatherings, but thinking about it as an adult, she was probably in her early 50s, if that.
Aunt Clara was my the closest sister in age to my grandmother, and her best friend. They did everything together. She was the sibling that we, as kids, spent the most time with on our visits. I honestly can't remember a holiday celebration without her.
As my family tends to do, instead of mourning a death, we celebrate a life. Often, with humor, or at least light-heartedness. It seems the best way to remember a person, especially one who suffered so at the end of their life - I don't think anyone wants to be remembered old and sick and suffering. And so, here are some of my most memorable Aunt Clara experiences and stories.
- Aunt Clara was the world's WORST cook. I mean the absolute worst. She would substitute ingredients simply because they looked alike. No sugar? It's ok, there was salt for that! Literally. We used to all spend time at a house on a lake (I should know the name of it but I cannot) and on one occasion, against our better judgement, we let her make dinner - she'd chosen hamburgers, which seemed a pretty safe bet (I was about 8 then, so still ate some meat). No sooner did we eat, then every single one of us ran out in the bushes to get sick. Every. One. She tried so hard and we didn't want to hurt her feelings, so we just took turns vomiting in the bushes and trying to distract her so that she didn't notice.
- She always clearly dyed her hair, but for a while, she had this really bad reddish orange color. She was so sweet that nobody had the heart to tell her it looked terrible, but it was a badly kept family joke.
- Her house was, for some reason, always a mystery. It was messy beyond belief - I remember it taking effort to get in the door. But she always invited us over and dutifully, we went. I think she had some cats - I associate her house with cats, but I may be wrong. There was also something weird about the bathroom. To this day, I couldn't tell you what it was, but like her cooking and dye job, it was just something known in the family. "If you have to go to Aunt Clara's, make a pit stop before hand, because you do not go in the bathroom." I don't think it was filthy, I think it was just some place you didn't go.
- Of course, there's that family infamous cake-baking story. My Grandma and Aunt Clara decided to bake a cake for a special occasion (I believe, but I don't recall the occasion). The cake called for egg yokes. This was in their younger days, and they were not wealthy, so they didn't want to waste anything. So "naturally", after they'd separated the yokes out, they forced themselves to gag down the raw egg whites. They simply couldn't toss them. Several steps later in the recipe, they realized it now called for them to add in the whites.
- Last but not least, there was the time that Aunt Clara and Grandma visited England, got sick on a bus ride, and then, being too embarrassed to say anything, stashed their vomit bags in the bushes outside of Buckingham Palace while everyone was busy watching the Changing of the Guard.
|Aunt Clara, Grandma (Lena), Aunt Lucy, and Uncle Charlie in their youth.|