Monday, January 7, 2008

One Branch of the Family Tree

I don't know how someone can live beyond the half-century mark and have a simple realization strike for the very first time, but it recently occurred to me that my aunts from both sides of my family have all been blood relatives. I've never really had an aunt that married into the family.

There's no real significance to that sudden insight, except that it got me thinking about my maternal family. I wish I could remember more about my mother's siblings than I do, but what I do recall, evokes a rush of nostalgic warmth.

My mother had one brother, Bill and only during Mom's later years did I learn that he had been married briefly - the reason for such brevity was never made known to me. Neither was this would-be aunt.

Uncle Bill made his home in Toronto, and we lived in Montreal, so our paths didn't cross frequently. I do remember him as a large man with a booming voice. He spoke quickly and abruptly, with a touch of drama in his voice, but always with kindness. When he would visit, he'd always bring identical gifts for my sister and me. I can remember a set of four ball point pens which were fashioned to look like fountain pens. They came with a holder, and they each had different coloured inks - blue, red, green and black (which wrote more like purple). I treasured those pens and displayed them in my room long after the ink dried up.

Uncle Bill died in 1971, from lung cancer, as his father did 25 years earlier. It's no wonder my mother never so much as touched a cigarette to her lips, and I can only imagine how dismayed she felt when I began smoking in my teens (though I quit in my twenties). My younger son Alex's middle name is William, named after my dear Uncle Bill.

Auntie Sybil was Mom's oldest sister and she too lived in Toronto. She was an outspoken, but warm woman whom I recall was plagued with allergies. She reacted violently to gluten and perfumes among many other irritants, but that never stopped her from sampling a belt or two of something potent fortifying. Mom never drank, so it was amusing to me to witness her sister's antics while enjoying a drink. I suppose it helped her to relax and allowed her to loosen both her collar and her lips. I can remember watching her dance across our kitchen, while Mom shot her some warning looks to guard her mouth in front of us kids. This is not to suggest that she indulged frequently. Though I was young, I'm quite certain that she only drank on special occasions, and her visits to see us were among them.

She always made a point of spending time with me (which might also explain the drinks). She'd tirelessly listen to my latest, favourite song over and over again, and agree that it was the best sound ever. She was a smart, comical woman and when I remember her with my mind's eye, I can envision her grin and a set of eyes that revealed her wonderful sense of humour. She succumbed to cancer in 1980's.

Everyone has a favourite aunt, and on my mother's side, Auntie Pearl was mine. She was a sweet, soft-spoken, kind lady. Somewhat on the plump side, her round face revealed a warm, loving smile.

She was my Montreal aunt, and from the time I was very young, I loved being in her company. We spent most of my early childhood summers at a cottage, at Ste. Agathe, in the Laurentian mountains north of the city. Occasionally Auntie Pearl and her family rented a nearby cottage for at least part of the season. Sometimes our families would merge for a day drive ("are we there yet?"), or we'd get together in the evening to play a game called OKO. It was played with cards, which somehow combined poker and bingo.

Other times, it would be just Auntie Pearl and me, and we'd have long talks about TV shows while we brightened the pages of a colouring book with her Crayolas, and munched on fruit-flavoured marshmallows. She always made sure that she had a package of each for special occasions, such as my visits.

In truth, those might have been the only few times we spent together during the summers up north, but I remember them like they were commonplace. I dearly cherish the memories of this tender-hearted woman. Breast cancer took her life in 1968, a few years before her only grandchild (who now has children of her own ) was born - a great loss for both of them.

A few cousins remain, scattered between Montreal and Toronto. I exchange occasional emails and phone calls with one cousin (Pearl's only child), but time has a way of passing quickly and I can't remember the last time we did in fact catch up.

I think I'll go remedy that right now.

Below are a few tree-related photos that I've taken recently. Just like family, trees take root, mature, give new life, nurture, offer shelter and provide perspective. And they endure.

There are some beautiful old cedars that reside near Frank's home. This one provides a place to rest and to meditate the surrounding beauty.

This tree appears to me to have a bit of a theatrical flair. Can you see its green eye-shadow?

These trees seem to grow toward, and reach out to one another - like family.

Fresh-falling snow fluffs up the stark, empty branches of the plum tree in my back yard.

In the park near my home, a wary squirrel climbs to safety and watches me from a snow-covered branch.

This oak leaf clung heroically to its branch until just after the snowfall.

A miniature icicle forms from the roughly-scarred bark of a tree.

Nearby, an icy branch is lodged in the frozen lake.


the Bag Lady said...

What a terrific post, Hilary! Both of your aunts sound like great fun, and you are lucky to have such wonderful memories of them.

Frank Baron said...

My aunts have been, and are, some of my favourite people too. Nice post. Love those tree pics too. :)

Leah J. Utas said...

Wonderful memories rendered well.

Hilary said...

• Thanks, Baggie. Much appreciated. :)

• Thank you, Frank.. you tree-hugger, you!

• Thanks for your kind words, Leah.

Crabby McSlacker said...

Love not only the post and tree pictures, but the way you tied them together--very slick!

Both my parents were only children, so I missed out on the Aunt thing. Later in life, I've connected with a couple of my mother's cousins, who are aunt-like and both a kick. But I wish I could have had more of that sort of extended family connection growing up.

Shammickite said...

All my aunts are gone now. And my uncles too. In fact, it's a little bit scary when I realise I have become part of the older generation in my family.
Nice post you have written today, a fitting tribute to looking back on happy times.

Reb said...

It sounds like you had great Aunts Hilary! Loved the post and the pictures. Especially the exposure on the first cedar and the icicle fangs on the other.

Hilary said...

• Thanks muchly, Crabby. I've been very lucky indeed. I have/had some more wonderful aunts on my Dad's side of the family too. If you or the Lobster have siblings, perhaps YOU were meant to be that wonderful aunt.

• I know the feeling ex-Shammickite. My family has dwindled too. Only two aunts left on my Dad's side and no uncles left at all. Thanks for stopping by and offering kind words.

• Thank you, Reb. Icicle fangs.. I like that! Fangs for the memories... ;)

Cara said...

I loved this post. Memories of family are so valuable. Your photos, as always, are beautiful too

Anonymous said...

How do you remember EVERYTHING???...and with so much detail??? Mom was right, you should have been a lawyer! As usual you bring back a flood of happy memories. Thanks, Hil
Love, Andi

Hilary said...

• Thanks muchly, Cara. I apprecite your kind words. :)

• Thanks, Andi. This memory thing I have is why you say nice things to me in my blog comments! I remember TONS more about you than most anyone else, sis! ;)

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post about special people. And the photos aren't back either. :)

Hilary said...

Thank you, Susan. Much appreciated. :)

Sweet and Salty said...

I hope you had a good time remedying the situation there. lol

I have six uncles and aunts and I appreciate them a lot.

Great pics, as always...

Hilary said...

Thank you, Pavel. I absolutly did! I had a long telephone chat with my cousin. We caught up covering the past year or so since we'd last talked. Thanks for stopping by. :)

Virginia Lee said...

This reminds me of your post about coloring with crayons a while back, Hilary. I love that as an adult you are able to harken back to a seemingly childish activity that really, has at its core, a dear auntie you still love and who I daresay is smiling at you with love this very moment.

Hilary said...

Awww thanks so much, Virginia Lee. What a lovely sentiment. Thanks for stopping by. :)

photowannabe said...

Terrific pictures and I love the way you combined your thoughts about family with the trees.
I have one step Aunt still living and an Uncle I have never seen but we do exchange Christmas cards. The rest are gone and a few cousins and I keep in contact. I must write them today. Family is too important to just let it slip away. Okay..I have given myself a lecture and will do something about it!
Thanks Hilary

Nita said...

So much talent in one person, fantastic photographer, great writer, and apparently not a selfish bone in your body since you so generously share your talents with us. Loved the pictures. Lucky you to have an extended family that you connected with.

Hilary said...

• Thanks, Photowannabe. I'm glad this triggered the idea to contact your relatives. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Aww thanks so much for your kind words, Nita. :)

Kappa no He said...

Fast approaching the half century mark myself, I have been thinking a lot about relatives and old times and how far I am from family. This very much reinforces me decision to make more of an effort to keep in touch.

And as always, fantastic pictures. I just realized that before long you'll be pictures of spring, then summer. I can't wait to see how the scenery changes.

Hilary said...

Thanks for stopping by, Kappa. I feel for you, so far from family and figure that your own blog is one decent way to keep in touch.

Thanks also for your kind words and I do hope you're correct about spring being here bdfore long. ;)

Anonymous said...

Incredible always. I find that I "happen" onto truths about my life that were always right there in front of me and yet I never really saw them. I'm slow that way.

Hilary said...

Thank you, Beave. At least you see them eventually. Slow is better than not at all. :)

Chica, Cienna, and Cali said...

what a beautiful post Hilary .....i almost picked up the phone even before i could finish reading the post to say hello to some dear ones i have not bothered to in recent times......thank you for the reminder :)

Hilary said...

Thanks so much, Moi. I"ll bet you're on the phone right now. :)