‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘A piece of wood. Birch, I think. Five and seven-eighths by eight-and-a-quarter inches with an ogee beveled edge. An Amanda Bradley Hallmark Card poem, cloyingly sweet, glued to its face. On the back is an inscription written in pencil: “2-14-83. To Dennis and Mary, Two very special people. With love, Aunt Richie.”
It’s in a large manila envelope I come across while searching for a collection of photographs stored in the same kind of envelope.
What’s this, I think, picking up the envelope, feeling its weight and shape. I open the envelope.
“Oh, for chrissake, I say.” I don’t need this to remind me of Aunt Richie. Memory of her is more significant than a piece of birch with a schmaltzy poem glued to it. It’s not even glued straight.
I think I’ll give it to Mary; but, Mary probably gave it to me for the same reason I want to give it to her. She doesn’t want it, doesn’t like it, but can’t bear to throw it out because it came from Aunt Richie. “Oh, for chrissake,” I say again.
Aunt Richie was the oldest of Mom’s three younger sisters. Her presence is large in my life for many reasons, not the least important of which is that she lived with us for a year. I was on sabbatical at USC. Mary worked full time outside of the house. Susan and Sharon were nine and six years old.
Her family grown, recently widowed, and seeking a center in her life, Aunt Richie expressed an interest in learning photography.
“You could come to Taft to study with John Christenssen at Taft College,” I said. “You could be the governess while I’m on sabbatical.”
Aunt Richie caught Mary and me off guard when she agreed to my suggestion.
“But,” she said, “I don’t vacuum. I do laundry and I love to iron.”
“No problem here,” Mary said.
We gained much from Aunt Richie’s year with us.
“The girls had smartly creased pants, ironed blouses, and even ironed nightgowns,” Mary says.
“Her French braids were so tight you couldn’t blink,” says Susan.”
Having raised five children, Aunt Richie was an astute observer of child development: “Never give up on your children,” she told me. “There are many ways to the top of the mountain.”
As a practical philosopher, she would declare, “Life continues to be interesting. And the merry-go-round goes round and round. People get off and people get on. And the music continues loud and long.”
“Oh, for chrissake,” she’d say when frustrated.
Memories of Aunt Richie are secure. Their roots transcend the need for a physical artifact to bring them to mind.
Amanda Bradley’s keepsake status is revoked. Into the thrift store donations box she goes.