We stand side-by-side in the passenger seat of her car, my big sister & I; holding sticky, sweaty, candy-covered hands & squealing with delight.
“Again, again, Aunt Melba! Let’s do it again!”
It is 1978 & my sister & I have the good fortune of being with our childless aunt absent the weary gaze of our parents. We have our heads stuck out the sunroof of Aunt Melba's car on a freezing cold evening & she is patiently driving up & down the driveway. I look down at her & see the playful expression on her face, bathed in the fading light of the evening sky. She puts the car in reverse, smiling as she looks in the rear view mirror to begin again. And again, until the street lamp comes on & we finally collapse in a fit of laughter.
She is the identical twin of our mother, who is also an amazing woman although her position as our actual parent has forced her into the unenviable role of bad cop to Aunt Melba’s perpetual good cop. Having a childless aunt was one of my favorite memories of childhood. Think about it. They are as blinded by unconditional love as any parent, yet have an almost infinite level of patience & a rather blurry view of what is or isn’t age appropriate. Discipline is routinely mocked by the childless aunt or uncle.
When my nephews were born, Aunt Melba & I had a talk about my new role as the childless aunt. She was very matter-of-fact in her assessment, waving her hand in the general direction of my sister’s hospital bed. “You just have to say yes to anything she says no to, but wait until she is out of earshot.” Laura clearly wasn’t at that moment because she overheard & I immediately recognized the wary expression on my sister’s face as she looked back & forth between the two of us. It was the same look Mom was always giving Aunt Melba. I considered the love Laura & I had for Melba as we grew up & I looked at my tiny nephews in their bassinets. This was going to be fun. And I have to say, 16 years later that it has been. I have heard "again, again let's do it again" my fair share of times.
The memory of standing with Laura in Aunt Melba’s car with laughter trailing behind us out the sunroof, accompanied me in the passenger seat as I drove an hour to the hospital at 1:00am last December. My family was coming from the other direction- Mom, my brother-in-law & nephews in the car. My sister was in the ambulance with Aunt Melba. I look up at the night sky through my sunroof, push away the laughter of 1978 & try to piece together the phone call from my mother.
She said stroke. And heart attack. All I could really hold onto was my mom doing CPR until the ambulance arrived.
It was the longest 24 hours of my life. There were hushed discussions with doctors. We were told to say goodbye. Call the family. Turn off the machines. We waited. I reluctantly returned home late the next night to see the boys, who had only been with us for a few weeks at that point, knowing that I would be awakened by the phone call nobody wants.
I awoke with the sun the next day, reaching for my phone before opening my eyes.
“She’s awake.” Mom said, her voice shaking with hope.
I walked into her hospital room an hour and a half later, to find Aunt Melba smiling triumphantly as she ate breakfast. Nurses kept poking their heads into her ICU room & saying, “I heard, but I didn’t believe it…” The doctor arrived & he was baffled. She smiled at him, pleased with herself.
She looked at me as if she was getting away with something.
She went back to work a few weeks later. She is fine. Better than fine, actually. She’s still here & she’s still the same Aunt Melba.
Almost a year later, as we sit crowded in the bleachers to watch my sister’s sixteen-year-old twins play football, sometimes I watch her as she sits in the fading evening sun as the stadium lights come on. I see that twinkle in her eye & look on her face. As if we are under the street light in front of her house in 1978. And she is definitely getting away with something.
Again, again, Aunt Melba. Let’s do it again. All of it.
I love you.