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Ottawa overload

Home, exhausted and enriched. I’ve been in Ottawa for a major dose of family.

I only have two first cousins, the daughters of my mother’s older sister, who both live in Washington D.C. and whom I don’t know well. Barbara, the elder, wrote to tell me she’d like to come in to visit our aunt Do in Ottawa whom she didn’t know at all, would I meet her there? We chose the first week of September, which turned out to be the exact time my ex-husband would also be flying in from Washington for a family wedding. Anna and her boys wanted to come too. Sam was working.

Tuesday Barbara and I both flew in and met at the airport, rented a car and drove straight to Do’s. She is phenomenal – feisty and independent, coming into her own at 95. Barbara’s parents, both British, turned their backs on their roots after emigrating in 1948, so Barbara knew very little about their U.K. past and sat listening for hours to stories she’d never heard, piecing together the family puzzle. She wanted to stay at the Chateau Laurier, so adjoining rooms at the Chateau it was, a pleasure to be right downtown instead of near Do in Britannia. We wandered around the market; I took her, with great pride, to the stunning National Gallery and introduced her to the Group of Seven and Emily Carr. But mostly, we sat and talked to Do, which included taking her to a luxurious tea at the Chateau. The American Open was on – Do’s life revolves around tennis, so we watched with her while she explained the game to Barbara. (Explaining the incomprehensible scoring to someone who doesn’t know the game is difficult.)

On Thursday my cousin and I drove to the airport again to meet Anna, Eli and Ben; we had lunch together, then drove Barbara, who is also a recent grandmother, back to the airport to fly home, and the rest of us went to the airbnb near Do’s. It’s a basement suite in a fantastic location right on Britannia Park with the beach two minutes away. Two days of running and splashing, and nursing and crying, and eating and eating and eating. And visiting Do, who was not fazed by the invasion of a very energetic 3-year old and a newborn. We had two great dinners out, a family ranging in age from 7 weeks to 95 1/2. What a blessing.

Friday, a visit with Edgar my ex, who is a terrific grandfather, patiently playing catch with one boy and holding the other. We took him to visit Do, who had seen him only once since the divorce 34 years ago. Ed’s mother, once a powerhouse, has Alzheimer’s; Do exclaimed in sorrow, but she’s so young – only 88!

By Saturday, however, this Glamma was bushed after four days of organizing everything – transportation, accommodation, meals, visits, plus endless wrangling with Eli. He is a powerhouse too, in his own small, noisy, rebellious way – still acting up, mischievous and rambunctious, driving his mother crazy. Thank God for my computer, Netflix, and the “chickmunks movie,” which kept him quiet for nearly an hour. The baby is fussy with a cry that goes right through to my nervous system, like a dentist’s drill. However, my daughter is, as Barbara said, “Mother Earth.” She pointed out that both our mothers were nervous neurotics, full of quivering anxiety. It looks like Anna, calm, patient, unflappable, has put that gene to rest forever.

At the airport, a tiny glitch – the plane was late getting in, and once we were all finally on board, there was a mechanical problem, we had to get off, get our bags, wait for another plane. Luckily, there was a play area in the airport where I watched Eli jump from a plastic cloud for an hour. We left 3 hours late. The televisions at the airport were showing unbearable footage of the migrant crisis in Europe. We had nothing to complain about.

 Baby at the beach

Do meets the newest member of the family

I always fall in love with the huge old trees at Britannia Park

As beautiful as it gets

The roundheads

 The park is a lifesaver in the heat, or, in fact, at any time

We all play “admire the baby.”

The most important part of the visit: after Barbara told Do that her father, also 95, whom Do knew well in Britain, is in a Lutheran assisted living place, I remembered that Do had once considered the not-for-profit Unitarian seniors’ residence nearby, and asked if she’d be interested to visit. She was, and we went. It’s shabby, no question, not like the chic, upscale place my mother lived in the last year of her life, but it’s far friendlier, open and warm. The rooms are of course minuscule, but there are lots of communal areas with activities, and even a big old friendly dog – a vital draw for animal-loving Dorothy – and raised flowerbeds where the residents can garden. After an impromptu tour, when Do was asked if she wanted to be on the waiting list, to my amazement she said yes.

It would be a wonderful move for her, not far from her Scrabble friends, safe with nursing staff always nearby, and fed. I’m sure she’d be happy there. My aunt spent most of her life even more tense and anxious than her sisters, and in these last years of her life, she is finding friendship and even joy. I am grateful for her time with us, for ours with her.



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I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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