A whirlwind visit, a great success – I’m in Ottawa. Thursday midday at the Toronto island airport I met my cousin Barbara, who had flown in from Washington D.C., and together we journeyed to Ottawa where we rented a car, drove to our hotel, and then on to visit our Aunt Do, whom readers of this blog know well. She is much more frail and forgetful than five months ago. But still, she’s extraordinary at 98, not wanting to miss a thing.
We went out for dinner, and my brother and his ten-year old son joined us. My brother recently fell in love with a woman he met in Singapore, who will soon be on her way to visit him here. He wanted us to meet her, so we Facetimed with her at the restaurant. Definitely surreal, chatting on the tiny screen with a woman in Singapore who may be joining our family. Do talked away as if this was something she does every day.
Today, excursions: to The Scottish and Irish Shop, jammed with British biscuits and sweets – Jaffa cakes, ginger nut biscuits, sultana biscuits and much more for Do. And to Ikea, because it’s close and fun, to look at cool stuff and buy napkins and dish brushes. By then I expected Do to be exhausted, but no, she was up for high tea at the Chateau Laurier. I’d told them it was her 98th birthday, which was actually a month ago, and they brought a lit candle with a bit of cake.
And then we drove back and talked family. Barbara had brought photos – one of our great-great-grandfather – and Do told stories. After hours, she was still going strong, though fading. For the decades of our growing up, I hardly knew Barbara, and she hardly knew Do – we were in Canada, Barb and her family were in Bethesda, our fathers didn’t get along particularly, and Barbara’s mother Margaret didn’t get along particularly with her younger sister Dorothy. So, after years of a kind of estrangement, a wonderful bond has been made between two cousins and aunt and niece. Barb thanked Do for sticking around long enough that she could get to know her, and we had a good laugh.
But I wonder how much longer my dear aunt can live alone in her apartment and what will happen when she can’t.
In the middle of all this, I was assailed with a family crisis – on the sofa with my phone and my computer, I was dealing with Toronto, texts flying back and forth, while listening to my relatives discussing life in the twenties and thirties – the thatched cottage where my mother was born in 1923, which never had an indoor toilet. My grandmother cooking on a stove that burned coke. How they had a fire to heat water for their Saturday night baths, which is where a family of three girls and their mother burned their sanitary napkins. Fascinating stuff.
My cousin and I are very alike – both strong-willed, efficient firstborns with one younger sibling completely unlike us and not close, both of us driven and anxious, she even more anxious than I and that’s saying something. I love her a lot. It was a huge gift to see her and Do together, to see the joy on their faces as they hugged goodbye. Family. Blood. Goes deep.