Family & Friends

Love In All Contexts: My Two Aunt Mims

“Every day I spent with her was Valentine’s Day. I wish every girl could have an Aunt Mim in her life. I was lucky enough to have two in mine.”

Fast-forward to around twenty years later, when the second of my Aunt Mims appeared. I was a little old for a fairy godmother by then, but more than ever in need of a guardian angel.

I was away at school for the first time when, possibly due to her own experience with homesickness, Aunt Mim began phoning my dorm room regularly to check up on me. What was I having for dinner, she wanted to know. And then one night, when I answered the phone in a foggy voice, there was a far more maddening question. “Susie, are you on drugs?”

It was the early ‘70s, when marijuana and LSD were much in the news. But I had nothing to do with illegal substances of any kind, and got right on my high horse to defend myself. “Listen, Aunt Mim, if my voice sounds funny it’s because I fell asleep studying. Your call woke me up!” I protested in a rush of words. “When I have a cold I—I—hardly even take an aspirin!”

“Well, that’s all right, then,” Aunt Mim said, relief palpable in her voice. She was the guardian angel who was never going to let her guard down on my behalf.

We got past that debacle and went on to better days. When I brought my Boston-born fiancé home to meet her and the other coal-region relatives, Aunt Mim said she loved the way Michael said Africer instead of Africa, just as President Kennedy once had. She put a polka on the stereo and, together, she and my future husband danced until roses bloomed in their cheeks.

When Michael died too soon, as Aunt Mim’s father once had, she couldn’t be at the funeral to comfort me as I know she would have wanted to. Aunt Mim had already passed on to her own reward by then. But one night during my first year of widowhood, the strangest of dreams began to unreel in my head.

First I saw an old New England schooner with a wooden maiden leaning forward in the bow. She looked forceful and determined. And yet she also looked softer than other figureheads I’d seen. Her gown was light and white and gauzy. It trailed way past her toes. Oh, good, her feet won’t get cold tonight, I remember thinking as I dreamed on.

And then I recognized her. Aunt Mim! Her gaze was locked sideways so there was no way for me to look her in the eye. There was no chance for me to get her attention, either, with her focus clamped like a searchlight on the sea. Still, I had no doubt it was she. Who else would come back from heaven to find out how I was faring without Michael?

I bolted upright in bed then. And when my eyes fluttered open a second or two later, Aunt Mim was still there. I continued to see her floating around at the foot of my bed.

I gasped and grabbed for my pillow and in that second, Aunt Mim vanished from view. As if she’d never been there at all. Except that I know, I know, she was there when I first opened my eyes in the morning light.

Because I’ve never believed in ghosts, my mind began to race. Already I was searching for some kind of rational explanation for what I’d just seen. Could my eyes have played a trick on me? Could her image have gotten stuck on my retina, like a frame of film caught in an overheated projector?

I’ll never know how Aunt Mim managed to leap like a salmon from my dream into my day—not on this Valentine’s Day, or any other. But ever since that dream of mine, I’ve been trying to decide what I should take away from it.

Maybe its message is that I should lean forward into the headwinds, the way the figurehead on the schooner did.  Aunt Mim loved me with a special love. She would have wanted me to keep going and love on.

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  • l gibbons February 18, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    A heartwarming story

  • Linda Heller February 16, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    From your beautiful tribute, I feel like I know Aunt Mim. Wonderful writing; great memories..

  • Susanna Gaertner February 16, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    Vivid, enchanting, truly captivating…thank you.

  • Cecilia Ford February 15, 2017 at 11:25 am

    What a lovely tribute. Thanks so much for sharing these memories.

  • Nora Brossard February 15, 2017 at 11:19 am

    I loved this story, a vivid tribute to the way an important, loving adult relative can weave her way into the fiber of one’s being, and beautifully told from reindeer moss to ghostly figureheads. Brava.