When I was seven years old, I went to stay with my Great Aunt Lally and Great Uncle Herbert while my mother was getting me a new baby sister.
Great Aunt Lally and Great Uncle Herbert had lived in the same house for over fifty years. Every room was cluttered with china ornaments and doilies, and there were gnomes hiding under the geraniums in the garden, grinning wickedly, it seemed to me; I was afraid of them. Great Aunt Lally smelled odd, and there was always a smear of egg on Great Uncle Herbert’s bow tie.
My mother took an awful long time to get my sister, and except for one thing, it would have been an altogether unpleasant time.
Every afternoon, we sat on the front porch, I on the steps, and Great Aunt Lally and Great Uncle Herbert in their wicker rockers. They’d share a pot of tea, and I’d be allowed a glass of milk. I didn’t like milk, so I poured it, a dribble at a time, down a crack in the step.
Great Aunt Lally and Great Uncle Herbert would talk about everything and everyone.
“I heard Tom Morrison bought a new horse,” Uncle Herbert declared.
“A hearse? Tom Morrison died?”
“Tom ain’t dead. Good gravy, he’s only twenty-nine years old,” exclaimed Uncle Herbert.
“’He wasn’t born in 1929. I was there when he was born. His mother was thirty hours in labour.”
“Huh? What was that?”
“Thirty hours. The poor woman laboured for thirty hours,” repeated Aunt Lally.
“Ah, yes, I remember quite well. Dirty laundry everywhere.” Uncle Herbert shook his head in disgust.
Aunt Lally asked indignantly, “What laundry? I’ll have you know the laundry was done and put away before you went to sleep after lunch.”
“Sleep? Tom is putting his horse to sleep? Why, he just bought it. Is it colicky or what?”
“No, Tom was never colicky.” Aunt Lally nodded. “He was a contented and happy baby, but not as good as our own Ben here.” She smiled fondly at me. I dabbed at a drip of milk on the glass and wiped my fingers on my trousers.
“Ben’s got a new horse? Why didn’t you tell me, boy?” Uncle Herbert cuffed me on the head.
“I don’t have a horse, Uncle Herbert. I don’t even have a dog,” I lamented, feeling quite sorry for myself. A dog would be better than a new sister.
“Sick as a dog! You poor boy, why didn’t you say you felt unwell.” As Aunt Lally leaned over and laid a hand on my brow, the peculiar smell wafted around me, and, indeed, I did begin to feel quite ill. “You need a spoonful of tonic,” she said. “That’ll have you feeling fit as a fiddle straightaway.”
“Good idea!” exclaimed Uncle Herbert. “Bring me my fiddle and we’ll have a little song and dance. Liven up the day.”
“Not now, Herbert. Can’t you see the boy is unwell? I think he should have a wee lie-down.” Aunt Lally clucked and patted me comfortingly. My mind raced, wondering how to avoid both the nasty tonic and a nap in the be-ruffled bedroom.
“Please, Aunt Lally, just a sip of water. Then, I’ll be right as rain.”
Uncle Herbert frowned. “Rain? Why, there’s not a cloud in the sky. Say, Lally dear, do you recall the summer of 1932 when it didn’t rain for forty-three days in a row? Corn didn’t grow more’n a foot tall.”
“Sorry, dear, no corn for supper tonight. We’re having new potatoes and snap beans. We’ll have corn and baby peas tomorrow. How’s that?”
“Ben, did you hear that? The baby is coming tomorrow.” Uncle Herbert rubbed his hands together in glee, and he thumped me on the back.
I grinned. It was both wondrous and frightening to me that I was able to follow their bewildering conversation.
The wicker rockers creaked rhythmically. I trickled the last drop of milk down the crack.
“Herbert, dear,” Great Aunt Lally suddenly inquired brightly, “did you hear Tom Morrison bought a new horse?”
Huh?” I stifled a snicker.
In response, Great Uncle Herbert rumbled out a deep, contented snore. Aunt Lally sighed.
I realized, in that moment, that love is not just blind, but deaf, as well.
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