Her fragile form doubled over the sewing basket; dangly, oversized rings clicked together as her gnarled fingers dug through its contents. “Now I know those needles are in here somewhere…”
Great Aunt Emma’s raspy voice crackled from underneath her neat, twisted white bun edged with silver hairpins that stuck out in every direction. Rattle, rattle, the wooden spools clattered with a sort of primitive rhythm as they knocked together. “Here, here they are.” She held up an ancient black packet with several needles hooked inside the cellophane cover. “Could you thread three each of white and black for me? Then when I need to sew on a button, or stitch a tear, I’ll be ready.”
“Sure, Aunt Emma! I can’t believe you still do all your sewing yourself. That is so cool. I hope I’m still sewing buttons when I’m 90 years old.”
After the needles were threaded, Aunt Emma suggested our usual rousing game of Chinese Checkers. “Do you want to play?” she croaked with that competitive look in her eye.
“Sure! Bet I’ll beat you this time, Aunt Emma.”
“What color do you want?” she asked me. Great Aunt Emma was nearly blind – but hardly incapacitated. Looking for more light, she hobbled with a cane from her sewing chair to the rocker by the window. A folded, lace-edged hankie protruded from her dress neckline just above her cameo brooch, as usual. She pulled it out and blew her nose with a loud honk.
“You see red the best, Aunt Emma. I’ll take yellow.”
The game was like so many others. Sometimes it took Aunt Emma a long time to make a move…so in the meantime, I looked out the window and talked about what I saw. “Seems the grass is starting to green up Aunt Emma, and I think the tips of the crocus plants are showing in the flower bed. It won’t be long before the daffodils will be out.”
Aunt Emma held her nose almost to the game board, studying the possibilities. “I love my daffodils,” she mumbled, breathing into the little holes on the board. “They’re happy flowers…remind me how life goes on...” She looked up at me before making her move. “You know…winter comes and everything rests awhile…before starting all over again every spring.”
Her weathered, splotchy hands hopped a red marble over three of my yellow ones. “See? I got you there!” She grinned up at me with the precious smile of one who realizes that victory often grows out of patience and struggle.
She beat me that day, like always – because I made sure she did. Her huge eyes crinkled playfully behind the very thick lenses in her glasses. “Honey, I just love this game.”
* * * * *
The next year I went to college, and it seemed I left everything behind – including Aunt Emma. In March of the spring semester I received a postcard from my mother.
Forgot to tell you that Aunt Emma passed away last month in a nursing home. She moved there last fall. It seems she was ready to die. Sorry I forgot to mention this earlier.
I desperately clutched the card while riding the elevator up to my room. It was all that was left of Great Aunt Emma. A little piece of paper. That was it.
Why hadn’t someone told me? Had she died alone? Was there a funeral? What happened to her Chinese Checker board and sewing basket? Were her crocuses blooming?
I plopped my books down on my bed and stared through tears at the maple tree just outside my dormitory window. Its buds were opening into new leaves in preparation for another summer. Meanwhile, the institutional green walls seemed to cave in on me from every side. With the postcard in hand, I ran down the hall to the staircase, lunged down eight flights of stairs, and burst outside into the spring sunshine.
The heavy metal door slammed against the brick building. My heart pounded; I was dizzy, and gasped for breath.
A terraced slope lay before me, covered with daffodils. I re-read the card in my hand, “Aunt Emma passed away…” and then stared at the winsome faces of the flowers.
Aunt Emma’s voice seemed very near: “…they’re happy flowers…remind me how life goes on…”
I choked back my sobs as the cheerful blossoms bobbed in the wind - and envisioned Aunt Emma dancing with even greater exuberance in heaven. “You know…everything rests…before starting…over...”
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