One of the major life influences I had growing up was my late father's sister, Nancy (but she went by the childhood nickname "Toni," so she was always "Aunt Toni" to my brothers and sisters and me). She was a constant presence, with a warm hand affectionately rubbing my back if she was nearby or a lovingly and eloquently written letter (in her instantly recognizable and inimitable cursive!) if she was not. She asked us kids probing questions and was unfailingly interested in the answers, no matter how unimportant they might have seemed to most grown-ups. But among all the ways she shaped my childhood, it was her deep love of literature and of reading that helped to inspire me to become a writer.
|This beautiful octogenarian still plays golf and could|
run circles around most people half her age. She is
an inspiration to her aging nieces and nephews!
Aunt Toni was my Dad's only sibling. Brilliant and accomplished, she was a high school English teacher for many years, and then she had a second career as a corporate lawyer. For most of our formative years our aunt was single--so we were the lucky five children upon whom she doted. And how we benefitted from her love for us and her desire to give us culturally enriching experiences we never could have had otherwise! She lived in NJ and we were in Upstate NY, but she planned once-in-a-lifetime special trips for us to come and visit her. Each of her nieces of nephews, one or two at a time, would ride a Greyhound bus down to meet her (back in the days when parents thought this was a safe enough thing to do!). She'd pick us up at the bus stop in NJ and we'd spend a few days at her apartment, being treated to trips into NYC to see Broadway plays and eat out at fancy restaurants (and not-so-fancy ones, too, like the iconic Automat).
When I was 11 and my older brother was 12, we rode the bus down together. During our weekend stay, Aunt Toni took us to see "Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway and then she bought me the show's soundtrack album as a souvenir. I played it over and over on my little portable record player and had the lyrics "Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch!" in my head almost constantly for months afterward. On that same visit, she loaned me a copy of Wuthering Heights to read; and although I might have been too young to truly "get" all of it, I can remember being enthralled. "Someday," I thought to myself, "I want to write a book that a reader loves as much as I love this one!"
In her late 30's, Aunt Toni married a kind and gentle man who was both a university professor of physics and a NASA researcher. (They did not have children, so we have remained the lucky recipients of her maternal affection!) Similarly interested in learning, traveling, and reading, they share a love of books and have an impressive personal library. I have given my aunt copies of my own two novels (not exactly on par with the likes of Wuthering Heights, to be sure, but a byproduct of my own lifelong love of the written word--a love she helped to inspire). If they sit on the shelves of her library today, that is an honor beyond description.
Aunt Toni has been participating in a poetry workshop, and she recently shared this copy of a poem she wrote last month. It was inspired by a memory from when she came to visit us at our home in 1960, when we were still living in NJ. I am tickled to be the subject of this original work of hers! And I thought I'd share it here at the blog.
My two-year-old niece is on a mission.
She is focused, doesn’t seem to notice
that I’m in the room.
She walks (more waddling than walking, still)
to a closet, which holds a bag
full of magical papers.
She picks it up for closer inspection,
but she has grabbed the bottom corner
and suddenly there’s a storm of papers,
covering the closet.
She looks, surveys the damage,
sits down on the floor.
She patiently picks up each piece,
puts each photo, each paper,
back in the bag.
She spends time on this task,
carefully replacing everything.
Looking satisfied with herself, she stands,
a balancing act for her two-year-old limbs,
plants her feet and reaches for her prize.
Again she picks it up by the bottom corner.
Photos and papers and envelopes tumble to the floor.
A pause. No exclamation.
She stands, looking, for a moment.
She drops the bag on top of the mess.
Shrugs again, and exits the closet
heading for the kitchen, mom, and a snack.
npg September 2020
There are some snapshots of two-year-old me playing in the closet--as a matter of fact, I think they were taken at the very time of the incident described in Aunt Toni’s poem. (Apparently, along with the bag of papers and letters, I found a pair of my mom's high heels to try out.)
I had this post almost finished, sitting in my “drafts” folder and waiting for an ending, when my husband and I went to daily Mass this past week. During his homily, the priest said something about thanking God for the blessings we receive via the people He puts in our lives...and I thought “yes indeed, how very true!” I am no poet, like my aunt; but Father’s words were like poetry to my ears.