It’s always important to tell the truth. Except for when you shouldn’t, like when you’re standing at the customs booth wanting to get into a country and the stern customs agent asks “What is the purpose of your visit ma’am?”
Under no circumstance should you be truthful then. You absolutely should not tell the customs agent that you’re going to San Antonio to be a travel nanny for your great aunt’s daughter’s son because the Homeland security employee won’t understand, and even worse he might not let you into the country. Admittedly, it isn’t the customs agent’s fault. At first glance your great aunt’s daughter’s son doesn’t sound like an important person to visit. It sounds suspiciously like “I’m a petit, blonde drug mule hell bent on your country’s destruction.” Because great aunts couldn’t possibly be that important. And great aunt’s daughters couldn’t possibly be that important either, but the thing is, for me they are.
Aunty Betty. I can’t actually do justice in talking about Aunty Betty and the kind of person she is so I’m going to tell a story instead.
Once, when I was eight, my sister Diana, Granddad, Mom and I all piled into Granddad’s van and drove for three years. That’s an exaggeration but only slight, because for an eight and six year old, the drive from Ontario to Manitoba might as well have been three years long.
So we drove, and then we drove some more, and then we stopped to play koosh ball with mom. After that we got back into the car and drove for another month. And finally, finally we pulled up to what seemed to be a very nondescript house. It looked like any other house in that subdivision; medium sized, well maintained with a picturesque garden. But it wasn’t any other house on the block, although Diana and I didn’t know that yet.
So Granddad’s van pulled into the driveway and out tumbled Diana and I like clowns from a small car, so eager were we to be free of our seatbelts. And we knocked on the door and it opened, and out came Aunty Betty and her husband.
Some people hae auditory hallucinations of their cell phone ringing, after listening to a funny story I can hear Aunty Betty’s laugh ringing through my ears. My Great Aunt’s laugh is the sound of appreciation coming from her very core, she throws her head back and it’s powerful. The sound is glorious and I know that Diana loves it too because why else would she have plied our dear Great Aunt with so many blueberry coolers at Granddad’s seventieth fete?
And then Aunty Betty spoke. Her words overflowed with kindness, you longed to hear her address you as “Luvie” and most often your keen listening was rewarded. She showed children the same level of respect as grownups. Truth be told she shows everyone that same amount of respect. But I’ll touch on where I learned the value of offering basic human rights in another story. And best of all was what she talked about; vegetarians, music, Autism, mod, everything under the sun that Diana and I had never heard of but wanted to learn more about.
After that we sat down to dinner and met Carter’s Mommy, but she wasn’t Carter’s Mommy then. She wasn’t anyone’s mommy then, so she went by Jessica*. Diana and I would probably have spent the entire meal just fascinated with Jessica, listening to her melodious voice and her laugh which sounded a lot like Aunty Betty’s if it hadn’t been for George**.
George was Aunty Betty’s oldest son and as soon as he sat down at the dinner table my and Diana’s eyes were glued on him and stayed there the entire meal.
A nose ring. A. Nose. Ring. A nose ring! Without looking at the other sister’s face we read each other other’s minds as our eyes tried to digest the concept of this small piece of metal. He seemed so friendly but then he had gone and shoved a silver circle through one of his perfectly good nostrils! Piercing your ears before fourteen was verboten in our house, so our young brains could not have fathomed something so foreign or strange as a nose ring.
After the meal Jessica brought out her guitar and together she and George sang so Diana and I could dance our hearts out. The four of us stayed in Aunty Betty’s home with her family for a week before heading back to Ontario.
On our last night there my eight year old heart was broken. How could I leave a place where everyone was kind and there were so many people to sing and talk with? I cried for so long that my mother eventually carried me from the bed where Diana was trying to sleep into the living room where the adults were talking. Comforted by the flow of familiar voices over me I nodded off.
I probably wouldn’t have been so tearful had I known that we would return again and again to visit Aunty Betty and her mother, my Great Grandma Kay. Or that they in turn would fly to my province to visit me. And that I would spend a whole week of my adolescence traipsing about after Aunty Betty while she talked to me about the world.
Unfortunately those things are hard to explain and nearly impossible to convey in less than sixty seconds to border guards. Even more difficult to comprehend is that in my list of favourite places in the whole world that the Kanaapali beach in Maui falls behind sitting in my Great Aunt’s kitchen. So returning home from the states my arms noodle-y from carrying Carter back and forth from the pool, I replied with a succinct “Visiting family” in response being asked the purpose of my visit.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of both Jessica and her son Carter. It’s bad enough that I insist on sending oversized t shirts with monsters on them in the mail that Carter then wears around like a tiny muumuu.
**George is the only member of my family who hasn’t had my blog forced upon him like pasta at an Italian picnic so I don’t feel right putting his real name up on my site.