The man was almost incidental by nature.
One time...after he retired and he and Aunt Edith moved back to the Cleveland
area...my brothers and I were helping him put a refrigerator in a backyard shed
because there was no room for it in the trailer they were moving into. After much
jostling my brothers and I closed the shed door and thought we were finished.
From her perch (as supervisor of course) Aunt Edith looked at the three of us
with bewilderment and asked, "Where the HELL is Wes?" And after exchanging
confused glances we heard muffled sounds coming from behind the fridge in the
shed. "MMMPPPHH!!! Hey!! HHMMPPHHFFF!!!" We quickly opened the shed
door, moved aside the refrigerator and liberated Uncle Wes. My brothers and I
were all embarrassed and each, in turn, apologized profusely for our insensitive
behavior. Aunt Edith broke into the humility with a shriek of, "What the
HELL were you doing in there?" Which prompted Uncle Wes to...once again...chant
his mantra. "For Chrissakes Edith!! SHUDD UPP!!" They were quite the
loving couple. Their last name was Crabtree. I am not making this up.
Wes soon was diagnosed with lung cancer. Thirty years in the steel mills and 2 packs a day of Chesterfield non-filters caught up with him. The last time I saw him he was lying on the couch in their trailer smoking the aforementioned brand of cigarettes, quite literally coughing his lungs out...or what was left of them. "I TOLD him to quit those goddamned things years ago. " Aunt Edith offered for my contemplation. To which Uncle Wes replied sarcastically (yep, you guessed it) "Cough cough...For Chrissakes HACK! HACK! Edith!!! SHUDD UPPP!!!" These were the final words I heard my uncle ever say and we all joked at the funeral that these very words were more than likely chiseled into his headstone.
A few years after Wes passed, my brother and his new wife were having their very first Christmas and invited everyone over...including Aunt Edith. My parents were there along with my siblings and their families. This included my brother Jim's 9 year old adopted son Matt. Matt the Brat was what my father called him. I thought this surprisingly subtle for my Dad. If I knew where Matt is today...and thank God I do not...I would have to guess some one killed him or he's in jail convicted of several murders. I honestly don't care so long as he's nowhere near me. So Matt the Brat is playing with one of the toys some one so graciously gave him and he broke it. This kid could break anything he got his hands on. But in a moment of diplomacy my father (affectionately known as Snook) said, "They don't make anything any good any more!!" To which...in the spirit of the season Aunt Edith quipped, "You're right Snook!! Everything IS SHIT!!!" Well...happy holidays to you too Aunt Edith. Inside my head I distinctly heard a voice from my past reply, "For Chrissakes Edith!! SHUDD UPPP!"
You know...there are lots of reasons to go through life believing that "everything is shit." There are days when it certainly seems true to me. I have my days when Sartre's "Hell is other people" could easily be the thought of the day. But...unlike Aunt Edith...I don't want to spend a big chunk of my life living alone in a trailer. And when I think of this particular Christmas it strikes me how most of them blur into each other...with the exception of a few. And this is one of them I distinctly remember. As much as family...and sometimes even friends...can annoy a person...especially at this time of year...I have come to realize that even some one like Aunt Edith helped make me who I have become. I mean that in a positive way. Imagine...Aunt Edith's negativity was so over the top it MADE me consider the positive. I have no idea how she became so bitter. My father did shortly before he died also. Yet they both, particularly Snook, had a positive influence. They were there. Unlike today when some people are not.
This holiday season...regardless of which one you celebrate...take the time to savor those around you...even if they drive you nuts. They may not...for whatever reason...be there next year. And in some strange way, which will surprise you, their absence will make you miss them. I guarantee it. (a possible exception to this uplifting message might be Matt the Brat) And you might consider that next year YOU might not be here. So I suppose my holiday message may seem bittersweet to most...but that's how I see it. And if anyone feels the need to take issue with my views then I encourage you to speak up LOUDLY...'cause I've got one thing and one thing only to say to you.
note: Aunt Edith died early this fall. She was 90 years old. Her neighbor called
my Uncle Bruce and told him she had passed out in her trailer. He went and got
asked if she was alright and she said she was. He suggested she go
to the hospital to make sure everything was okay. She told him to go to hell and
get out of her house. He did just that
returning an hour later and she was
surely. But she lived her last day the way she lived every previous
one. And despite her surliness I will miss my Aunt Edith this Christmas. And I
will remember the one long ago when she informed us "Everything is shit!"
Rest in peace Aunt Edith. I can picture Jesus turning to her and proclaiming,
"Truly, truly I say unto you
For Wes's sake Edith