Aunt Bert by Jim Harris
I recently received an unexpected gift. A a check for $2,000 came in the mail. It was from an insurance policy taken out by my Aunt Bert, who passed away in 1983. Why it took 18 years to reach me, or how they found me at all, I don't know, but I didn't ask any questions. I was surprised and touched that she had remembered me at all in such a fashion, considering that I was not exactly a great help to her in life. I felt suddenly wistful and a little bit guilty.
I went to the box of photographs that is the only treasured thing amongst all the junk that I have. It includes pictures of three generations of my family in America, almost all of them deceased now. There she was, Alberta O'Kane, the pretty little woman who married my Uncle Joe, standing on the beach at Atlantic City. I recognized everyone in the photos; uncles, aunts, and my late brother with his beautiful British wife who he met while stationed overseas. Smiling faces all, happy to be together after a horrible world war.
I was a very young boy then, but I remember the closeness and the fun that filled those days. They cherished their weekends, holidays, vacations, anytime they could all be together. They had parties, rented seashore houses, drank their fancy cocktails, ate steak and smoked cigarettes. Who knew? No one in those days jogged, did yoga or read self-help books. They lived life on life's terms and generally died young by today's standards.
Uncle Joe, who was actually too old to fight in the war but lied about his age in order to join the army, died in '55, leaving Aunt Bert a relatively young widow. She got a modest apartment and still came to family parties until advancing age and lack of funds forced her into a city-run rest home. She had a little bird there that she doted on. It was her only reminder of the beauty in the world. It must have been hard for her, but she always had a big smile and a kind word on the rare occasions that I found time to visit. I don't even remember if I attended her funeral.
Aunt Bert and her generation are fast becoming chapters in the history books. They were the sons and daughters of immigrants, mostly from large, close-knit families, just beginning to establish their identity as Americans. Their offspring have scattered all over the map now, lost in the melting pot. This is the way things go here. New ethnic groups will arrive, gathering their families closely around them for comfort and support in the strange new land, and someday their children will move on, too. I'm not saying that this is good or bad. I'm just feeling a bit wistful at the moment.
I used the check to pay
some of my credit card bills. It was sort of like dropping a pebble
in the ocean. I'm so successful now that I have lots of junk that
I'll probably never finish paying for. The real gift was the fact
that I was reminded of Aunt Bert and Uncle Joe and a wonderful
time in history. I own those memories, and I owe it to posterity
to pass them on.
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