memoir: an impressionistic voyage around my aunt

Today’s poetic offering comes straight from the heart. It’s an excerpt from my ongoing part poetry and part prose memoir writing. I’m sharing an impressionistic voyage around my Aunt, trying to capture an essence of who she was.

Aunt Madge was quite a character, and I haven’t depicted more than a fleeting impression of her here. I vividly remember coming across my Aunt in the subway of our main shopping precinct decades ago.

From a distance she looked like a mysterious Russian spy to me, with her sumptuous real fur coat (considered acceptable then) and matching hat, darkened glasses, stooped frame and patterned cane. But on seeing me, she swiftly reverted to being my beloved Aunt again.

My Mother’s elder sister, a Mathematics teacher by profession, she lived and taught locally and always had time for children, though she remained childless herself. Madge devoured books as if they were going out of fashion. She always had a ready, somewhat conspiratorial smile, full of warmth, impish charm and love.

memoir - We shared a great love of books, especially poetry, and a desire to retreat into them at the slightest opportunity quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

We shared a great love of books, especially poetry, and a desire to retreat into them at the slightest opportunity. 📚 Her home housed its own library—as in lots of shelves, books and accessibility—and I loved spending time in it. It’s where I first encountered poetry, and my love affair with it endures to this day.

Maybe it was the fact that she’d served abroad, including time in India during the Second World War, that gave her a certain aura. It certainly gave her an abiding fondness for Assam and Darjeeling tea! 😉

Most of my memories of her stem from when I was a girl. I was in awe of this magnificent woman who seemed to have come straight out of the pages of a novel herself, and who introduced me to Jesus by giving me a Children’s Bible to read when I was small. ✝️

memoir - a poetry book aunt madge bought and inscribed for me (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

My Aunt

A mountainous paper stack
sat beside her cluttered chair,
just tall enough
to rest a cup of tea, and maybe
space for an ashtray in-between.

Walls were decorated
floor to ceiling with books,
and piles sat precariously,
like fidgety children,
not wanting to be overlooked.

I remember how
cigarette ash wobbled tremulously
on her open lips, resembling
a volcano about to erupt,
ready to spill its contents.

She had a hacking
cough, a real blue-lipped, watery-eyed,
red-faced, grimacing
endless stream, as if to cause
her imminent demise.

Her bent body
wracked and shuddered alarmingly,
until the ship
finally righted itself and steadied,
as each spasm sank to sea.

What I remember most
about my Aunt
is her curious, twinkling
blue-eyed smile, her infinite warmth,
her endless kindness and love.

And she helped
instil in me a passionate, enduring
love of books,
spiritual awareness and burgeoning
faith, a trust I hadn’t yet discovered
with adults anywhere else.
© joylenton

memoir - my aunt poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

I hope you’ve enjoyed this slight deviation from the usual offering. Do you have any special memories of a relative who is no longer with you? Feel free to share below. I think their essence lives on in our minds and hearts, don’t you? 🙂 ❤

12 thoughts on “memoir: an impressionistic voyage around my aunt

  1. Dear Joy,
    Oh what a precious gift God sent to you through your dear Aunt Madge. She must have seen that hidden delight in your heart over the way that words could build such beauty. I too was so encouraged by my own Aunt Lois, a prim and proper Quaker Spinster. And yet, she had seen adventure that I could only dream about, as she left her farming upbringing to become a secretary in the city, and traveled in the American West in the 40s and 50s. She also gifted me with books of poetry! Another connection that we share from God’s planning for us! Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to one who helped to shape your heart and life. Blessings, love, and hugs dear poet/sister/friend. xoxo

    • Dear Bettie, I believe you are right about how my Aunt must have perceived that “hidden delight” in literature and poetry in my heart, and sought to nurture it. Sometimes I wonder what she would have made of me writing poetry books myself. Thank you for sharing about your Aunt Lois. She sounds fascinating!
      I’m also intrigued by the commonality of our experience with being gifted books of poetry, although I only have that one precious copy from my Aunt. May we seek to have such an inspiring influence and be a source of encouragement for those in our own families and beyond. Blessings, love, and hugs to you, too, dear poet/sister/friend. xoxo 😊💜

  2. What would my life be, if not for my aunt Göta? I’ll share more about her in a blog soon. She could have chosen a different life. Instead she stayed faithfully at home with her parents (RA father and later, blind mother).
    She became my best friend when I was a broken MK-teenager.

    • Oh, Lisa, it sounds as if you have far more to say on the topic of your aunt than you have shared here. She obviously left a really positive mark on your life. Thank you so much for sharing a snippet of your close and loving relationship with her, and giving us a glimpse of your special relative. I hope and pray you are keeping well, my friend. Blessings and love. xo ❤️

      • Dear Joy,
        You are right. My aunt was special. She listened to my lamentations about leaving my childhood homeland in my broken Finnish. And much more!

        Thanks for your lovely poem about your aunt!

      • Dear Lisa, when we are hurting and sad it’s a wonderful gift when someone we trust offers to be a listening ear for us. No wonder you treasure your memories of your special and caring aunt. I’m glad you like the poem! So often my deepest feelings find their expression best through poetry more than prose. x 💜

  3. My fondest memories of my Aunt Ouina (and her husband, Uncle Don, brother to my grandma) are intertwined with memories of my grandma.

    I used to spend the summers with my grandparents in the Bronx when I was young; grandma and I would sometimes take the bus to visit Aunt Ouina (always an adventure in itself, dropping my coins into the box with a chiming clunk, and hurrying to find a seat before the bus lurched into motion and plunked me into a strangers lap).

    We would disembark in downtown Flushing, then proceed past the restaurants, the Woolworth’s store, the flashy neon lights, and the fruit stands, eventually passing into the neighborhoods of tall apartments and duplex houses. I would look for familiar landmarks to gauge how much farther we had to go, but was always surprised to suddenly see the steps down to their lobby appearing before us, when I believed we were yet blocks away.
    We would ride the creaky, musty elevator to their floor and be greeted with her lovely Jamaican accent, saying, ‘Welcome, loves!’

    She was tiny, and spry, and never let any of us kids try to measure our height against hers, always laughing and scurrying to quickly sit before we could manage to compare where we stood. Their home was filled with love, laughter, and the orchestral music of the 1940’s and ’50’s, and once in a rare while she and Uncle Don would dance to it.

    Luncheon would be served; a presentation of deli meats and cheeses, each slice rolled into a log, with plates of pickles, sliced tomatoes, lettuces, small fresh rolls, and assorted condiments beautifully laid out on the cloth covered table, and all the iced tea anyone could want close to hand. Grace would be said, and we would happily pass the plates around, with much laughter and talk.

    Leaving meant looking back up to their window from the streets, and seeing her dear face leaning out the window, waving goodbye until we were out of sight. I know this because I would check often, turning back to wave and blow kisses to my elfin-sized Aunt.

    She and Uncle Don never lost their gracious and languid Jamaican ways. Their hospitality, warm welcome, gentle spirits, and the way they lavished attention on their guests made an imprint upon my being, so much so that I can close my eyes and be transported to their flat instantly and be wrapped in her love, with her smiling eyes twinkling up at me.

    • Joie, this is such a poignant, delightful recollection of your Aunt Ouina and Uncle Dom. You’ve really succeeded in bringing them to life. Are you writing your own memoir by any chance?

      The lovely luncheon you have described sounds very much like a Sunday afternoon tea we would have if my Mother put on a spread or we were visiting relatives.

      Your feelings for your aunt and uncle are clearly evident, as are theirs for you. I’m so glad you had these special, loving people in your life, and truly honoured you felt able to share your memories here. Thank you, my friend! Bless you. 😊💜

      • Hi Joy!

        They were such a wonderful couple and the moments I had with them are priceless treasures held close to my heart. I’m happy to share them with you and thank you for a reason to recall those memories.

        I haven’t given thought to writing my memoirs, but that is a wonderful compliment, so thank you!

        Have a lovely day, Joy!

      • Hi Joie, I loved reading about them! And I think you have a great knack of setting a scene and drawing the reader in with interest and curiosity. It’s well worth thinking about putting your past into prose and seeing it through the filter of time and hindsight. I’ve found it quite cathartic, and it’s given me a few nice surprises along the way. Enjoy the rest of your day too, dear friend! I so appreciate your presence and input here. Bless you. x 💜

    • Thanks, Deborah! I’m glad my poetic portrait has sparked your interest. I wish I had spent more time with her, and I think she would have loved your company and conversation. Her mind was lively and alert even if her body ailed and failed her. And once you got her talking about her teaching, travels or books, there was no stopping her. It’s a blessing to see you here, my friend. x ❤️

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