This entry is for my Aunt Bunny. She passed away a couple of weeks ago. Her “real” name was Blanche but no one ever called her that. As a matter of fact I remember as a kid when my mother bought Aunt Bunny a washing machine and was giving the salesman the name and address for delivery, I didn’t quite believe her when she said yes, that’s really Aunt Bunny’s name. I still had my doubts. She was actually my Great-Aunt. In more ways than one. This month would have marked her 90th birthday.
Aunt Bunny was like a second Mom to my mother. And as I hear the stories of when my Mom and Dad first moved up here as tender young newlyweds, I realize just how instrumental my Great-Aunt was in keeping my family afloat. But then I think she did that for a lot of people. Every Sunday from when I was a little girl to high school we would go visit Aunt Bunny like clockwork and a number of times, I spent the night.
Sleepovers at her house were always weird and exciting at the same time. She lived in the city in a row-house on the waterfront – before waterfront became cool – and across from a diner where all manner of people could be found…so it was always fascinating for me to hang out of her window at night and listen to the fights, the sirens, the drunk trying to make his way home who happened to be quite musically inclined, and the general flurry of activity in her neighborhood. Let me tell you, I saw things I would definitely never see in my nice suburban home.
I’m not sure why, but the metal cabinet in her kitchen aka dining room aka sitting room always held a fascination for me. I loved going through it and seeing what I could find….tins full of buttons, years old political pins (Vote for Wallace!), and gosh knows what all. I loved that cabinet. When Aunt Bunny moved into a nursing home, she gave me that cabinet and when I looked at it in my own house it just didn’t hold that same fascination….it was as if it were a different cabinet altogether. Taking it out of her home, away from childhood memories, and into the light of day changed it somehow. It made me sad.
She lived smack in the middle of the city, so her backyard was actually just a small swath of concrete. She did have a raised garden in the corner that had a rose bush in it. And a turtle. She had a box turtle that she fed hamburger meat and tomatoes. I’m not sure how long that turtle lived in that tiny bit of flora, but he was spoiled, I know that. And how exactly does a turtle even find his way into a place like that? I never found the answer to that one.
It’s odd when I think of this woman flourishing in a cityscape considering the fact that she was born and bred in the hills of West Virginia. Coal country. Mountains, streams, lots of green. The surroundings in which she found herself as a grown woman couldn’t have been a larger contrast to her childhood home. I often wondered if she was happy surrounded by brick and concrete or if she spent her life missing the open space, the green. She never said. At least not to me.
I was raised in the suburbs. Not exactly the hills of West Virginia but definitely a far cry from the city life. So any time I stayed at Aunt Bunny’s house, it was thrilling. I badgered her constantly to give me some freedom and let me wander around. Okay, now as an aside…this is the same Great-Aunt who came to stay with me when I was caught out in the horseback riding lie. She wasn’t exactly the kind of person who would let her niece go gallivanting around the city on her own. Until the day she did. Finally! I was allowed to walk to the corner store on my own! Yay me!! If memory serves (and there’s no promise there), I might’ve been 10. And she let me walk to the corner store all by myself. It was only a few blocks away but it was also around the corner which meant I would be out of sight from anyone in the world who knew who I was. Big deal, right? Hell, knowing what I know now as an adult, I don’t think I’d let my own daughter do that if she were the same age. Aunt Bunny was really going out on a limb.
Or so I thought.
Now I truly thought I was old enough to handle the voyage on my lonesome (what ten-year old doesn’t, right??). On top of that, I thought I was getting away with something my Mother would’ve blown her top about. Even better, right!? And Aunt Bunny let me keep that illusion, bless her heart. In reality she had enlisted a whole network of spies (she called them neighbors. yeah, right.) who watched me every step of the way from their living room windows. Every invisible check-point I would pass would call in and tell Aunt Bunny that all was quiet on the Western front. Wendy still hasn’t messed up the act of walking down the sidewalk. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had the damn store owner call her up and let her know I was okay. Another aside…little did I know at the time that while it was the “big, bad city,” Aunt Bunny’s little section of it was really quite tight and the neighbors looked out for each other.
There are a lot of memories wrapped up in that Montford Avenue row-house. Amazing homemade crab cakes eaten on crackers, and polish sausage wrapped up in a slice of bread with mustard, hyacinths bought at Easter time, and ice tea made out of a powder mix. My deep, deep regret, as I carry with me regarding several family members, is that I did not spend enough time with her after I grew up. I should’ve been there more than I was. Especially at the end.
Aunt Bunny had four sisters including my Grandma Jimmie. Sadly, they have all passed as well. Oh and their mother? None other than Grandma Mooney of the Vinegar Valentines…so the sisters’ personalities were earned honestly. Eccentric mischief makers come to mind, but that description really does not do them any justice at all. Suffice it to say that each and every one of those Mooney girls was a real hoot. Bunny’s departure from this life means she’s back with her four sisters and mother, and I can only imagine how crazy Heaven must’ve been that day with their reunion. But if anyone can take it, I bet the Lord Almighty can. Still, I hope he has earplugs…and a good sense of humor.