Monday, September 13, 2010

the little red suitcase

My very first memory ever is of sitting at the top of the stairs of Aunt Rita's apartment--my little red suitcase was carefully packed--or at least as carefully as a two and a half year old could pack--and I knew exactly what I wanted--I wanted to go HOME. I was NOT home, Rita was NOT my mother, and I wanted to be home with my Mommy.

Now truth be told Aunt Rita--or Rita as I grew to call her--was a lovely caring person --my Mother's older sister and I was there because my sister was getting born. Indeed I did get to go home a few days later. I am sure I had a lovely time with Aunt Rita and I have no memory of meeting my sister. After that first memory, the memories all fade and blur.

I kept the little red suitcase. When my folks died, I moved it to Massachusetts. Tied up since the lock doesn't really work anymore. I forget how little it was. Pressed paper. Inside I believe there is a little mirror. Blue and white paper lines it. Look at that little plastic handle. I know it so well.

 Maybe it is because of this suitcase that I always associated the color red with my Aunt. Maybe it was the slight tint of red to her hair. Or maybe it was just her personality. She was the aunt I didn't know as well.  She had graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago and actually had promise as a painter. Apparently she was also a good singer. But she had her own life to deal with.

One early marriage that was never talked about. From my Mother's journal of the time, I learned that he was a charmer. Full of life and adventure. Once he took my aunt, mother and their younger sister on an airplane flight over Detroit--it only cost $1 per person. Later my aunt and her new husband were invited to tour Nazi Germany as part of a small business/goodwill tour. Writing about it even then, they raised questions about the government while they also had adventures climbing fences in farm fields. Newly-weds in love. (Oh where did I put my copy of that journal? I must find it.) One son. My oldest cousin. This was long before I was born. I never met that husband. He was never discussed. Indeed it wasn't until a few years ago that she told me the marriage ended in a divorce.

Later another husband. He came on the scene. Then he left. I had met him so I knew they got divorced. Again this was not done back in the fifties.

So my aunt lived what was almost thought of as an exotic life. For years she had a dress shop up in her town. I have vague memories of visiting it. She played golf--that also seemed exotic to a farm girl. She would show up at Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthday parties. Her hair always beautifully done. I never heard her complain. In truth though I didn't know her well then. She was too busy as a single mother. Too busy supporting herself and her son. Remember this was the fifties and sixties. This was not done back then. 

I knew she wrote my Mother regularly. After the younger sister died, my Mother suggested that I begin writing her. This began a wonderful correspondence. If I wrote, she would write back. Asking me questions about my business. Telling me that her Father, my Grandfather loved to garden. He had grown up on a farm. She was always proud that I could actually support myself as an artist. She never doubted me. Those little pieces of information that add meaning and explanation to life. Little bits of advice about my life.

When my Mother passed, she was too old to come down to the services. Instead a cousin bought some red "roses" to represent her. Again that color red. At first I wondered about imitation flowers from WalMart--but I took them home. Put them in a vase in my kitchen. They watch over me still.

Last year she finally moved out of her apartment--the one with the big staircase. Yes, she knew that she could no longer live by herself. She knew her time had come--and yes, she did research her new home. She gave her beloved cat--Tammy--to a dear friend. Complained about the other ladies at the assisted living facility. I continued to write. Her last letter told me to have a "good summer".

Saturday she passed from this life. One of her dear friends had spent the last three days sleeping in her room so she would not leave alone. What a friend. What a knack for having friends.

There is so much to learn from her life. I have only scratched the surface. The ability to take what life gives you, to keep going. To make and keep good friends. This is not a death that was cruel--but a loss nonetheless.

When her apartment was broken up I was given a couple of paintings which I shall always treasure. Just look at these blue jays. Even they have those wonderful red berries.

Rest in peace Rita. You have been with me forever and still will be. And yes, I did also post about her and a quilt she had given me last March if you want to know more. Check it out.

And you--dear reader--do you have memories of aunts or dear friends? And the color red--what do you think?


  1. So glad you shared this special story.
    The answer is yes, there is a special memory associated with the color red. It is with my grandmother, my mom's mom. She loved the color red. I remember she had red curtains and a red bed spread on her king sized bed. I was lucky and had my grandparents until I was in my 30's. she loved cardinals, because of their red plumage, those birds were featured in pictures on my grandma's walls all year round. She wore red sweaters, t-shirts, dresses and night gowns. It has been my favorite color for as long as I can remember and I don't see that changing. ;D

  2. Your story is absolutely wonderful also Carol. Thank you.

  3. Ann,
    The beginning of your post took me back 50 years ago to France where I am from. This week-end my "little brother" turned 50 and when he was born my sister and I got to extend our vacation at my paternal grand-parents and start the new school year where they lived. These were the best two weeks of primary school I can ever remember. We learned the most wonderful poem and even though I couldn't recite it again, I remember what it said about family and a new child. Like you I cannot recall meeting my brother when we returned home. I have my first memories of him when he is about 9 months old. How funny!
    Thanks for the memory.

  4. Annick--Thanks so much for sharing. Amazing how we remember some things and forget others. Great story.