My sweet aunt Laurie is one of my favorite people, and she and I have been exchanging cards, letters, and other little "love notes" through the mail since I was a kid. The photo above is of our November correspondence from last year--she always makes collages and includes them with her letters, and I pass along pretty fall leaves that I know she'll appreciate. Her Halloween card, collage, and letter in response to my own arrived in Monday's mail, and although I just saw her in July for my brother's wedding, her words made me miss her even more than I already did. I have been missing my family a lot lately, as I had told her in my letter, and I wish I could be in at least three places at once. "I'd love to just appear at your door and offer some dinner and hugs," she wrote in Monday's letter. "'Sending hugs through the mail."
When my best friend died in 1995, Aunt Laurie was having a traumatic week of her own with one of her children, and I sent her a card a couple days after my friend's death to check in with her and to send love to my cousin. "Oh how I wish I could hold you and tell you everything will be okay," her letter back began. It is one of the things I remember verbatim from the haze of those first few weeks without my friend.
Knowing how I love holidays and seasonal meals, Aunt Laurie added an illustration to her Christmas letter's collage a few years ago of a woman studying a cookbook titled 10 Festive Meals You Can Make with Canned Peas. It still makes me laugh. :)
Aunt Laurie's a lover of all things Victorian, lacy, and pretty.
She writes poetry, loves to take nature walks and sew, and makes amazing Civil War reenactment costumes.
She is more than a little psychic and has amazingly vivid spiritual dreams. The pictures she takes often have orbs of light in them.
She is soft-spoken--a bit Jackie Kennedy-ish--speaks slowly, and has a way of seemingly moving in slow motion, as well. Her handwriting has the same almost-fragile quality. She has gentle brown "doe eyes" but can only be pushed so far before proving she's tougher than she appears.
She likes peanut butter and doesn't like chocolate. She sometimes drinks tea but adores coffee. She loves doughnuts but tries not to eat them since my uncle is always watching his weight and is too easily tempted. Her homemade bread is to die for--light and sweet loaves that come to loved ones covered in pretty dish towels.
She wraps presents beautifully. Her Christmas package is the biggest treat, since there are always linen snowflake doilies as package decorations, lovely fabric ribbons and rick rack with tree ornaments tied into the curled trims.
Her favorite color is green. When I was little, I told my mom we should start collecting something green for Aunt Laurie, and Mom asked what I thought we should collect for her. All I could think of that was green was frogs--poor Aunt Laurie!--so ever since, it has frogs and frog-related things for her. When her times are hard, I am sure to mention that "It's not easy being green," and "Have I toad you lately that I love you?" candy boxes have been known to appear in her mailbox on Valentine's Day.
She is the only person in my family who calls me "Valerie" instead of "Val."
She lives in a gorgeous old white farmhouse with her husband of 42 years and one of my cousins, she loves to garden, she gets a kick out of gnomes, and Lily of the Valley is her favorite flower.
The first gift I remember ever receiving from her was a lavender unicorn-covered diary I got for Christmas in the third grade. I still have it. For my birthday last May, she took me and my mom out for breakfast and presented me with a Rose afterward. While I was home in July, she threw me a mini bridal shower in the dining room with my mom and cousins present.
Aunt Laurie hates to be called "cute," always envisioning herself more like a sexy Ann-Margret, of whom she used to keep scrapbooks. (Aunt Laurie was thrilled when I performed in my high school's production of Bye Bye Birdie, and she and Mom reminisced all that spring about the songs and movies from their own high school years.) Aunt Laurie really is adorable, though, and even now that she is retired and has a granddaughter in high school, she still gets called "Honey" and "Sweetie" and "Sweetheart" by sales clerks and other strangers and has that air about her that makes people want to pinch her cheeks and cuddle her.
She lived across the street from my family for a few years while I was growing up, and I remember one Christmas, my mom, my cousins, and I were sitting in her living room while my mom read some silly magazine personality quiz to Aunt Laurie. "You want to go Christmas caroling with the neighbors," my mom read aloud, "but you know your singing voice isn't the greatest. Do you A.) go anyway or B.) stay home?" "Well, shoot, I'd go!" my aunt cried out in a surprisingly indignant tone, shocking my mom and making us all laugh at her unexpected response. "What do I care what they think? They don't have to like it!" It is probably twenty-five years since that conversation and I still can't hear mention of Christmas caroling without remembering Aunt Laurie's uncharacteristic outburst (and her younger sister's surprise at her boldness) and smiling.
When I was twenty years old, I mentioned during one visit that I had a small success to report. I had finally stopped biting my nails, was all, but before I could go on to explain that, Aunt Laurie quietly said, "Ah! That's good, Valerie. Small successes are good." :) She was proud of me for losing a lot of weight a few years ago but was happier to hear that I was happy and loving my life again after a number of years of not loving it very much at all. "Oh, Valerie, that's WONDERFUL!" I can hear her exclaim at every mention of something that I'm excited about.
Neither she nor I can easily stop laughing once we get started, and Aunt Laurie starts slapping her knee when she really gets going, which makes everything even funnier. In 2003, the subject of hair dyes came up while she, Mom, and I were hanging out looking at magazines over tea and coffee, and I mentioned that when Marilyn Monroe had been asked if she minded that people thought she was dumb because she was blonde, she had responded, "No, because I know I'm not dumb. I also know I'm not really blonde." Aunt Laurie loved that, being a brunette-turned-blonde herself, and laughed and laughed.
She adored her grandparents, has been with my uncle since high school, and is best friends with my mom, who rightfully calls her "Lovey."
Although there are phone calls and visits, as well, it is the letters that have kept us close over the years, each parcel of news and magazine clippings and recipes and dreams and quotes and fall leaves and frog stickers tying our ties a little tighter. My pen pal since childhood, Aunt Laurie can always be counted on to stay in touch, and that is no small thing to say about someone. Her jack-o-lantern-covered Halloween mail is smiling at me from a bookshelf this morning, and this year's November mail will soon be winging its way across the state to her, Kermit the Frog Macy's Thanksgiving Day Day Parade float pictures gracing the envelope. :)