Crabbing, August 2011, San Juan Island.
My great aunt Wanda died almost a month ago to the day. My mother recently sent me some of her things; among them a teapot, and a few necklaces. I'm particularly fond of a huge owl necklace in the collection, circa 1970s. My mother wore something similar throughout much of my childhood. I don't remember Wanda wearing it, but I like thinking about her when I put it on.
She and my great uncle Henry, Tootle we called him, never had any children of their own. She survived him by a couple of years.
When I was a kid, we'd leave Alaska twice a year to come visit family in Texas. Two weeks at Christmas, two weeks in summer. Every visit, we spent time with them on their farm. There were cats everywhere, and constant stories about the cats. And cows that lived their lifespan on that farm, cows all known by name, who could be seen out the back window. I don't know the story there; don't know if they intended to have them as pets, or if that's just how it worked out.
She had short, curly blonde hair and thick glasses, and a laugh that lingered. To hear him speak, you had to sit close and lean in a little, and wait for the pause between sentences.
There was never a visit that didn't include pie.
Eventually they bought a house in town. I imagine it just got too hard living on a farm as they aged.
The day after Wanda's death, I heard the following from my mother. 'Wanda has two dogs, Thelma and Louise. The dogs bark a lot at night, but they never come scratch on the door. Just as Wanda was passing, they both came to the back door and started scratching to get in to see her.'
I spent some time looking through old family photos after she died, and what I found was just too little. One snapshot of her, alone, sitting on some steps somewhere; one of the two of them where she's smiling, he's not. Some things you just have to carry with you in your mind's eye. I loved them, and sort of like these pictures of crabbing in summer, I carry snapshots of them in my heart.