My father has one sister: my Aunt Mary.
My Aunt Mary is 15 or 16 years older than me; I can never remember exactly. So when I was a little kid, she was a teenager. Despite this, she was always nice to me, no matter what. As I got older, she used to take me places like the park and the head shop. Strawberry picking and to lunch. Shopping and to the mausoleum.
I liked the mausoleum a lot. I feel like she probably took me there once on a whim and deeply regretted it. Like, after that, the mausoleum was more a frequent request from yours truly more than it was her idea.
Aunt Mary is the one who used to take me out for donuts and then tell me I couldn’t have the gaudy holiday-themed one.
She also, very often, took me to the zoo. I think we went to the zoo the most.
I’m certain, if I drag down my actual photos and comb through each one, that I could find photos of Aunt Mary and me at the zoo. At least I hope I could. Somewhere we must have documented Aunt Mary and me at my childhood zoo. But even if a photo doesn’t exist anywhere, memories of going to the zoo with my Aunt Mary are among my happiest.
My mother also has one sister: my Aunt Kathy. She is similarly around 15 years older than me; I can never remember exactly. My memories of my Aunt Kathy are of her being scared of my gramma’s parakeets when they got loose, of her throwing up onto carefully laid newspaper from the couch where she’d been lying with a hot water bottle, and of watching her knit something and imitating her as best I could. These don’t SOUND particularly cheerful but they really are cozy lovely Aunt Kathy memories. You have to know her to understand.
I also can’t hear a Beatles song without hearing my Aunt Kathy singing along in a high voice. She’s why I love Gone With the Wind and General Hospital. She loves cats and dogs the way I do, and we share the “What’s that bump, I’m dying” anxiety.
She gave me my favorite gift ever: My Tinkerbell doll.
The point is, eventually Aunt Kathy got married to my Uncle Leo and they had two children: my cousin Katie and my cousin Maria. I was a teenager when they were born. I’m maybe 14 or 15 years older than Maria. I can never remember.
As we all know, I’m more of a cat person and less of a baby person. Babies have never been my forte. But when Katie and Maria were little, I took them to the zoo all the time. I enjoyed them even though they weren’t cats.
I took them to the zoo because my Aunt Mary took me. I took them to the zoo because I love my childhood zoo. I took them to the zoo because it’s what you just do.
I may also have dragged them to the mausoleum a time or two.
The point of telling you all of this is that today is my cousin Maria’s 40th birthday, and I am officially old. When I texted her to say many happy returns, she texted me back.
“I’m going to the zoo today,” she wrote. “Because it’s a cherished memory from my childhood.”
Just like going to the zoo was a cherished memory for me!
My Aunt Mary gave me something I’ll never forget, and I gave that to Maria without even realizing it. I guess I wanted her to have the same good memories I had, and it worked.
It’s also inescapable that she has some memory of my Aunt Kathy throwing up, but that’s beside the point right now.
This afternoon, Maria texted me a picture from the zoo. Maria’s in the turquoise dress, and on the left is her daughter, Anna, of the “Aunt Katie, are you a lesbian?” fame. In the middle is my Uncle Leo, who’s always up for a trip to the zoo.
Maybe one day Anna will have kids, and she’ll take them to the zoo, and the tradition will continue. (Maybe their second cousin June will take those kids to the mausoleum for some real fun.)
Anyway. That is the story of my family and my childhood zoo and our good memories and, of course, throwing up and death had to make their way in there somewhere. Because it’s the way of my family.