Saturday, June 2, 2012

Godmothers are stronger than the Godfather: Aunt Sis

When I was growing up, I had a lot of aunts.  Some were funny, some were worldly, some could dance, some were women of the world, but only one was my godmother.  Only one was truly Zen.  More peaceful than any other, more balanced and thoughtful.  Only one was my Aunt Sis.

Florence Gordon Bodvar, as my Aunt Sis was "officially" known, had been born a twin -- the second set that my grandmother, Laura Gordon, birthed.  Sis was the other half of Sis and Bud (Bud being my uncle, "officially" known as Donald Gordon).  I never really did get the whole "twin thing" when I was growing up, because Aunt Sis and Uncle Bud really didn't appear to be anything other than brother and sister.  In fact, my mother and my Aunt Sis appeared more likely to have that special connection twins have than my Aunt Sis and Uncle Bud did.  They didn't even really look alike.  Aunt Sis had a placid demeanor and expression.  Never a beauty, in the movie star sense of the word, Aunt Sis more closely resembled a nun, except when her rather dry sense of humor showed itself.  She dressed somberly, acted slowly and thoughtfully, and had a quiet way about her that brought peace to the room. 

Yes, she had a sense of humor.  Yes, it was obvious that she loved entertaining (a visit to her house never ended without coffee and cake on her best china, complete with porcelain cups and silver service set).  Yes, her home overflowed with antiques I didn't appreciate until I started dealing antiques myself when I was in my early thirties.  She never lost her temper, didn't yell at her three boys when we were around, and spent the latter part of her life carving for Uncle Ernie after a debilitating stroke without complaining.  I often wonder whether she simply held everything in check or whether she truly did feel the peace she exuded.  But with all of that came a sense of peace that I didn't notice in any of my other aunts.  Though she never practiced anything other than the Salvation Army Christianity her sister in law espoused, I think Aunt Sis would've been interested in my Buddhist beliefs and would have understood Zen quite easily. 

When I was born, my mother and father had chosen my Aunt Sis and Uncle Ernie as my godparents, and from the first memory I have of them, I knew that I was special in their eyes, and that was the way a child should feel around the people who would essentially take over if their own parents died.  I trusted them more than any other members of my family, even though they had three children of their own (Ernie, Carl and Wayne).  I knew that my Aunt Sis and I had a special connection, one she didn't share with my siblings or even with her own boys.  I was the daughter she never had, and I loved her with the same quiet devotion she showed me.

Aunt Sis lived in Malden, in a three-story Victorian at the top of a steep hill where you could hike up another steep hill to the top of what some would call a small mountain.  Hiking up that hill always gave me the feeling of breathlessness that I never felt even when striking out to walk all the streets in our two-square-mile expanse of Everett.  It was always an adventure to maneuver the small, rocky paths that led to the top of a promontory that overlooked the city of Malden and offered a view of Boston in the distance.  To me, it was a little scary to be up that high, yet it was that height I associated with visits to her house.

My mother teased her older sister that she learned from the Swedes (my uncle, his mother, and unmarried sister) about making coffee so strong that it would "put hair on your chest."  The way Aunt Sis brewed coffee seemed to require at least an hour of preparation and percolating and once it was done, Dad and Ma used all of the milk in the creamer to cut the "molasses" (as Dad called it).  I didn't drink Aunt Sis's coffee until after I married, but for years, I had the pleasure of choosing one of the dozens of tasty pastries she set out on porcelain plates for us kids to sample while the adults gossiped about their siblings and drank endless cups of coffee.

At Christmastime, we always visited her house, as we visited my Aunt Till, Aunt Jean and my grandmother, but trips to Aunt Sis's at Christmastime were quieter.  Her tree, decorated in wooden figurines from Sweden and glittering crystal ornaments, made me sit and stare in wonder.  The holiday season in my aunt's house seemed like it was being celebrated in another country.  None of her decorations or the way she celebrated the season seemed anything like what we had at home or remotely resembled the more modern decorations at Aunt Jean's house or the kid-oriented holiday we celebrated at Aunt Till's.  Even though Aunt Sis never told us to sit down or to fold my hands in my lap, it did seem that she expected our manners to be impeccable and that the parents/adults had earned the same respect we did -- matter the age;

There were times during special occasions at my mother's house that my Aunt Sis simply sat in a quiet corner, watching.  What she thought, I don't know, but I got the impression that she didn't need to listen to people gossiping and that she wouldn't lower herself to talking about others since she wasn't perfect herself.  It's weird, but I do believe that she had a better vision for the company she was working for then when the majority of my mother's family wouldn't have.

She had an abundance of love that she showered on those who needed it most (she had a fond spot for my first husband that no one else felt), and I remember that appreciation best.  I miss being able to tell her my secrets, miss her appreciation of me -- not expecting me to be anything other than who I was, and I miss the way she made me feel everything would be alright.  Out of all my aunts, I truly believe she was the strongest, though she seldom said more than ten words when she was among her siblings.  I do hope that I inherited some of her patience and subdued restraint, and if not, that I at least understood from her demeanor the way in which a woman can quietly control a room and influence those around her without raising her voice.


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