We spent a week that summer visiting my Mom’s sister,
and her husband Ben. We got to their house in Austin on Monday afternoon.
They welcomed us with open arms.
Aunt Martha was calling herself Virgie and was tragically hip, spending a lot of time in the parlor teaching herself to scratch and scrub; tearing up the styluses on the twin’s record players.
She encouraged us to tell her jokes
and, promised to steal them.
But only the good ones.
She had been married to Uncle Ben for 15 years.
He was a bald headed accountant, tall and round;
busy at tax-time.
Always supportive of his wife’s creative endeavors, he loved her unconditionally,
and confided to my sister, on that Tuesday, that he was glad Aunt Martha was no longer into ceramics. He opened what used to be the linen closet and showed her three shelves filled with ash trays, “No one here smokes,” he intoned in his deadpan accountant voice.
He listened to a lot of Grandmaster Flash albums from the 80’s so that he and Virgie could talk about things Hip Hop.
Ben had a really big guard dog named Fluffy.
Fluffy looked a lot like a 300 pound lion, had the run of the yard; and adored both Uncle Ben and Virgie.
When they introduced us to Fluffy; Virgie cautioned against kneeling near the pool lest fluffy mistake you for prey.
“He probably won’t kill you,” Uncle Ben warned, “but he sure as hell will push you into the pool!”
Virgie laughed and gave her husband a peck on the lips to show her appreciation of that bit of humor. My sister resolved right then that she would not come into the backyard again.
Not even to swim on those hot Texas afternoons.
She forgot by Wednesday though when she got into a water balloon fight with the twins
and we ate barbecued hamburgers and homemade potato salad at the picnic table on the pool deck.
I remember that we laughed a lot that week. My mom and dad smiled the entire week. They seemed relaxed and twice they disappeared into the back of the house for about an hour at a time.
In the middle of the day.
When the twins weren’t dancing to their mom’s music or exchanging stories with Uncle Ben they were more than happy to play Risk,
but not basketball.
Bernadette wanted to teach me to play poker but Bernard put the kibosh on that.
“I’ll let him keep his underwear on,” she complained to no avail.
I think that was the week I learned about happiness.
That was the week I learned about family and sharing.
That was the week I learned what love looks like.