By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published April 30, 2015
She was a stout woman who walked with a limp although I never knew why. Her hair was short and crinkly and dyed an offbeat shade of reddish orange. She was my father’s oldest sister, Mary, but most importantly, she was my godmother.
Aunt Mary had five children older than I was, and since her husband worked as a chef on a ship and traveled a great deal, the day-to-day job of raising the family was left largely to her.
She liked going to the horse races and would sometimes invite my father, much to my frugal mother’s dismay. But, like my father, Aunt Mary found the lure of the track impossible to resist because she dearly pined for the day when her horse would win—and she’d walk away with the jackpot.
None of this mattered to me because the one thing Aunt Mary did—unlike any other adult in my world—was get down on the floor and color in books with me. Even more astonishing, she took quite seriously the selection of appropriate hues for eyes, hair, trees and flowers.
As we colored, we crunched on hard candies from Aunt Mary’s stash, which she was eager to share. A grown-up coloring with me was an astonishing proof of love because most adults thought kids should entertain themselves. Oh, sure, there might be an occasional game of rummy, but generally the “big people” were busy with more important things.
She also ignored rules my parents would never consider breaking. You see, my sister and I never ate two starches at the same meal, always made our beds and never had pie for breakfast. Generally, my parents were orderly folks who didn’t indulge in excesses.
Aunt Mary, though, had a real hankering after romantic movies and saw no reason to limit her passion for them. She didn’t drive, so she and I would take the bus to catch an early matinee at a downtown Miami theater. What bliss it was on a stifling summer day to dive into the thick, cold darkness of the theater where we’d nestle down in velvety seats and devour buttered popcorn.
A few hours later, we would wander out into the glaring sunshine and she would extract a crumpled piece of newspaper from the depths of her voluminous purse and study the listings for a second movie. We then traveled happily by bus to the next theater where she did something else my parents never would have considered in a million years. She threw caution to the winds and bought me another tub of popcorn with no thought to spoiling my supper.
When she traveled, my aunt took the Greyhound bus and never missed an opportunity to mentally record the details of her journeys. Later, she shared these adventures with her children, my parents, my sister and me as we crowded around the oilcloth-covered table in her kitchen.
She could turn a simple mishap—like the time she was in the restroom on the bus and the door wouldn’t open, and she had to bang on it and shout to get the driver’s attention—into a story that had us crying with laughter.
After I got married, she and I would talk on the phone, and one day she asked me something no one else had ever dared to. Since I didn’t have children after five years of marriage, she asked me if I was doing something “to stop them from coming.”
The tone of her voice suggested this would be a terrible move, so I denied it—although she had, in fact, surmised exactly what was going on. When I hung up, I shook my head over her old-fashioned values, not realizing at the time how right she was—and how far off the mark I was.
My godmother never graduated from high school, and she knew little about the highfalutin subjects I studied in college. Still, she knew about the important things—get-togethers with family, the fun of occasionally indulging your whims—and most of all, how something as simple as coloring with a child can convey great love.
Artwork by Jef Murray. You may contact the Murrays at email@example.com.