The phone rang. I grabbed the receiver.
“Dah-ling?” she said in that lovely lilt that always reminds me of the women in that generation of our family. It’s as if they adopted an accent and made it their own.
“Hello, my dear Aunt Rose,” I replied.
“How are you?” she asked.
“I’m fine, Aunt Rose. Especially now that I’m talking to you. How are you?”
“I’m fine too, Dah-ling.”
Her voice took on a slightly aggrieved tone. “But why don’t you call? I can’t hear from you at all.”
Before I could defend myself, she continued: “At my age, I shouldn’t have to be the one calling all you young people all the time. You should be calling me.” Aunt Rose lives with her daughter and son-in-law in the U.S., but her relatives are all over the place: England, Jamaica, the US, Canada, and so on. We were obviously not keeping up with the person, who – by dint of both personality and seniority – has become the family matriarch.
“That’s so true, Aunt Rose”, I said. “You’re absolutely right.”
“If I’m so right, why don’t you call more often?”
“Aunt Rose, I do call. I left a message on your phone just last week. Did you not get it?’
She was not backing down. “No,” she said firmly. “I didn’t get any message.”
I tried a different tack.
“So how are you, my darling Aunt?”
Her voice softened. She recited a short litany of ailments. Followed, as usual, by: “But I’m still here, giving God thanks.”
Gratitude. It’s one of the many things I like about her. To Aunt Rose, every day is a gift.
She asked about my siblings, uncles, cousins. And my children. And, of course, her favorite person who lives in this house.
“How’s my boyfriend?” she asked, suddenly giggling like a schoolgirl.
“He’s fine,” I replied. “Always sends his love for you.”
“Well, you tell him I send my love for him too!”
My great-aunt has a crush on my husband, and she never lets me forget it.
She called one day while my husband, the real chef in our family, was cooking dinner. Aunt Rose had insisted that I relay her love to him while she was right there on the phone.
“Your favorite girlfriend sends you her love,” I yelled across the kitchen.
“Tell her I wish she were here,” he called back, laughing affectionately, a twinkle in his eyes.
Aunt Rose giggled happily. “You tell my boyfriend that if I was just a little bit younger, I’d give you a run for your money!”
I pretended to be completely shocked.
“Oh yeah?” my husband replied when I relayed this remark. “Ask her what’s ‘a little bit younger’ ”.
Aunt Rose’s laugh was louder now. “Well, maybe just 20 years or so. Not much.”
This time, I was speechless.
Aunt Rose, you see, is 107 years of age, and that conversation took place about a year ago. She was still feminine, still funny, still eloquent. Still vivacious. You should have seen her at her birthday party just a few years before. She danced all the younger women off the floor.
“I’m glad you’re twice my husband’s age and living in another country,” I always tease her. “I couldn’t stand the competition!”
I love Aunt Rose. Both my mother and grandmother have passed, and Aunt Rose has tried to fill a small part of the gap by telephoning me often from her home in the U.S. Over these years, we’ve talked about many different things, almost all of them related to our family’s history.
She remembers minute details. From decades, even a hundred years before.
Sometimes the memories come complete with dialogue, or tiny details such as the style of a dress or shoes that someone wore. Or the time her older sister (my grandmother) became famous as a small girl, for spotting a mistake in the textbook used to teach the subject in Britain and its colonies.
“Did I ever tell you about the time when…”
The moment I hear this, I grab pen and paper or whatever’s handy – journals, notebooks, the backs of envelopes, the sides of calendars, and, just once, a paper towel.
Aunt Rose nonchalantly admits that the past is easy to remember – it’s the present she has trouble with.
Some recent events, however, remain in her mind, even as her health has diminished and her voice weakened.
“I’m so proud of you,” she told me one day recently. “I just finished reading your book.”
Aunt Rose is mentioned twice in the book. Among other things, she helped perform the role of fact-checker for some of the family stories in it. But I know that her daughter True and other relatives had to read it to her once published. Aunt Rose was now weak and bedridden.
But something else was on her mind that day, as her life edged closer to its end. She was focused on the future of a great-niece whom she’d helped enlighten, comfort, and encourage in countless telephone calls over the last several years.
“It’s a very good book, you know, Dah-ling. But I want you to promise me something.”
“Yes, Aunt Rose?”
“Promise me you’ll write another one. You have to write a second book.”
I hesitated. Her voice was weak again, but I could hear her waiting on the other end of the line. The trouble is that I’ve never lied to Aunt Rose and I didn’t plan to start now. What if I never write another book? I’d have broken what’s likely my last promise to Aunt Rose.
“I’ll try, Aunt Rose.”
“No! That’s not good enough, Dah-ling.” Her voice suddenly got stronger. “You have a God-given talent. Trying is not good enough.” There it was, that firmness in her voice that I know so well.
“Okay, Aunt Rose,” I said. “I’ll do my best.” This sounded like a promise without technically being a promise.
Aunt Rose wasn’t fooled. But she laughed gently and said, “I know you will. My Dah-ling.”
Today Aunt Rose lies in bed, no longer eating, no longer speaking. We’ve been told she’s in her final days. We will miss her greatly , but we also know it’s time to say goodbye to this beloved woman.
Bon voyage, my Dah-ling Aunt Rose. Fare thee well. Thank you for so much. For your faith, grace and astonishingly clear memories that kept us connected to ‘home’. And — above all — for your remarkable love and patience with us younger ones. You occupy a special place in our hearts.
11 thoughts on “The One and Only Aunt Rose”
Everyone should have an Aunt Rose!
You’re so right!
Very good Cynthia, nice tribute to aunt Rose, she will love to hear this read to her.
Thank you! Let’s hope it’s not too late.
I know that “Dah-ling” well, but it was always from my father. I still expect to hear his voice when I call my mother in Jamaica, answering the phone with a “Hello, Dah-ling.”
I can really relate to that, Valerie.
This story has drawn some lovely responses – many sent sent to me via email, like this one from Louise:
“I just finished reading “The One and Only Aunt Rose”……a beautiful, precious story.
I was immediately reminded of “Lovey”, my husband’s aunt. This wonderful woman and her husband warmly welcomed me into their family and I soon thought of her as my second mother. I adored her and her husband. She greeted family/friends saying “my love”. She never ever ended a phone call without saying “…and I love you”. Many years ago I started calling her Lovey. It grew and spread through the family and Lovey became her name.
I would often call her. She would say hello with what sounded like a British accent. I would respond “my love”. Lovey would respond back – “my sweetheart (pronouncing it sweethard). Every phone call started that way. Lovey’s voice made me smile, she gave me comfort. Like Aunt Rose, Lovey had great stories. We all loved snuggling up to Lovey – she had the best hugs!! And when she kissed us hello/goodbye, you knew you’d been kissed!! My husband and I started calling them “Lovey kisses” – the best.
Lovey died 5 years ago, Sept. 3, 2008. Our second grandson, Salem Elliott, was born Sept. 3, 2010. I have never stopped thinking of Lovey and miss her, oh so much.
Your story triggered wonderful memories……and I thank you.
Mamma is right…you do have a God-given gift and I have no choice but to make sure your “half promise” becomes fulfilled! About a month ago, I spent a week by her side in the hospital. One of those nights she found the strength to tell me a story about my grandfather that was recited so vividly, I felt as if I was there with them back in Jamaica. What an amazing woman…and my inspiration.
I’m not sure exactly why, Andrew, but your letter choked me up.
Maybe because I could see you by her bedside, and see her telling you that story.
It’s one of her greatest gifts – telling us our family history.
And – yes – please help me make that a full promise to Aunt Rose!
Thanks for this letter.
And yet another email about Aunt Rose – this one from Lee in the U.S.. Thank you, Lee!
‘Your blogs are wonderful. For all of us who cannot get enough of your writing we can subsist on your blogs and articles until the next book.
I loved the Autumn piece and especially your latest on Aunt Rose. What a special lady. Thank you for sharing her with us. She triggers so many memories of that special “aunt” we all seem to have in our lives. The women of her era are truly magnificent- great role models for us.’