We used to hide her brown leather shoes every time she came to visit.
Her cigarettes too, but those we’d bury or break. It’s not that we were so full of mischief, but we knew those things could kill a person. It was all we could do, to help.
She would say her goodbyes and head for the door. I can still hear her giggle. My sisters and I stood behind a corner wall and tried to keep our laughter hidden. Then Mom or Dad would call.
Girls? GIRLS! Where are Aunt Connie’s shoes???
We pretended to work hard to figure out where she left them.
I guess she’ll have to stay…
But it never worked out that way. The shoes would turn up, from inside the dollhouse or deep recesses of a little closet in the Strawberry Shortcake bedroom.
I think she loved the way we begged her not to go, my gentle Aunt who visited often from her house just up the road.
I wonder when we stopped hiding her shoes.
When long afternoon visits went by the wayside.
When all of us moved states away and left our childhood VIPs behind.
I wonder why it takes an urgent phone call, or a fall, or a treasured aunt lying sedated on a hospital bed with a failing heart, to wake these stories within us again.
Stories of chilly Michigan afternoons spent playing UNO around a small kitchen table.
Stories about an aunt with a quirky monkey collection stretched around the perimeter of her shaggy green family room.
Stories that filled a simple home with simple laughter, and lots of it.
Stories from over the years when there was always time for people to stop in and visit.
Stories of a modest upbringing, made rich because of all the people who filled it.
These stories come back, and we tell them, because the past we treasure is never really lost. Because we can always remember.
And somewhere in their telling, we understand a little better. We remember why we stopped hiding shoes.