I have the day off and have spent the morning running some errands and doing some chores. I needed to stop at my Aunt Ginger's apartment, a block away, to get her signature on various documents for an upcoming medical appointment. While there, I asked her if she wanted to come out with me while I went to the bank, and then take a drive.
Ginger jumped at the chance. As she ages, her world becomes smaller and smaller. A car ride is a great opportunity to see some sights.
After a stop at the drive-through bank, I told her we were heading to the East Side, the side of town where we both grew up, the side of town where Ginger lived more than half her life. She would like that. So I headed across the river, turned on Milo, and turned up Flax Street.
The house—the one her father built, the one she lived in for almost 50 years, the one I grew up in—still stands. It has been clad in vinyl siding, replacing the old, soft white asbestos singles that used to cover it. I had to point it out to Ginger: between her fading memory and the different appearance of the house, she wasn't sure which one it was. We turned up Carlisle to Delta, passing the house that Mrs. Willis lived in throughout both our childhoods, turning past the house that was always Aunt Jane's house and, before that, my great-grandfather's house. She commented on all the new houses in what used to be large lots; Habitat For Humanity has transformed the neighborhood. We drove past the old junkyard, long decommissioned and now empty. We turned back down Flax and I commented that whoever owned the Flax Street House had fenced off a small part of the backyard and let the rest to the north go to trees and brush. It gives the backyard a wild, enticing air.
I then drove Ginger out of town, first to the cemetery where her parents and her paternal grandparents are buried. Three of her infant brothers are out there, as well as Uncle Arthur, who died in combat in World War I. We walked slowly back to the graves, Ginger holding firmly onto my arm. From there we went to the Kilbourne cemetery where my brother, my dad's parents, and my infant sister are buried, and where my parents and Aunt Ginger will eventually be. Then we turned and headed back to Delaware.
At 86 and several months, Ginger is unsteady on her feet. Her body is slowly winding down: the bones ache, the arthritis flares, the gait is shaky and uncertain. She always takes an arm when it is offered.
Her mind has been winding down for the last few years as well. There are more and more gaps in her short-term memory, and I have taken over most of her responsibilities for appointments and financial matters. She may ask the same question several times; today's question was whether she had a headstone yet. But Ginger's sense of humor is intact, and her memories of long ago, even though repeated more than once in a conversation, are still strong. Today the talk was of an adult neighbor up Flax Street who had dirty feet (Ginger knew this because the woman went barefoot and often propped her feet up on the porch rail) and the proprietor at the little corner store who ran a numbers racket on the side back in the 1930s. We shared memories of Aunt Jane, her older sister, and laughed together.
At 60, I am aware of my own winding down. Some of it is just being reflective of my age, as in both "I never though I would make 60" and "so this is what 60 is like." More of it is my awareness that the myeloma is wearing me down. In my most recent Myeloma Beacon column, to run later this month, I compare myself to Tik-Tok of Oz, Baum's mechanical man who was tireless as long as he was wound tight, but who came to an abrupt halt when he wound down.
At this stage of the myeloma, I too am starting to wind down.
We had a beautiful morning, my aunt and I. We laughed, we talked, we wound our way around the county from town to rural cemetery to rural cemetery and back again. By the time I walked Ginger into her apartment, she was glad to be home so she could rest. She is winding down. By the time I drove the block to our house pulled in, I was glad to be home as well and for much the same reason.
I am discouraged somewhat by my winding down, but not surprised and, so far at least, not overwhelmed by it. For some months, I have been coming to the realization that I am having to learn how to say goodbye to the world. Even so, there are still those moments, so many moments, of incredible joy and delight and wonder. I would say even at the lowest points, joy and delight and wonder still light my path.
One of today's joys was being out with Aunt Ginger, just two aging women who are winding down, winding through the county and through our memories.