Outside with Aunties

Outside with Aunties by Kim Robertson  2/2009

It is early January and in the hurried planning of meetings and phone calls at work in Rhode Island, I send an email to my aunt Marilyn in midcoast Maine, “Do you want to ski with me on my next visit to Jefferson?” Increasingly, my trips north to visit and care for my aging mother require a respite from the cleaning, shopping, sorting, tending that is required of me during my stay. I reach out to my aunties. Marilyn almost always writes back promptly with a resounding “yes, yes, let’s get together and ski.” The plans begin. A note is sent to cousin Ann, a novice skier who rents skis and poles from Auclair’s in Augusta. Marilyn writes aunt Bev in Portland, “Kim is coming up, would you like to ski with us on Saturday?” The arrangements have been made.

The sense of responsibility increases. It requires effort for aunt Bev to rent the skis and to drive the two hours from Portland to Jefferson. Schedules are changed and room is made in the lives of my family members. Being a detail person can hinder the best intentions and I begin to worry. Will the weather cooperate so I can even make the trip north? Or worse yet, will my aging memory fail and I forget to take my skis with me on my travel north? Or forget something critical like boots and poles? Suddenly, a two hour ski outing becomes large, but I can’t wait to experience it. It’s just my aunties, and we all know life can change the best made plans.

My husband Bruce decides to come too. He’s driving us north out of Rhode Island and as the miles flip by, we notice less and less snow on the ground. The wind is howling outside the car as it shivers along the highway to Jefferson. “Did you bring your long johns?” he asks. “Of course,” I reply. I’ve been begging him to ski too, but he prefers terra firma and won’t put awkward boards on his feet to traverse snow. I’m a little disappointed, but after being together for almost 30 years, I’ve come to accept that we have different interests. So I’ll rely on my aunties to ski with me, as long as they’re able. They are well into their 60’s, but have always been strong and can out bicycle, hike, or kayak, me any day. I’m proud of my athletic aunties.

Many October visits to my childhood home in Maine have included walks on the Cudworth lot down to the lake. The same procedure of relaying the message “let’s walk on Saturday” floats through the family members: Bruce, my Dad when he was alive, brother Greg, cousin Ann, and of course, my aunties. Most times including aunt Martha, the elder auntie. Her legs are bowed, and her knees ache, but she traverses the terrain like a spider. Stepping carefully over branches that have fallen, weaving her way to the lakeside. I am gleeful on my walk with my aunties through the autumn leaves and crisp air.

Arriving in Jefferson after five hours of driving north presents us with hardly any snow. Plans need to change, and the phone calls begin. “Let’s walk instead.” it is decided, “we can walk on the Bog Road in Somerville.” It is a well-maintained dirt road with very little traffic and not many houses that makes it seem isolated and woodsy.

The walk begins with a brrr of cold wind, everyone is bundled in their fleeces and wools. Ann is wearing beautiful turquoise mittens that she has knit herself. As we trudge along over the rutted gravel, the conversation is a detailed account of how to make felted mittens. Doesn’t this rock look like a polar bear? What bird is that tweeting in the bushes? Ah, the simple topics give me happiness. The common thread that binds each of us, makes our being together as warm and tight woven as the felted mittens.

It is understood that we can never truly find happiness until we come to terms with our mortality. I realize this moment is to be treasured in it’s simplicity, and want to hold onto it for longer than is possible. But I know, in my heart of hearts, that nothing is forever, not even walking with my aunties.