I was dressed in a completely inappropriate shade of pink: hot, hot pink with white piping around my lapels and pockets and the hem of my mini-shirt; absolutely not the right color for a funeral, particularly my mother’s. My Aunt June’s eyes widened when I walked into the church and my Uncle Seymour leered, which didn’t surprise me since that was his MO from the get-go with any female above 6 months old. My father, on the other hand, held my hand tight and walked with his head held high as we made our way to the front row, which was reserved for immediate family members, which was just me, Dad, Aunt June, who was my mother’s sister, and Uncle Seymour.
Later in the afternoon, Dad and I had our bags packed and a clear plan for our escape. We were going to take my mother’s ashes and spread them at the family farm in Texas. We knew this would make her happy and we were glad to accommodate. Anything to get out from under all those relatives and neighbors who seemed to have taken up permanent residence in our house since Mom’s death from terminal cancer. We were particularly careful not to reveal our true destination just in case anybody got some wild hair and decided to join us for the ash spreading. Aunt June, in particular, was capable of appearing completely uninvited, any time day or night, so we made a special effort to throw her off our trail.
“Please tell me where’s you’re going,” she begged.
Dad, bless his heart, looked her straight in the eye and said, “Paris. We’re off to Paris to give Margaret a chance to say good-bye to her favorite city. We plan to sneak her ashes into the Seine late at night under the cloak of darkness.”
I have to admit, this plan sounded so much better than our actual plan. I felt a little bit envious of the make-believe trip.
Aunt June – ever vigilant – inquired whether or not I had my passport in order. My father, anticipating this very question, had had me apply for my passport just so we could keep her from getting too suspicious.
“Show your aunt that adorable picture they took of you, Ashley. This might be the best passport picture ever.”
I dutifully handed her the newly procured document and she dutifully ooh’ed and ah’ed about how grown up I now looked at 16. “That is the sweetest plan ever,” she said, as she stared at the picture. “Frank, you are so considerate.” She pinched up her face with a look that made me feel genuinely sorry for her. Uncle Seymour could never be described with those words.
At exactly five pm, we said good-bye to our last guest – which surprisingly wasn’t Aunt June. She and Uncle Seymour had left mid-afternoon. After tossing our bags in the car, Dad and I headed for the airport. I was feeling a little letdown with all the commotion of visitors and the funeral, not to mention that I missed my mother terribly. I just slumped down in the seat as my dad drove and I closed my eyes. When we arrived at the airport, we hurried to the terminal and were rushing to make our way to security. At that point, I realized that we were in the international terminal. “What’s going on?” I asked.
“What?” Dad said, as he dug in his coat pocket and pulled out two passports. “Did you honestly think I could make all that up about Paris and not actually do it? I know your mother requested the farm, but she’ll love this plan even more.”
I screeched with excitement. This was definitely a much better idea than the farm. Mom would absolutely agree. I had to admit that my dad was impressive with his willingness to be so flexible. He could change directions with no warning and it made him one of the most interesting people I knew. Maybe it had something to do with his ability to write with both his left and right hands. He just wasn’t stuck in a conventional mode of doing things like most people. It was as if he operated from both sides of his brain, making him both logical and whimsical. I loved that about him.
We were just about to pass through security when we heard a loud voice at the back of the line. As soon as we – and all the other passengers – turned to see who was making the commotion, Dad and I gasped in unison. There was Aunt June, waving her ticket in the air and saying, “Please let me pass. I need to join my family.”
Dad leaned close and said, “At least Seymour isn’t with her.”
Aunt June finally reached us and smiled big and bright. “You didn’t think I could let Margaret go quite that easily, did you?”
“Of course not,” Dad said, demonstrating once again his ability to shift plans effortlessly.
I, on the other hand, was extremely unhappy to have my aunt inviting herself along on a trip that was supposed to be reserved for just dad and me. It felt like such a violation.
Aunt June read my feelings, which must have been smeared all over my face. “Oh, Ashley, I promise to stay out of the way. I’m even staying at a different hotel. My only request is to be there when you spread the ashes. Otherwise, you won’t even know we’re in the same city. I just need some time away from home so that I can do some thinking.”
I stood there silent. I knew that I didn’t want her to go, but on the other hand, I didn’t have any desire to hurt her. After all, her only sister had just died.
Aunt June must have seen the confusion on my face. She wrapped me in her arms and pulled me so close I could smell the herbal scent of her shampoo and feel the warmth of her skin. I closed my eyes and pretended for just a second that she was my mother. That felt good. Then, she pulled back and looked me in the eye. “But if you say no, then I won’t go. Period. Just let me know right now.”
I weighed the pros and cons of telling Aunt June the truth: I really didn’t want her to go with us, but then again, I did appreciate her sensitivity. Also, it felt so good to be touched. I glanced over at Dad, who was clearly giving me all the room I needed to make my own decision.
I decided to err on the side of his approach to life. “No, Aunt June, we’d love to have you. Dad and I could use a little company and besides, you’re the only one who is fluent in French.”
My aunt’s face brightened. “Oh, well, thank you, Ashley. So sweet of you to say. You are definitely your mother’s child.”
Dad raised an eyebrow, which made me smile. Maybe more my father’s, but that was okay. Aunt June meant well and that was all that really mattered.