My mom's sister lived fairly close to us when I was growing up, and I spent countless nights sleeping at her house. Her house of WONDERS. I grew up playing Mike Tyson's Punch Out on my cousin Kenny's Nintendo in between the times when his sister would make me watch scary movies that were definitely age-inappropriate. I still have Wendy to thank for me not being able to walk up the stairs in the dark for fear that Freddy Krueger might appear with his glove of death before the Fashion Police have time to show up and arrest him for that god-awful sweater.
My mom and Sharon were often mistaken for twins. I'd like to think this came in handy for all the times when I was "sick" at school and my aunt would come pick me up, but we all know back then that a hobo who just jumped off a train could stumble into an elementary school while sipping from a mason jar of moonshine without having to provide three different forms of identification before checking out a kid.
Sharon loved to tell everyone about the time she took me to the one-stall bathroom of Szechuan Garden while a long line of women tried not to pee themselves as I took my time and stripped completely naked to go potty, even though I was wearing a skirt. This is a habit I've long since outgrown, but every time we returned to the restaurant, we'd laugh over egg rolls at how embarrassed she was at seeing all of my clothes drop to the floor while the ladies behind her started shooting her looks. Because, as I've discovered after having kids of my own, you never want anyone to think that this is your kid when the kid is doing something ridiculous. You are only entitled to be embarrassed by those who have exited your own uterus.
She often took me with her as her plus-one to her annual company picnics at Gilbert Run. I remember Sharon would always produce from her purse a tube of Wham-O Super Elastic Bubble Plastic to blow throw a straw, and I also remember her pulling it out of my hair more than once. When her boss told tall tales about how he shot down enemy bombers in WWII, she would roll her eyes and tell me he was a lying asshole. I appreciated this candor, even though I was 8.
Sharon was an insane sleepwalker. And by insane, I mean that she would do (and say) the craziest shit. She loved her long nails and painted them any one of the many shades of bright red that she kept on her nightstand. I don't ever remember her taking any pills, but when she was asleep, Sharon was always looking for those damn pills. Always. She woke up one morning with ten different bright red dots on the palm of her hand, after searching for her pills in her nail polish caddy. I'm sure it was disappointing in the moment that they were all empty, but at least she didn't find a ball bearing to swallow.
I fondly remember the old three-tiered glass Christmas tree candy dish that was always filled with what I can only describe as old people candy. My aunt was not old at the time, but she managed to find the type of candy that I've only seen in nursing homes or Cracker Barrels. It was delicious, but it was sharp. If you put it in your mouth at the wrong angle, you would cut yourself. But I was allowed all I could eat at her house, mostly because I wasn't asking permission.
I drank regular Coca-Cola at Sharon's house. I ate Chips Ahoy! It's not that I'm excited about those cookies, I just believe their copyright includes an exclamation point at the end. (No pirate has ever half-heartedly mumbled "Ahoy.") I had my first blueberry Nutri-Grain bar from her pantry and promptly my second, followed by a brief wave of guilt before I waited an hour and had a third.
Her old kitchen reminds me of every family gathering where we microwaved BBQ chicken wings and ate pickles from the relish tray while waiting for the pizza rolls to cool off. The pizza rolls were forever obnoxiously hot. And there was always port wine cheese; we were fancy.
Sharon and David let me host birthday parties at their house, where a dozen screaming girls would barely finish swallowing their pizza before belly flopping from the diving board into the blue-tiled swimming pool. To this day, I've not seen another pool with that amazing tile. I got a lot of sunburns in that pool, and probably will have skin cancer as a result, but damn. That tile was incredible.
I was convinced her house was haunted, although this could have resulted from the dozens of horror movies mentioned previously. The staircase gave me the willies. At the top of the stairs, there was a bathroom with a tub that had a sliding glass door. I would walk by and see the glass open before walking by again and seeing it closed. It may very well have been haunted. Or someone may have been messing with me. Either way, Sharon would tell me to go watch TV in her bedroom with the cats, where I'd be safe from the ghost.
The cats were always a big part of her life. Topaz was the old spinster of a cat, Patches was the pretty tabby, and Boots was the fattest thing you've ever seen. He would lie on his side and shovel food into his mouth. I spent a lot of time watching Home Shopping Network with Sharon and these cats when I couldn't take another Children of the Corn marathon.
When I did venture downstairs, it would often be to the red living room, where an electric organ was located. David used to sell them in a previous life. (He also once worked for the guy who invented Sea Monkeys.) I would bang out tunes, quite horribly, on this organ every time I visited. They eventually gave me the organ, and whether that's because they didn't want it anymore, or they just didn't want it anymore when I came around to visit is lost on me. Either way, I got the organ. It followed me from childhood to college, and at my organ playing zeitgeist, I could play the intro to Bohemian Rhapsody. Now I'm back to Chopsticks, because apparently playing a keyboard is not the same as riding a bike.
My favorite seat in her whole, entire house was the papasan chair across from the television. I thought this thing was the sweetest piece of furniture I had ever sat my ass in. Anytime I was there, Sharon would let me sit in it, although I don't really know if there was a line for the thing. I wouldn't mind getting myself a papasan chair today if they still weren't the size of a small satellite dish. I know the size of satellite dishes, because Sharon used to work for a satellite dish company. They had something in their backyard in the 80s that could have summoned extra-terrestrial life, four solar systems out.
We would often visit Disney World when we were in Florida visiting my grandparents, back before people spent the greater part of a year planning where they would stay and plotting out which restaurants they needed to make reservations for. We would just go, and Sharon would buy me frozen lemonade. And that was the extent of our planning.
Way back before I developed a debilitating fear of sharks and alligators, we'd go to Clearwater Beach where we'd feast on a picnic lunch of Publix fried chicken and macaroni salad. It'd always be overcast, and I'd always forget about sunscreen, and I'd always get sunburned. Not Sharon, though. She could sit outside in the heat for days at a time with nothing more than a Mary Higgins Clark paperback and a Diet Mountain Dew.
Christmas day was usually at her house. I vividly remember anticipating what was sure to be an awesome gift, destined to make me cooler than I had been the day before. Some of my most memorable presents from Sharon include a crimping iron (PLUS a curling iron with interchangeable barrels!), a Hypercolor sweatshirt where the black silhouette of a suit-clad man turned into a boxer-clad man the moment I blew my hairdryer on it, and of course, the pink and purple plastic Le Clic camera that thoughtfully came with a few rolls of Fuji 110 double-barrel film.
There were times I thought her eyes couldn't roll any farther back into her head when David would affect a limp and a Russian accent before asking the cashier at the grocery store if they accept rubles. She could really use that giant purse of hers as a weapon if need be. Or just when someone wanted to pay in Soviet currency.
Sharon was an excellent gardener; she would pull the weeds out of your yard for hours just because they were there and she couldn't sit still. Something was usually fidgeting on her, and I will always remember the sound of the friction of her pantyhose as she rubbed her feet together nonstop. It's a sound you can't un-hear.
She and my mom came down to visit me in college and we had a Mexican-themed party with my friends. I still have, and occasionally use, the quesadilla maker and fajita grill she gave me. This was also the time I learned to make the secret Braswell family margarita recipe of put some ice in a cup, add some Jose Cuervo mix, and some tequila. Don't go skimpy on the salt. Woah, you keep making these really strong, Long Tall Sally. No, I'll finish it!
When I was going through my "anything with bamboo on it will help me control my qi" phase, Sharon bought me an Asian-inspired bedding set I had been eyeing for months from that giant JCPenney catalog you that had to purchase in the store for $5. Just-because. Natalie now uses it. It's from the 90s, mom. It's vintage.
After we were married, Matt once came home from a business trip to Japan with an aerosol can of flesh-colored spray paint called "Air Stockings" that he had bought on a street market. The vendor pronounced the Air as Ahh, which Matt related to us sounded like "Ass Stockings." From then on, Sharon would always ask me if I was wearing my "Ass Hose," which sounds like a totally different product.
When I was pregnant with Natalie, she came down with my mom for the baby shower. They both forced me to lie on the floor while they tied my wedding ring around a string and dangled it over my belly, predicting that the baby inside would be a girl, because...science. They had apparently forgotten how putting a pregnant woman on the floor on her back is like turning a turtle on its shell. Once I finally got back up, we died laughing because I suddenly got the walking grandma farts, which is exactly what it sounds like. Shuffle-fart-shuffle-fart-shuffle-fart. They graciously took my gassy ass to the outlet mall, where I would have to sit down on a bench every few minutes because my back hurt so bad. Sharon would keep me company and make a fart joke at my expense, which would make me laugh hard. Which would make my back hurt that much more. Turns out I was in labor, but I remember the laughing much more than the pain. Although, we probably all remember the farting much more than the laughing.
A few years ago, Sharon had a stroke. She wasn't affected physically, but mentally. She was confused. She thought my grandparents were still alive. She believed she was living many states away than she really was. She lost her short-term memory. It was sad.
I do like the fact that she packed her suitcase in the middle of the night because the two of us were going to compete in a dance competition together. She would bring up the two of us doing this almost every time I called her on the phone. I didn't correct her because honestly, this was an awesome idea. We would have killed it. No one would be able to resist our besequined leotards. The smell of Aqua-Net would signify that we had arrived.
The kids and I took Sharon and David to lunch last August when I was home visiting family. The two of them together would always prove to be an interesting, memorable adventure as David was also suffering from Alzheimer's. If you didn't know them, you would think they were fine. Except, maybe, when they continually searched for the glasses and purse that were on Sharon's face and lap, respectively.
That was the last time I saw Sharon. She got progressively worse, being moved in and out of nursing homes and finally having hospice come in because she couldn't eat, drink, or move. They seemed to make her comfortable enough that she could finally say, "Peace out. I'm done!" And yesterday, she peaced out.
I know I'd be the absolute worst Vermont maple tree because I'm not sappy. I'm not your friend who cries. I'm what Matt refers to as "dead inside." I'm a laugher, and I have a lot of funny memories with her to laugh about.
In my heart of hearts, I do not believe that I'm going to meet anyone after I die. I love the idea that we all go back into the earth and push daisies to make someone else's time here more lovely. It's organic and beautiful. The thought of yellow roses, Sharon's favorite, growing from wherever I'm buried hundreds of years from now is comforting to me. Probably creepy to someone else with different beliefs, but they can get their own blog and wax on about that.
As with all things Christy, the two most important things to me are family and food. Both bring me a lot of happiness, so at the holidays, I'll continue to pull out my two favorite Sharon-recipes that she emailed me many moons ago. I know that anything you post on the internet is forever, so here is my way of keeping my aunt alive for much longer than I'll be here myself:
10 Layer Salad
mayo to cover peas
1 tbls sugar
Beat 3 eggs on high speed for 5 mins, gradually beat in 1 cup granulated sugar. Stir in 2/3 cup pumpkin and 1 tsp lemon juice, stir together 3/4 cup flour, 1 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 1/2 tsp salt. Fold into pumpkin. Spread in greased and floured 15"x10"x1" pan. Top with 1/2 cup firmly chopped nuts. Bake 15 minutes at 375. Turn out on towel sprinkled with powdered sugar. Roll until cool.
Combine 1 cup powdered sugar, two 3 oz. pkg. cream cheese, 4 tbls butter and 2 tbs vanilla. Beat smooth. Unroll cake and spread with filling. Roll again. Chill and slice. Good luck. It's really easy only messy when when you turn out of pan and powder sugar flies everywhere.
We'll be going up to Maryland for the viewing and funeral soon, and my mom and I were discussing what people wear nowadays.
Mom: I don't know that people really wear all black anymore to funerals.
Everything is different now.
Me: A lot of people are calling them "celebrations of life" and wear whatever
the loved one's favorite color was.
Mom: Then we'll have to wear lots of animal print.
Me: And shoulder pads. She could always rock a shoulder pad.