Yesterday was cleaning day. I can always register my anxiety level by the amount of clutter around me and yesterday I hit my dew point. I could feel a surge within me say, less is more, give yourself space, breath. So, with trash bags in hand, I began tossing layers of my life away. Boxes of old greeting cards, scarves never worn, bras two sizes too small that I have never worn and still have the tags attached. I now have a clean sock drawer. Then, behind the winter coats, near the back of the closet was a plastic tub. I pulled it out, ready to dump all contents into my trusty trash bag without a moments hesitation. But hesitate I did, because it was my portfolio of doodles.
There was a brief time when I dabbled in doodling. I liked to draw faces, especially the eyes. Sitting cross legged on the closet floor, I began turning the pages of my doodles, and stopped when I came to Helen. Granted, the book was filled with many of my drawings, but my sketch of Helen gave me pause. You see Helen was my husband’s maiden aunt. I guess she would have been referred to as an “old maid” a “spinster” back in the day. She never married, was an executive secretary for a high ranking military officer in the US Pentagon in Washington D.C, before moving in with her sister several years before she herself died. She loved all dogs, but her greatest love and devotion was to her little sister, Annie, who was my mother-in-law.
Helen practically raised her sister Annie but had little tolerance for children in general, especially teenage boys. Just ask my husband. She also enjoyed a nightly cold beer. She was physically a lovely woman by anyone’s standards. She carried herself with an air of sophistication. Seldom did you see her without a cigarette smoldering between perfectly manicured fingers, her nails polished in deep shades of russet red or peachy corals. She was a tall, willowy, well dress lady who sewed her own clothes, beautiful silk jackets, tapered trousers, and crisp blouses filled her closet. She was a lovely, feminine curmudgeon, kind of a cross between a feisty Katherine Hepburn and a young Rita Hayworth.
I remember the last time I spoke with Helen on the phone. I was a young mother with a toddler and Helen had called me because she was upset with my mother-in-law about something. It doesn’t really matter now what she was upset about, just suffice to say that they both made bickering and picking at one another a national past time. I listened and assured her that it they would work our their differences, which they always did in time. For all their fussing, they loved each other fiercely. And when Helen died, I know my mother-in-law was heartbroken.
I look at this drawing now and I realize that I never really knew Helen. She always seemed rather agitated and unhappy. I know her childhood was not easy, but I wish I’d taken the time to know her better. Besides her younger sister, I don’t know if Helen ever loved anyone else in her life as much. It’s on rare occasions when Helen’s name is brought up during family gatherings. Like the time she took in a stray dog, not realizing that it was about to give birth to several puppies, which it did. There’s more to Helen’s story because she was a bit of a mystery, but I’ll just leave it here for now. With that said, I felt it was important to take a few minutes to say to Helen, I see you and I’m sorry I didn’t take more time to discover your layers. I’m sure they were interesting.
Cheers and stay safe everyone!