She bought me boots. I was 7 years old. I was a girl. Yet she bought me boots.
It was 1958. Girls wore frilly dresses. Boys were “boys”, and collected frogs. My family just had all our possessions turned to ash when our interim warehouse burned down, during our move from Tuscon to Seattle. We had nothing left except a worn copy of Childcraft, a spoon, and a bottle of Vidalin, which we carrried in our car en route to Seattle.
Our lives were gutted, so each of us 3 kids lived with a different relative that summer. I was the lucky one. I got to live with Aunt Margaret.
Margaret was cool. Her VW bug always stunk from the crab traps she carried in the front trunk – just in case the tides were right – an adventure always in the making. She smoked. She told raunchy jokes – most of which I didn’t get. But I knew she could make my dad laugh. Even my mom, who rolled her eyes at four letter words, unless they were in one of Margaret’s jokes- then they were perfect.
Margaret was ribald. I didn’t know that word then, but she was it. Wild. Hilarious. Outspoken. Passionate. Full of life, and full of joy. And willing to be who she was, which was far outside of the box.
The summer I spent with her was magical. My cousin Walt and I spent our days in the ravine next to their home, climbing trees, digging tunnels, making forts, looking for forest fairies, and hiding from bandits.
That’s why she bought me boots. “Every girl needs a good pair of boots” she said as she replaced my little white pattern leather Mary Janes with something akin to construction boots. “Now you are set.” They were the coolest things I had ever seen… even for a girl.
You see, Maragaret was a Woman of Substance. She went for it. She was bold. She was big. She loved me. I loved her. And she died at 52, but not before she impacted me.
Fast forward 30 years. I am now an aunt to over a dozen nieces and nephews. Some are perfect. Some have difficult parents. Some have issues. But all are special to me. All have lives I have tried to touch.
Many I taught to drive a sand rail… “Feather the gas as you reach the top of the dune. Veer right, finesse the steering brake, and roll over the top….. that’s it. Great job. You gave it just the right amount of gas.”
One I cried with under the bridge when her Dad left her Mom. “One day you will understand that our parents are just kids who grew up and never figured out how to handle a relationship… it’s not your fault. You job is to do better in your relationships. Pick the right guy the first time.”
One I marvel over at her ability to capture light and shadow with her photographs. She’s amazing.
For another, I remain a bridge to his deceased father, who was my best friend…. my brother, who died way too young. He’s growing into an amazing adult. So hard working. I’m so proud of him. I tell him so. I tell him I love him every time we talk.
I taught one to make videos. How to edit. Weekends on my Mac, trusting him at 10 years old with my $900 video camera, and my $2,000 computer. Filming my cat as it wonders the house. Showing him how to sync up the music. “TNT, it’s dynamite…” What copyrights mean. We talk about life. About friends. About yelling moms and college. We talk.
Another I talk to every time life gets haywire. “I know who you are in there. You will eventually make the right choice. Just know that you are trying on different behaviors now, but they are not who you really are.”
And always, I think of my Aunt Margaret, and how she taught me to be an aunt. She taught me to care. To listen. To be involved. To speak my mind, and to be an advocate. A protector. An Aunt of Substance.
I know my Mom has forever missed her sister. Margaret’s death, her only sister’s death, hit her hard. But I wonder if she knows how Margaret lives on each time I reach out to one of my nieces and nephews. Each time I get who they are. Each time I care.
And it started with my boots.