My mom maintained a giant paper calendar on her fridge that she dutifully copied year to year the key dates in family history. It included not only births and deaths (including my dogs), but events like "Harriet's Nose (32)" noting how long since my sister broke her nose. When we cleaned out Mom's house this November, I transfered these to an online calendar.
This calendar taps me on the shoulder today, noting the date in 2010 when my Aunt Martha passed away.
What stories of death were told when I was young I don't recall. Mom's brother Harvey gone when I was maybe 7, her own mother gone when maybe I was 11, my Aunt Eve going i was 14- sepia tinted memories are staring at a piece of ground knowing I was supposed to be sad or the gathering afterword and quiet murmuring of adults. I wish we had (or I could remember) more stories. I wish we told them more to each other. Maybe we did.
Martha was not a family relative, but her name was prefixed with "Aunt" even into adult hood. A long time friend of my parents, their connection traced back to the old neighborhood in Baltimore, Forest Park High School. She was my godmother, and in every way, so beyond than the fairy types.
A life long elementary school teacher, Martha was the author of reading comprehension books I can still find remnants online, bearing titles like "Wags and Tags”, “Bones and Stones”, “Manes and Reins”.
The details of her presence fades, but what remains later, long later was her generous, caring, devoted spirit. When she asked a question, she had that full intent listening aura of a teacher, you knew that she was locked in totally to what you were saying.
Is there a word for that sensation when you know down to your marrow that someone cares for everything about you? That you are the center of their universe at that moment? It matured as I did, from wanting to know what I was reading and later writing oin primary school, to asking my interests as I went into high school, joining me for the celebrations of college, asking questions of my narrow research interests in graduate school.
Mostly she was passionate about education, but she was keen to know as well where I was in life, as I migrated across the country, made a family of my own. I remember carefully hand written notes of inquiry that arrived every few months and visits back to Baltimore when we would talk politics or books, she always wanted to know what I was reading.
So it was a year after I got a call from my Mom letting me know that Aunt Martha was gone, that I got the letter letting me know of Martha's last generosity to me. Wills were things that happened in movies. What the letter listed was an amount, but, truly, Martha left me a message.
"Have an adventure, Alan, live life like an adventure."
The journey I had in 2011 was really only possible with this gift. I look at this photo, which has no date nor clue as to where it was, only via the fleeting youth in my own face do I know it is mid 1990s and likely a place in Baltimore we met for lunch.
I don't need machines of time travel, I make this journey in my mind.
And I can never thank my Aunt Martha enough, and can only hope to achieve a fraction of the generosity and love she showed me.
I am using Cowbird to share the story of a 15,000 mile road odyssey I took in 2011, which started with me quitting my job in March and setting out in June for a loop around the US and Canada. It's less of a day by day narrative and more of an attempt to tell a story of the story, with some amounts of imagined bits that emerge on looking at the media from the trip, including the more than 1400 images, videos, and audio files collected in my digital time capsule, the Storybox.