The Aunts: Kit and Ruby
Aunt Kit and Aunt Ruby are two relatives I remember well. They were also my father's (Michael Danaher's) aunts as they were daughters of Philip and Maria Danaher, my great grandparents, who migrated to Australia from Ireland before the end of the 19th century. When asked to write some recollections about them, numerous flashbacks scattered over a page of my memory, like collective images on a reel of forgotten film. Still, some moments stand out more than others and hopefully they are vivid enough for me to offer an accurate portrayal of the Aunts as I knew them.
Let's first consider Aunt Kit. From what I remember, she died early in my childhood - around 1971, just eclipsing 80. Yet, I remember her well as she had very obvious character traits that cannot be forgotten; she was kind and understanding with an agreeable sense of humor that made us feel a part of the family. For someone from her era, this was quite remarkable when the phrase, "children should be seen and not heard" was proclaimed and practiced as a social norm. Perhaps this was because she had been a teacher in earlier years, but let us not forget that this profession was once at the forefront of subduing all manner of immature, ill-informed expression of the young. From a child's perspective, Kit spoke from her heart and said the right thing, rather than the expected thing and her warm, positive smile both complemented and animated the conversations she had with us.
My brother and I once commented that she was "cute". I guess this is how children perceive elderly people, who are so natural and well intentioned with their actions and words. Upon hearing this, she showed instant happiness accompanied by a mild, soft laugh. She was a real draw card for the occasional visits to the Aunts' and we looked forward to her weekly visits with her sister Ruby for lunch on Saturdays.
Sadly, our lives with her were short lived. She fell ill and battled sickness over an extended period of time and Aunt Ruby would make evening phone calls to Dr. Williams who would visit her during his night rounds. I can even recall the name of her Doctor! Even the subtle details associated with a special Aunt like this have significance, so yes Dr. Williams; you're also in the reel of film!
Apparently, Kit's funeral was deeply moving and all I can recount from it is being looked after by a neighbor. In retrospect, this was a good idea. To remember her as she was helped me to move on from this sad moment. It is good that my last visual memory of her is not as someone lying motionless in a casket. This would do nothing to depict the person she really was to the mind of a child.
You've noticed that I mentioned Aunt Kit first. Perhaps you assumed I liked her more than Ruby. As a child, that was true, but now I see them both equally valued as family treasures. Like fine wine, Ruby was an acquired taste that challenged the limitations of a child's social criteria. We must not forget that Ruby was born in the 1890's and was a true child of Victorianism; a culture that valued outward appearances of respectability, accompanied with impeccable manners and well-chosen, eloquent expressions that were precise, yet appropriately adjusted according to the social standing of the listener. In meeting Aunt Ruby, I was at the tail end of this fading era of British Colonialism and did not really fit in!
Aunt Ruby was formal and serious in the way she dealt with us. She appeared indifferent to the idea of making adjustments or showing understanding to childish behavior. (Perhaps the American spelling you just noticed shows one way I rebelled against the old ways. Now I can't seem to stop writing like this!) To appreciate Aunt Ruby meant growing up and reaching a level of maturity to accommodate her way of thinking. Thankfully, she lived long enough for that day to come.
Behind her austere exterior was a heart of compassion. I was later to learn that she often gave financial assistance to relatives in need and would never hesitate to offer practical help to people around her. It was only after many years that I learned about how she supported my mother with good advice and sincere friendship that carried her through those difficult child raising years. My mother's background was more of a German continental upbringing and understanding the vibrant Irish-Australian Danaher culture must have been somewhat of a challenge for her. But Aunt Ruby was there for her. She was her best friend, her mentor, her link between acceptance and misunderstanding. I believe she carried her formal veneer out of respect for her parents, as she was loyal and behaved in a manner that she felt brought honor to them. Sadly, this had once masked the real Ruby who I know now.
My last recount of her life was in a nursing home. She had lost all recent memory and was back in the past. Her parents were sometimes with her and she had various social engagements to keep with her friends and acquaintances. Oftentimes, she would laugh about certain behavior she encountered during a picnic lunch. Here I was beside this ailing Aunt, listening to conversations from the past, and being informed of events that belonged to a forgotten time, and yet they seemed so real and made me feel I was back there with her. Ruby was no longer with us, but had retreated into the time she knew well. She was no longer formal or severe, but excited and contented. The Victorian mask had faded away.
Aunt Ruby passed away in 1988. I delivered her eulogy to an audience of tearful relatives and friends. Just 17 years before, Kit was there in the same place and now it seemed they were together again.
As I reflect on the words put down on this paper, the day is fading with the coming evening twilight as if telling me to leave this written memory for another day to come.