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01-24-2002 @ 9:25 p.m.
Goodbye, Aunty Irene

Joey is the proud artist tonight. One of her paintings was chosen to be auctioned off at her school's Art Fair tonight. When we saw it, a half hour into the silent auction, there were already 3 bids on it. I asked her if she wanted me to bid on it and she said "uh uh! I want it to hang in a stranger's house. Then I'll be like a real artist." Her picture was a cat with a mottled blue/black sky and lots of clouds behind it. She said she was inspired by Van Gogh's Starry Night. I was very proud of her. There were only about 10 pictures being auctioned off so it was quite an honor to be selected. That's my little Picasso. Or should I say Van Gogh?

She didn't go to school today because she woke up with a stomach ache. I thought she was just trying to get out of piano practice but then she had diarrhea so I figured she was for real. When I said she could go back to bed, she was pretty happy about that and went back to sleep for almost 2 hours. Guess she really was sick. She started to feel better around noon or noon-thirty but by then it seemed fruitless to take her to school since she would be leaving at 1:45 for piano lessons so she had the whole day off.

My grandmother's sister died today. Irene had been sick for a long time--between congestive heart failure and serious spinal deformities brought on by severe osteoporosis (she was all hunched over like a turtle) which made it nearly impossible for her to get a deep breath, she was living on borrowed time. For over a year, the doctors had been predicting her demise but she was a tough old bird and she kept on plugging. In the end, it was sepsis that did her in. One of the leads on her pacemaker got infected but she was too fragile to have surgery to remove it so they blasted her with antibiotics through a pic line. It was not enough, though. She had been in a lot of pain in her last year or so but at the end, she died in a gentle morphine sleep with her only daughter at her side.

Grandma is sad but also relieved. She is the 2nd of 5 daughters and now only she and the youngest (who is 14 years younger than her) sister are still alive. That makes her sad. Grandma's 88 but she's in good health and except for some memory loss, she's still pretty good, mentally. She isn't leaving beans on the stove to burn or forgetting her medication. I'm sure it's a strange feeling to have that sisterly support group dwindling.

Aunty Irene was an interesting aunt. Of my grandmother's four sisters, she was the one I felt the least connected to and the one who looked least like the rest of the family. Her husband, Joe, was a childhood favorite of mine, though. I called him Unca Doe and loved him. The Aunties (as we always referred to them en masse, including Grandma) were partiers. But they were 50s-era cocktail party partiers. When I was little, I remember going to Aunty Irene's and Unca Doe's for weekend parties in their basement party room. Joe would get a band together and he played bongoes. He had a bar set up and their basement looked like some kind of 50s lounge--black and red checkerboard tile floor, wood walls and a sort of hula grass skirt around the bar, like a tiki bar. They drank copiously--cocktails and beer--and they smoked like chimneys and they laughed and sang and the women wore cat-eye glasses with little rhinestones in the corners and pedal pusher pants with flat white canvas shoes. They were so cool. I remember loving those parties even though they weren't really child-friendly. I remember falling asleep at Irene's house many times while the party raged on. There were a few cousins there and it was fun to watch the grown-ups get silly and raucous.

In the 70s, Joe and Irene moved to Hawaii where the oldest sister, Pearl, lived. Grandma moved over there soon after. They lived in a sort of time warp, though. For them, it was still the 50s. They had elaborate cocktail parties at Pearl's lanai and in the pool. They listened to Harry Belafonte and Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennet and Tom Jones. Pearl was the life of the party--I saw her drink her breakfast many times--but Irene always seemed almost glamorous. She wore the most stylish clothes and had the most stylish hair (even if it was from the I Love Lucy years). During the years Irene lived in Hawaii, she picked up some of the pidgin English and accent over there that never left her.

Irene and Joe were very into each other. My mother often commented that it was a wonder they'd had any children at all because they weren't into kids at all and they were so busy doing things together--partying, bowling, socializing--that they had little time with their one daughter. I just remember them doing everything together--it was quite rare to see one without the other. I remember thinking it was strange to see her without Joe after he died.

But Irene was a sweet lady and she got sweeter in her later years. The last time I saw her was when she came down with her sister and niece for my sister's wedding almost 2 years ago. She was all hunched over then, too. It was very sad to see her like that but it was good to see her at the wedding. She looked old, though. The pictures of her from the wedding as bittersweet.

Joey is worried that Grandma's going to die soon. When I told her Irene died, she said "Does that mean Grandma's next?" Possibly, though her sister Mary Lou is in much poorer health despite her younger age. Grandma is in very good health, though, so I think she has years left in her. I certainly hope so.

--L

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