Goddamn it, I’m writing these things too often lately.
Today, Easter Sunday, my Aunt Hannah, the youngest of the Clarke clan, passed away after a too-long battle with illness. She went out like she lived, stubborn, crotchety and cracking off-colour jokes that shouldn’t be funny but, coming from her, somehow were.
I’m glad I got a couple of chances to see her in these last days. Just over a week ago I visited her at the Port Perry hospital where both she and my mother had been. She was rough then, the drugs and the illness having ravished her mercilessly. Normally, even in that state, she’d still have a wiseass comment or comeback, but not that day and not the following Sunday, a week ago. She was tired.
But in her last days, we got reports of some of that humour, those Hannah-isms, coming back. She’d fall asleep for a while, then wake up, her family around her and say, “Am I dead yet?” And when it was obvious she was failing, her youngest daughter told her it was okay, she could just relax and go. Her response? “No.”
Yeah, you really shouldn’t laugh at humour as grim as that, but hell, this was Hannah, so how the hell couldn’t you? To be honest, on that last one, I’m almost shocked she settled for a simple “No,” when she could have pulled out a “Fuck, no.”
When I was young, Hannah scared the shit out of me. She was a beautiful woman, but she could be so damn profane and, at seven or eight, that was just terrifying. I’m sure this is something she’d find hilarious. I’m sure it would elicit one of those unselfconscious cackling laughs from her.
Like all my aunts and uncles, I have flashes of memories from when I was younger. I remember going to Aunt Hannah’s house in Oakville and thinking it was a palace. The place was bigger, cleaner, newer and more expensive than anything I was used to with most of my other aunts and uncles. And yet, there was Hannah, fearsome and beautiful, swearing like a trucker, daring anyone to call her on it.
I remember being at a cottage on several occasions. I’m pretty sure it was Hannah and Geoff’s, but I wouldn’t trust that four-decade plus memory any more. Anyway, I can remember two things from that cottage distinctly.
The first is listening to Hannah having one of those joking conversations that only families can have. I’m pretty sure she was referring to her nieces from her sister Jackie and she was talking about, if they were her kids, if they’d come and lived with her, how she’d have to change them, fix their noses, change the colour of their hair, make their ears smaller, basically chiding them on their looks. At the time, I was horrified that she would turn that gaze on me and start talking about what would be needed to changed on me to appease Hannah’s aesthetic sensibilities. Now, I just find it funny as hell and have used it on more than one occasion myself.
The second is listening to my mother, Hannah and a couple of the other brothers and sisters talking about a time when Hannah (now again, remember, this is an ancient memory, so I may be butchering it), in all her glorious profanity, attempted to get her sister Betty, a woman I remember someone in the family–likely Hannah–describing as someone “who wouldn’t say ‘shit’ if her mouth was full of it” to say “fuck.”
I can remember my mother close to hysterics as she described Hannah grabbing Betty’s cheeks and kneading and molding them, doing her best to massage the “fuck” sound out of Betty’s mouth. From what I remember, it was a bust.
Hannah could come across as brusque, she could be seen as rude, miserable and crotchety. But I remember a woman that, for all the trappings of luxury she surrounded herself with, was a funny, beautiful, no bullshit woman who respected you if you stood up to her.
About ten months ago, I wrote something when my uncle, Hannah’s brother Merle died. At that time I said:
It’s easy, at times like this, when faced with the passing of a loved one, to wonder about the worth of it all. We put so much effort in, for so little reward at times. We’re trained to look for those big rewards: that promotion or raise at work, that big vacation, those big events like births or weddings…and yes, all those things can feel like justification for all the work you put in…but there’s precious few big rewards in life.
Instead, at least I believe, life is made up of very small, very subtle moments that can be life changing.
I still believe that. People come into your life for a reason. The reason may not always be immediately apparent. For me, I believe I’ve picked up small, subtle traits from those I’ve come in contact with. From Hannah, I think I got a little of that “I don’t really give a shit what you think of me, take it or leave it” attitude and I definitely was able to refine my inappropriate sense of humour through watching Hannah, the master.
Aunt Hannah, you were one of my favourites. The world will be a little less interesting with you gone. I love you, you crazy old broad.