Goodbye, Aunt Blanche

I’m going to apologize right up front for any typos and grammatical mistakes. I’m having a hell of a time writing this one and I can’t face reading it again. It’s too hard.


My world is a little more dim today. My Aunt Blanche passed away yesterday afternoon.

My mother’s family was a large one. Three boys, Floyd, Merle and Willis (or Ron, depending on who you talked to), and five girls, Hannah, Betty, Jackie, Ileen (or Mary Katherine, depending on who you talked to), and Blanche. Of that large family, there’s only my mother, Ileen, and Betty left.

Blanche was the oldest. She would have been 89 this coming April, and barely a year separated her from my mother, who will be 88 this coming April. They were the first two and they were always close.

I know it’s likely not cool to pick a favourite out of all my aunts, and I love them all dearly, but I have to say, Blanche was my favourite.

Blanche and Charlie 1944

Blanche and Charlie 1944

I remember, forty-odd years ago, making that long trip to Guelph to visit Aunt Blanche and Uncle Charlie and their brood of kids. Wayne, Brian, David, Cheri, and Dale. They didn’t live in a big house, and it always seemed jammed full of people.

Whenever I went to one of my other aunt’s houses, Jackie’s, or Hannah’s or Betty’s, the places were spotless, and they were always very neat, very tasteful. The Clarke women all knew how to decorate and keep a clean home. But my point here is, their houses had just the right amout of stuff. No clutter. My mom’s place was always a bit more cluttered than the others, but still neat and clean.

But walking into Aunt Blanche’s house was like walking into Hogwort’s or something like that. It was still neat and clean, but there was…stuff…everywhere. The place was bursting with interesting things to look at and find. Whenever I think of Blanche and Charlie’s house, the first thing I think of is a couch they had along one wall, and the top few inches of a cribbage board peeking up from behind it. That thing must have been about four feet high and it always held a singular attraction for me.

And in amongst this ordered chaos, there was Blanche, the calm eye at the centre of any storm. She was the epitome of calm. To the untrained eye, she might be seen as uncaring, but that would be absolutely wrong.

Blanche was always content–at least to me and my memories–simply to be. She seemed to be happy in any situation, unperturbed in any upheaval, be it eight kids running around the house, or a bunch of family invading her home for the weekend. She had a happy, zen-like quality to her that I wish I could have inherited.

Blanche and Charlie

Blanche and Charlie

While some of my aunts and uncles were jokesters or sarcastic, Blanche was hysterically funny at times by just being her.

I remember when I was back in high school, a group of us decided to head down and check out a few different universities to try and decide which one was for us. The plan was to visit the University of Toronto, McMaster in Hamilton, and both Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo, both in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. My Aunt Blanche, hailing from Guelph, volunteered to guide us to both WLU and UofW.

Yikes.

We end a convoy of three cars. Aunt Blanche in the lead car, my mother following her, and one of the other kid’s mothers following my mom. And Blanche got us so lost. Still, she was obviously convinced that she could navigate her way out of it, so she gamely drove on, taking turns at random and choosing streets seemingly at a whim. And, even though she drove the wrong way on at least two one-way streets, still the other two cars had to follow her, my mother furiously honking her horn and flashing her lights. Blanche kept her zen-like calm and drove on.

At one point, she finally had to admit defeat and ask for directions. Instead of pulling up beside another car, or even taking the curb and hitting up a pedestrian, she stopped at a red light, then, hanging her head, shoulders and left arm out the window, flapped her hand to a woman waaaaaaay across the intersection and, in her somewhat gravelly voice, shrieked, “MA’AM! MA’AM! MA’AM!” until she got her attention and got the directions she needed. Thankfully, those directions got us where we needed to go.

At the time, being about seventeen years old, this was absolutely mortifying to me and my buddies and I can remember us sliding down in the back seat where no one could see us.

But by that night, that action had passed into legend. We told and retold that story until tears were squirting from our eyes. And, until the day I moved from Barry’s Bay, if one of my friends or I were on foot in Barry’s Bay, and another of us was driving, the customary greeting was to hang our head, shoulders and left arm out the window, flap our hand in the direction of the other and yell, “MA’AM! MA’AM! MA’AM!” So, I guess you could say Blanche was a trend-setter as well.

My Aunt Betty and Blanche

My Aunt Betty and Blanche

Years later, I came to appreciate my aunt more, to understand her from an adult point of view. That’s when I realized how loving she was, how devoted to family and friends. When Charlie passed away, she eventually found Stan, another good guy. He wasn’t Charlie, but he was a good guy in his own right. Blanche could pick them. When Stan passed away, Blanche found other ways to keep herself occupied. She volunteered at a hospice, and she was active on the computer–a skill her next youngest sister, my mother, could never master.

She was always busy, always active, and kept a pace that would tire someone half her age.

The last few times I got together with Aunt Blanche, we had some serious conversations. There were times when I might have needed a bit of advice. And this was when I truly began to understand my aunt.

Blanche would never stick her nose where it didn’t belong. She might have had the perfect word, the perfect advice, but, unless you asked for it, she held her tongue.

But if you did ask for it, if you did come to her, possibly in an emotional state, she would always calmly listen to you, nodding and encouraging you. And she would look at you and only you. If you were talking to Blanche, you became the most important person in her life at that moment. The rest of the world would fall away for her.

And then she would smile that wonderful smile of hers, the one that started at her mouth and crinkled the corners of her eyes, and she would either give you the perfect piece of advice, or she would say something like, “I remember when…” and then she’d tell you a story–often hilarious–about herself, or one of her brothers and sisters, or one of her kids, and it would perfectly illustrate the point she was trying to make. She had a million stories and could pick the right one for the situation every time.

Sowing her wild oats

Sowing her wild oats

My Aunt Blanche even accepted her end with that same calm. While the rest of the family took the news with shock and pain and anger, Blanche only shrugged her shoulders, accepted it, and pointed out that she’d had a good, long, productive life. She then prepared for the end, ensuring that her kids were looked after, that the right heirloom got to the right person.

And when she entered the hospice she used to volunteer at, she was greeted like a homecoming queen, and she said, “I’m so happy I’m here.”

Blanche might never been seen as someone who did something earthshaking or important, but she was that person. Her calmness, her easy smile, her way of disarming an emotional moment with a story and her obvious love…they were earthshaking to me. They were important. She was an absolutely loving woman, a loyal friend and relative.

Over the years, I had some wonderful moments and shared some lovely conversations with her. And I know that, for each of those moments and conversations, I became the most important person in her life. That’s a precious gift to give anyone, yet it was one that she gave freely and easily, and with a smile.

I can’t tell you how much it hurts me to know I’ll never have one of those conversations again.

Goodbye Aunt Blanche. I love you so much. Thank you for being in my life.

My mother and Blanche

My mother and Blanche

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 57,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 13 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Searching so long

I’ve been searchin’
So long
To find an answer
Now I know my life has meaning

(I’ve Been) Searching So Long – Chicago

I gotta laugh at some of the search terms that ultimately draw people to this blog.  There’s some interesting coincidences, there’s some oddball ones, and then there’s the ones that really get me worrying about who’s out there and what exactly they’re searching for.

One of those interesting coincidences is first up.  There’s be exactly the same number of searches for Tobin Elliott as there has been for throwing up. For anyone that’s counting, the number is 157 searches.  That could be an unplanned commentary on the quality of my blog posts. Either way, you can learn more about me, and maybe throw up here.

There’s a lot of Whitney Houston search terms that bring people to my most popular, and most controversial blog, in which I ask that we don’t canonize the late singer for an early death due to drugs. But the thing that fascinates me is that 106 searches for whitney addict house we have a problem tobin bring people here.

I like that 35 people have found my little blog by searching plox, the sound a turd makes as it hits the water. That’s kinda fun. 29 more have found me by looking for a turd burgler. Hopefully he doesn’t get the evil turd. Same for the dog eating shit. Wanna read more about plox? Or evil turds? Start here.turd

And that’s just one more than those that have landed her while searching for cat throwing up.

Then there’s those that have looked for something to do with a pee dance, which seems somewhat connected to the slightly less popular how do men urinate. I will admit to writing about the Pee Pee Dance, but I’ve never attempted to explain anything about how dudes pee.

I’m going to stick these next three together, because, well, it just seems fitting. Why? Because those searching shit faced may well have been, because why else would you also search bad out of hell. Not bat. Bad. And you know what that is? The last search term…bullshit. But you can read about my encounter with a…well, something that resembled a bat out of hell here.

I’m not sure why you’d want to search women with no eyeball and I’m also not sure why it would bring you here, but maybe it has something to do with the big tit search term. Notice it’s not tits, plural.  And here I thought they usually came in pairs. Apparently not from the one tit girls searches. Silly me.

boob

Though there’s also those looking for titanic tits. Not sure if they’re looking for large breasts on the ship, or breasts that sank due to a collision with an iceberg.

I find it interesting that people land here looking for both cat throwing up and man throwing up but there’s no searches for dogs or women throwing up. I guess they just want the no-eyeball women.

Yet, in a remarkable coincidence, three terms line up nicely to create an almost hidden message: life is…, all work and no play, nude celebrities. There’s a second one as well… work from home is how a door knob works. How about those funny boy and girl conversationsin your pants. Finally the cat that gets flushed in the toilet is likely going nuts. Perhaps because of the other cat flushing toilet.

cat-in-toilet

I’m guessing it’s only idiots who search for idoits. Then again, so is anyone looking for george bush badass. Though the ones looking for bacon strips in underwear and shoulder sniffing worry me a touch. As do the ones looking for a picture of a brain throwing up. I mean, can that even happen? But for a perfect brain, look here.

Scarecrow

The person who searched i like when lady gaga smells my underwear deserves a special place with padded walls. Or a special place in hell. I haven’t decided which yet.

Let’s go get shitfaced. Kidding…that’s a search term, not an end goal. Perhaps the end goal should be to not use foul language. Yeah, probably not gonna happen. Not while cock out of underwear and jerking off anime boys somehow gets you here. Could it be when I jerked someone off…my car? Yeah, check it out here.

Ah well, the most heartening search term, and the one that has brought the most hits to my blog–almost 13000, compared to the next highest at 3600–and the name of my second most popular blog, life is beautiful.

life-is-beautiful

It is, isn’t it? I hope you find what you’re searching for.

And so this is Christmas

And so this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year older
And a new one just begun.

Happy Christmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon

This isn’t going to be one of those funny, heartwarming Christmas blogs. This one won’t put the fun in dysfunctional. This one’s pretty much all dysfunctional. So, if you’re looking for funny, if you’re looking for heartwarming, look elsewhere.

Every Christmas is a struggle for me. I have a family that loves it. The Girl will start looking forward to Christmas carols as early as July, and the second Halloween passes, she’s playing them. The Wife spends hours making the house look beautiful and Christmas-y, warm and inviting. The Boy starts throwing out hints for gifts as early as October.

Bauble On Christmas Tree Background by Petr Kratochvil

And then there’s me. I tend to try and shy away from the season as much as possible. Every year it’s a struggle to get me to decorate the outside of the house. It’s not that I hate Christmas, though that’ll always be my pat answer to anyone that asks. No, it’s just that I absolutely want to avoid it with all my soul.

When I was a kid, I loved Christmas. Even when there wasn’t much under it, I didn’t care. It was just a wonderful time full of anticipation and wonder. The world was white, perfect for showing off all those lights and decorations. The smells of the food that would be prepared days in advance would drive me crazy. Family was always stopping by, or we were visiting.

Christmas Tree Lights Effect by David Wagner

Christmas Tree Lights Effect by David Wagner

Maybe this all started the year my mother and step-father broke up. Because it happened Christmas day.

Or maybe it started the year after, when my mother was alone, and none of us had any money for gifts. But still, we were together.

Even if it was then, I should have gotten over all that in the years since, when I got married and had children of my own. And for a time, I must admit, it abated somewhat. It never went away, but it lessened for a while, this desire to avoid it all.

God knows my in-laws make it amazing. My father and mother-in-law are absolutely amazing, and every year, they come over Christmas morning for a big breakfast. Then we all head over to the Wife’s sister’s place where she and her husband put on a ridiculously amazing Christmas dinner. All of the Wife’s family is there, including all our nieces.  There’s always a lot of laughter and fun.

Yet still, for all of that, in the back of my mind, a big part of me just wants to go home and avoid it all.

I love the family I married into. I couldn’t have found a more amazing group of people. They’re funny, supportive and they treat me as their own. And our friends always make it better too. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve wouldn’t be the same without the Hickey family. There’s no one like them and I’m thankful for their friendship and love and support every day of the year.

I have other friends that know what I’ve gone through and are always there to talk me through it.

And maybe that’s it.  Maybe it’s the fact that, because my mother has never accepted my wife, she is no longer welcome in my home. Maybe it’s because my brother can’t be trusted with anything. He made the choice a long time ago to not act as a brother would. Maybe it’s because I haven’t really talked to my sister in almost three decades because she made the choice to live in a paranoid wonderland of hate and poverty. Maybe it’s partly due to knowing I have this other group of nieces and nephews…Todd, Tabitha, Ryan, Kelly, Buddy, Genevieve…probably even more that I don’t know about…all these people that I last saw as young children that are now all adults…and I know nothing about them. I haven’t seen any of them in far too long.

My brother and sister I’m done with. My mother I’ll visit at times during the holidays, to be served up the usual helping of guilt and sadness. It’s something I refuse to subject my family to anymore. So I guess I’m part shield, part martyr in that respect. But I do it to protect them. I’m sure the rest of my family has heard a startlingly different view of this and view me as the asshole with a bitch for a wife. I’m past caring about that, to be honest. If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned people will think what they want and I’ll have little control over it. The ones who have taken the time to know both myself and my wife know the truth.

Anyway, back to Christmas.

Maybe I’m being selfish. I have all the family that anyone could want. And I feel extremely selfish for wanting someone from my side of the family to treat me that same way, to give me that same courtesy that these other people–people who didn’t know me half as long as my family have–show me. I feel selfish because I already have more than most.

So, as I attend all these Christmas functions, there always seems to be this black hole that sucks and pulls at me. It shouldn’t be there, I shouldn’t give it that power. I know I should turn away from it and look at all I have and how incredibly lucky I am.

But I can’t help feeling like an orphan at this time of year.

oliver_more

So for any of you that know me, please don’t ever shy away from wishing me a Merry Christmas. Just understand that I may not wish it back with the same level of passion. This is the time of the year when those cracks in my own family have the most light shone on them. The time when, at least for me, they become most obvious.

And so this is Christmas.