Here it is, more than a week after Thanksgiving, and my Christmas card basket is still empty. Usually by now it would have one card in it – the one from my 85-year-old aunt Mavis, the most organized woman I know. Hers is always the first Christmas card in my mailbox.
This year, though, I doubt I’ll get a card from her, unless she has some spare moments in rehab. Not a Lindsay Lohan/Amy Winehouse/Robert Downey Jr. kind of rehab. She fell and broke her femur right before the holiday, and after surgery and pins and hospital food, she’s rehabing in a facility in southwest Minnesota near her home. While she’ll be able to live on her own again, she unfortunately won’t be able to go back to her home of more than 60 years. There are just too many steps.
Mavis will move to a small apartment in the same building my grandmothers lived before they moved to nursing homes. This is the part of growing older I hate. I don’t want to see Mavis live anywhere but her house. I love that old house. It’s part of my family history. My history. Thank God Mavis has a better attitude about this than I do. She’s told everyone she’s fine and Mavis never lies. I’m the one with the problem
Mavis’s house once belonged to my grandpa and grandma, who bought it shortly after WWII. My mother was in high school and hadn’t lived in a real house in several years. Grandma, Grandpa, my mom and my great-grandmother lived there first, then after grandpa died, Mavis and her husband Vic bought the place.
This is what my mother wrote to me when I asked her how she felt knowing Mavis had to sell the house: “I know Mavis can’t go back to the house and it makes me a little sad, it is a nice home. I have such good memories of the place even if it was only two years that I lived there full time. Knowing that we didn’t have to move again was great and of course after living above the bank, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. But the best part was having Grandma there. Our lunches together were very special, just the two of us, so I always have those memories. Life goes on but sometimes it can be a little sad. So I can only imagine how Mavis must really feel not being able to go back. She lived there many years, so the house served its purpose well.”
The house is located across the street from the former Jasper High School where my mom, dad, aunts, uncles and cousins all went to school. I went there, too, for three years. Sometimes I’d walk across the street with my packed lunch and eat with Mavis and Vic during their lunch hour. Mavis was a teller at the bank and my uncle worked for the grain elevator. We’d sit at the small table in their kitchen and Mavis and I would talk while Vic listened to the news playing in the background on the little black and white television. Vic wasn’t much for conversation. Mavis talked, Vic grunted, but she always understood him. He was a nice guy, everyone liked him. He was just a man of few words.
Vic liked sports. Every Saturday and Sunday, he’d simultaneously watch a game on their large color console and another game or sporting event on the black and white TV next to his La-Z-Boy all while listening to yet another game or sporting event on the radio. It seemed chaotic to anyone walking through the living room, but he could tell you what was going on, in vivid detail, in each one.
When my family moved away from Jasper, I loved staying at Mavis and Vic’s when we went back for visits. I’d sleep upstairs in either my mother’s or great-grandmother’s old room and imagine what it would have been like to live there in the 1940s. I called my friends on the old rotary dial phone Mavis kept upstairs, which I’d be willing to bet is still there, and on Sunday mornings I’d wake up to the church bells ringing next door.
On the land next to the driveway are large jasper quartzite boulders sticking up out of the ground. When I was little they seemed larger than my room. My brother and I would climb on them, jump from one to the other knowing with one bad step we could fall and break our necks. When I see those boulders now they seem to have sunk into the earth. They’re no longer as big as they were, but then, I’m not 6 years old.
I went to visit Mavis when I was in Jasper last summer. She greeted me with her familiar, “Oh my, Lynn! It’s so good to see you!” and we sat at the same kitchen table I ate lunch at when I was a kid. She told me about her gardens and her friends and how she likes to eat lunch at the new cafe they put in at the gas station downtown. Her hair was as curly as ever (she’s the only person in my family who understands my hair woes) and her laugh was still sharp. Her kitchen was neat and tidy like always and she still loved to crochet and do Norwegian hardanger.
Mavis fell while getting something from the basement. She wasn’t supposed to climb stairs unless someone helped her because earlieir in the fall she’d cracked her pelvis chasing a rabbit out of her garden. But like everyone else in my crazy family, she hated to bother anyone with a simple task she felt she could do herself. She told her sisters when they called her in the hospital that she knows it was a stupid thing to do, but that she takes her accident in stride. That’s where we’re different. I’d still be kicking myself and probably cussing up a storm.
I know Mavis’s kitchen will be neat and tidy in her new apartment and she’ll still crochet and knit and be surrounded by her friends and go to the same church. She’ll be as happy as she was last summer because that’s just how she is, but I’ll miss her in her house. I’ll miss the smell and the feel and ghosts of that house. It’s another one of those things that will never be the same. There seem to be more of those things the older I get.
My Christmas card basket will eventually fill up with holiday greetings from other family and friends, but I’ll still look for Mavis’s card. Something tells me she’ll find a way to get them out. I’m hoping that while the more things change, there are some things that still stay the same.