Mom phoned me last night. My Aunt Flora passed away this week. She must have been at least 90, so she lived a wonderful and long life. Aunt Flora was one of my favourite people in the whole world. She was strong willed, stubborn, spoke her mind and didn't take crap from anyone. She was also one of the smartest people I ever met.
Aunt Flora, who finished high school and went to University at the age of 15 and was a principal of a school by the age of 18, moved from Manitoba to the Okanagan over sixty years ago, when her husband decided rather than continue farming on the prairies, he'd like to try his hand working in the orchards. I remember being amazed when Aunt Flora asked me to guess how much they had paid for their two lake front lots. $175.00 bought both lots, that the orchard company deemed useless for their business. Uncle George and Aunt Flora built their house room by room, not ever believing in credit. As they built up a little bit of cash, they would add another room. The little house reflected the manner in which it had been built, but there was never a more welcoming place to me in the world!
When I was young, my Mom and Dad would pack up the van with all the camping gear and we would head West for holidays. I can remember the excitement of driving up to Aunt Flora's where I knew, I would be welcomed with cream soda pic-a-pop (Aunt Flora always remembered that it was my favourite) and the encouragement to run up the "mountain" behind their house, or the command to climb a tree, or pick the cherries growing on the tree in the front yard. I loved those moments. Even back then Aunt Flora's house was like a museum. A veritable treasure trove of shells, photos and antiques; a monument to her love of nature, travelling and the never ending quest for knowledge.
We stopped going out to BC every summer by the time I was eight. In 2003, the kids, their dad and I packed up our truck with the camping gear and headed west for our own family holiday. A stop at Aunt Flora's was a must - I wanted the kids to meet her, to get to know her. The place was just as I remembered, except the cherry tree was gone (had to be cut down after a delivery truck ran into it and broke the branches), and there were huge mansions up the back mountain. Houses or not, Aunt Flora was quick to tell the kids to climb the mountain, and explore. We had a wonderful time, visiting with her, sitting on her lawn, playing in the lake and listening to her stories. The kids were just as enthralled with her and her house as I had always been.
The next year, we went back again. Only this time, we could see a difference in Aunt Flora. She was into her late eighties by then and simply didn't have the energy to visit or tell stories as much. We would drive over from the campground we were staying in, and visit for a while, then head down to the lake, while she rested or slept in her lawn chair. We didn't make it back in 2005. By that time, our marriage was all but over, I was recovering from a car accident, and there was no point trying to pretend we were a happy family on vacation. That winter, Aunt Flora went into a nursing home over the hill from her house. She didn't mind, she was the one to choose it.
Last summer, G, N and I went to the Okanagan. We didn't know what we would find. Unsure if the propery was sold and the house torn down already, or not. I had to go, one last time. As I drove down the road that runs along the lake I came to a sight that I had come to associate with a sense of peace and tranquility.
If the sign was there, and I could see the house through the trees, then surely it was still Aunt Flora's and I could go sit on her lawn and have that sense of re-grouping that I so desperately craved. I parked the van and walked up the hill and found my cousin. She had moved in for the summer until the house would be sold. What a wonderful day we had. Even though Aunt Flora wasn't there, Elisabeth did a fine job of taking over where her mom left off in the family history, and the science and geography lessons. We played in the lake, had cold drinks on the front lawn and for the first time in a over a year, I had that feeling again. The same one I always got when I was at Aunt Flora's. A knowledge that everything would be alright. Aunt Flora wasn't well that day, and was too tired to visit with us, but sent her love and then we were on our way. It could only be a short stop in the Okanagan as we had to start heading back home.
I always admired Aunt Flora. She was a heck of a lady, posessing all the qualities I always wished I could have. My friend Tammy said a very lovely and comforting thing to me today. She told me, "you can honour her by trying to live out the characteristics you admired". You know, Tammy's right. I hope some day I can be as strong a woman as Aunt Flora. I don't have a picture of my Aunt right now. She didn't want me taking any of her the last time I saw her. So instead, I will post a picture of her "secret garden" that led up from the road to her magical lawn, where troubles melted away, imagination took over and you were expected to play and be a kid no matter how grown up you were supposed to be.
Good bye Aunt Flora, you meant more to me than you probably ever knew.