My aunt Linda is my mother's only sister, and she's always had a special place in my heart. She was always the cool aunt, the fun aunt ,the wild aunt.
The first memory I have of Aunt Linda is from 1972 or '73. I was seven or eight. I will call the memory "The Cigarette and the Seminary." My aunt had come from Kansas to Missouri to visit us when we lived at the Baptist seminary where my parents were taking courses. Our apartment was about the size of a hopscotch board with the airport closer than the grocery store. I remember having to stop mid-sentence while a jet flew over, about every third minute of the day. I think that's when I learned to talk fast. It's also the first time I ever flicked the ash off of a cigarette, and it thrilled me. My aunt would hold the cigarette while she talked, and I just sat there watching the thing burn till I could flick it. Funny how things stick in a kid's mind. Aunt Linda smoked and she was cool; I concluded that I wanted to smoke when I grew up.
By the time I was in the seventh grade, Aunt Linda had moved to Ohio and we to Maryland. My mom took us three girls out to visit her. Aunt Linda was a product of the 60's, so she had this groovy, hippie style about her clothes, her house, and her music. It was all so foreign to this little dyed-in-the-wool Christian school girl of a niece. Her dark house was full of character, antiques, and quilts. She seemed to know everything there was to know about quilts and had her own shop. I couldn't fathom paying that much money for a blanket even if I had it. (I understand now, of course.) Her bed was a high, old, antique wooden bed with a feather mattress and comfy American quilts. We loved to take turns sleeping in it with her because we could stay up late talking. She seemed to really enjoy our company. It was probably hilarious because we were so doggone naive.
Aunt Linda was, and is, a gourmet chef. I won't even say "cook." She exceeds everyone I know in culinary skill, and I know a lot of great cooks. Nothing came out of a box or a can that I remember. Everything was fresh. She chopped onions, tomatoes, avocadoes, cucumbers, lettuce. She grilled fish and chicken and beef long before it was popular. The best homemade I've ever had in my life was at her house on Spring Break in 1993. That's how good it was. I went to her place for the week instead of going home. She served orange roughy with fresh lemon, steamed artichokes with butter, and a tossed salad. The thick oak table was always set with brown cloth napkins and stoneware. No delicate china like my mom used. Aunt Linda's style was 100 percent earthy.
*As an aside, I had three smoking experiences growing up, all of which were quick and non-habit-forming. One was in third grade in the loft of a barn. Not smart at all. One was right after high school when I worked as a Woolworth waitress and everyone smoked. And one was in the college dorm/former convent in my freshman year when my roommate and I wanted to see if we could smoke a whole pack or eat a whole bag of Combos first. We got so sick trying that neither cigarettes nor Combos has ever appealed to us again, so that's the last word on the cool charm of smoking for me. )
Back to Aunt Linda...
Twenty-one years ago she adopted a darling girl who now has a daughter of her own. My young, cool, hippie aunt became a grandmother. It seemed weird that the same woman who loved Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell and marijuana and beads hanging in the doorways was now rocking a grandbaby, but to every thing there is a season. (Turn, turn, turn.)
Aunt Linda and I stayed up late talking about all kinds of stuff. Geriatrics was a favorite topic, believe it or not. I don't know if she or my parents (or all three) helped me develop a love for old people, but I learned much from my aunt. She was the director of a nursing home in Ohio and loved it so much that she moved to Santa Fe to build a home that became an adult daycare facility in the 80s and 90s. When it was no longer financially profitable for her, Aunt Linda converted it into a bed and breakfast called Casa Pacifica. Once again, her signature style of quilts and antiques and rustic, earthy decor filled the rooms. And once again, she used her gift of hospitality to welcome and nourish hungry travelers. Her business acumen (learned from her mother) helped her make a living at what she loved to do. She named one of the rooms in my grandmother's honor. It's called Tola's Favorite. If you're ever in Santa Fe, please stay at Casa Pacifica B&B and ask for Linda. Tell her Zoanna sent you. (She might double your rate, but oh well.)
There is so much more I could say about Aunt Linda. Her love of language, puppies, Kansas skies, and the Rolling Stones are just a few of the things that endear her to me. (Well, I could take or leave the Stones.) Her quick wit, great questions, hearty laugh, and affection have wrapped me up like a warm quilt in my reminiscence of our brief visits together.
I will always love my Aunt Linda, and I'm certain it's mutual. She is leaving a legacy of hospitality, and true hospitality is love.