Auntie had ached for endless summer.
I had ached for Auntie.
I remember my first real impression of her – young, beautiful, wild, forever single, unattached. She had moved back to New England from Southern California after a ten-year absence during which she had shown her face only periodically, perhaps at Christmas, a wedding, a landmark birthday. We barely knew each other, though I had been smitten with her whenever she did show up back in our humble Massachusetts town. I was twelve and she was in her early thirties when she came back for good. My affliction only became more profound when she decided, upon her ultimate return, that she liked me in spite of the fact that she had no children of her own and made no bones about the fact that she didn’t want any. My mother, her older sister, asked her to move in with us until she found a house to purchase.
Those were wonderful days of my girlhood, watching Auntie appear in her eyelet dresses and straw sandals, seeing her combing her long blond hair and creating big, gorgeous curls at the bottom with hot rollers, brushing on face powder and black mascara, and making her lips shine with vanilla-smelling gloss. Oftentimes she would baby-sit me while my mother went to work and I would just stare as I watched her prepare herself for the day.
The fact that Auntie didn’t have a job seemed strange to me. When I asked my mother about it she said, “Your auntie made a lot of money in California so now she doesn’t have to work.” This made the legend of Auntie grow even bigger in my mind.
Auntie didn’t waste any time buying a house. In fact, in less than two months she had bought the old Holt place at the end of River Road, which had been abandoned for years and for sale almost as long. I couldn’t believe that she had bought the house; for years I had ridden my bicycle past it and was drawn to it as if it held some kind of secret for me. I would soon learn that it did.
I held my breath after she bought the house, in fear that I would lose the world’s best babysitter, but she said it would take her months to fix and furnish the place just the way she wanted it.
“Can I help?” I’d begged over and over again, but her reply had always been, “No, it’s a surprise, Carrie! You can’t see it until it’s done!”
As a consolation prize, Auntie promised not to shirk her baby-sitting duties, not for one day. She would stay with me until my mother got home from her office job. Then, she would leave to work on her house. While she was with me she would often will me to take out my little plastic pallet of watercolors and paint with her. That was how I learned that Auntie had been a water-colorist in Palm Springs and a great one too. Her talent had made her very rich, like my mother had told me.
She would paint with me on my cheap paper until she bought me some professional grade paper and better paints. She loved flowers and trees and grass and dirt and the pictures she turned out made my mouth fall open but she would always insist that mine were better. Sometimes she would guide my hand to show me how to shape a flower or make the grass look like it was being pushed by the wind, but most often she would only look over my shoulder and smile.
I never could paint and I still can’t.