I hate funeral homes and all of the fake sympathies that go with them. They give you a chance to see the relatives you never see any other time because of some family feud which usually stemmed from something stupid. Yet, the feud rages on. Childhood cousins who built forts in the barn loft and fought-off imaginary monsters become something more than enemies. Common enemies take pot-shots in the dark at you hoping to get lucky. Family knows the location of every chink in your armor. That’s all we are, really. We’re little kids in adult bodies building forts out of bricks rather than hay bales but I digress. I hug and kiss the aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, and strangers that come by to pay respects to my dear Aunt Ingrid. She was my favorite aunt of the four I have. Rather, of the four I had, she was my favorite.
Aunt Ingrid had been alone, so to speak, for awhile since Uncle Charlie’s death. I grew-up so close to her, more like a cousin. We used to sled ride down Schank Hill all winter. It was huge! I swear you hit 100 going down that thing. Uncle Charlie wasn’t in the picture yet. It was always just me and Aunt Ingrid…and whatever high school guys were sledding. Actually, I remember them pulling our sled to the top of the hill. Even bundled-up in a parka she got plenty of attention. I’m not going to lie…I grew up with a bit of a crush on Aunt Ingrid that was half childhood innocence and half something else. Hell, she was only fourteen years older than me and made the best PB&J on Earth. A kid has to have priorities.
Once into my teens, I didn’t see her much. She’d married Uncle Charlie who took a job out of state and my buddy with him. I stopped playing backgammon, scrabble, monopoly and all the other games we used to play on boring Sundays. Nobody wanted to play and they’re not really games you could play by yourself. We didn’t have tablets or iPhones then. If you didn’t have someone to play with, you played with yourself…well, you know what I mean.
I remember Ingrid came home alone one Christmas when I was around twenty. By that point I’d dropped the formal “Aunt”. She seemed much different…older…hollow. She drove a new Cadillac but it was a pigsty inside. Nothing like her immaculate Firebird she used to pick me up in. She showed pictures of their European vacation, their cruise, and their new home. I just thought she seemed pretty miserable through it all.
Ingrid’s visits became more frequent and longer. Mom finally told me that Ingrid and Charlie were having troubles and had been for awhile. That’s all I got. Ingrid stayed in bed a lot, drank a lot, and one day she was gone.
“Moved back against my advice,” Mom had said.
Months later, Mom got the call in the middle of the night. Ingrid, catching Charlie with a secretary, shot both of them. A country girl, she was always a good shot with a rifle so a handgun at close range probably wasn’t a stretch. Prison half a country away was pretty much solitary confinement. Some of us race the clock to get everything finished in our day and always carry something over to the next. Others, like Ingrid, had nothing but time in a strange land with no friends or family.
My walk down memory lane is interrupted by Dave Siebert who shuffled-up next to me. Dave had never really amounted to much in my eyes. He worked in town at the same job he’d had forever and scraped-out enough money to pay the property taxes on the inherited house he’d lived in all his life. He stood next to me openly sobbing, hugged my Mom, my sister, and me then walked out.
“Odd much?” I said aloud.
Mom snapped her head around to me, “He and Ingrid dated in high school. He was head over heels and always has been. He wrote to Ingrid every week and flew-out to visit her each month in prison. She was his one and only love. Charlie’s money meant lots of material things but he never loved her. It made her an alcoholic, a murderer, and, in her eyes only, an embarrassment to us. Passing on Dave Siebert…it was the only thing she regretted.”
Tears streamed down my cheeks.