Sometimes When Politicians

SAY THEY’RE LAYING aside the burdens of office “to be with family,” it’s for real.

Baby Sister, the Senator, left a legislative session to rush home to the hospital bedside of our Aunt Chris — our mother’s older sister — who apparently has had a stroke or a similar trauma. According to broadcast emails (“Sent from My Blackberry” … how much bad news is being delivered this way these days?), it’s not likely Aunt Chris will survive very long.

I know grief is for the living, but I can’t help it. This world will be so much the poorer without Chris Story in it. As Sis put it, Aunt Chris was/is/has been a fiercely independent woman, ahead of her time. Back when Steinem and Friedan and the rest of the feminist icons were bitching about how bad their po’ Ivy League asses had it, Aunt Chris was taking up a second (or third?) career as an architect and general contractor. This was before you ever saw the “first woman carpenter” or the “first female lineman” in news stories. She was bossing house-building crews and building some of the best homes in the county. Did it on sheer brass and competence. And she only had to ask a guy once to come on a second job with her.

It was her second husband — Uncle Cliff — to whom I have referred many times in these pixels. He was the underage kid who signed up for the Marines after Pearl Harbor and ended up landing with the First Marine Division at Guadalcanal. Who went to school on the GI Bill and wound up a boss engineer in the aerospace industry. Who has been an inspiration to me and who was closer than a surrogate father to Baby Sis. It says a lot about Chris that she could “catch” such a man.

We used to tease her about her foibles, now fondly remembered as gentle eccentricities that she joined in the teasing of herself on occasion. There’s OCD and there’s borderline, and there’s over the border. Aunt Chris was over the border and over the top. But her house was always beautiful, immaculate, and comfortable. And, second hand from Mom, I learned a lot from her about how to keep house, even if you couldn’t tell from looking at my current environs. Every tip I can remember was prefaced with “Chris says…” or “Chris has a trick with a hole in it.”

She was thrifty before it was cool — back in the go-go ’60s. She would put out paper napkins at meals, and write people’s names on them, to be reused from lunch to dinner and from one day to the next. We kids — brats all — learned early on to shred our napkins at a meal, so we could get a fresh one next time we sat down. I bet she figured it out. She was pretty canny that way, and had a way of cocking a knowing grin at you sideways when she caught you.

A lot of people in my life have died over the years. But few are as close to the core of who I am as Aunt Chris. For the next… however long … I’ll be mourning her and remembering that part of her life that touched mine.

A final story about her. Her real name wasn’t Chris. Oh, I think she legally adopted it somewhen along the line. But her given name was Gertrude. Her brothers hung the name Chris on her, after Crisco, whose tag line in the ’30s was apparently “Fat in the Can.” And, rather than let it stand as an insult, letting them know their needling got to her, she proudly took on the name and made it hers, threw it back in their faces. There’s a lesson in there for a lot of overly sensitive members in the congregation at Our Lady of the Perpetually Offended.

I’m sure she will shortly be casting a critical eye on the cleanliness of the Pearly Gates and taking St. Peter to task for the blots on his escutcheon.

Update: Chris passed at 9:30 local time on Thursday, at just about the time I posted this.

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