To define “Aunt” Trudy would be to say she was a divine woman and a favored dinner companion. We were not related but rather, both adopted extensions of the Mullaney holiday gatherings. I was a nephew’s wife and she was the son’s mother-in-law. We were those added family members that created the need for a larger ham at Easter, demoted the youngsters to a kids table at Thanksgiving and brought additional dessert selections at Christmas.
Trudy was that interested family member that sincerely wanted updates to everyone’s life. She also brought her own experiences, humorous or thought-provoking, to the dinner table. While her age would define her as elderly, this grandmother was more active than most. She had weekly exercise groups, unique interests and outings with friends. Trudy didn’t boast about any of them, they just came through in her conversations. She put everyone at ease and was the most gracious guest. Her “across the pond” accent, and accepting and loving nature made her delightful company. She was a woman’s woman.
It’s 4 am and as I admire the near full moon lighting up our bedroom, I feel safe. I tell myself a lit night sky is not always a good thing and am reminded of Trudy and a comment she once made in real Aunt Stel’s living room. If they both knew I was now writing this on my iPhone under the covers, like a tweenager reading with a flashlight under their first homemade tent, they would be laughing at my childish approach to retelling this moment.
A woman doesn’t typically talk about her age and Trudy was no exception. So I thought, until she told a story one Easter, about how she quit smoking as a young woman. When one of the boys had to excuse himself to go smoke, Trudy was understanding and told him not to apologize for leaving the room. She completely understood nicotine’s prodding. During his temporary departure Trudy talked about the nasty and inconvenient habit and how she was finally able to quit.
I am sure her story was compelling; I don’t remember the whole tale. What I do recall is that there were multiple date references, that included the year she was married and how long she’d been smoking. I backed into the numbers and inserted myself into the conversation. I suppose I was trying to match her wit, charm and humor when I delivered my mathematical perspective.
“Trudy, if you’d been smoking that long by the time you quit, that would mean you were already smoking at thirteen! How scandalous; were your parents aware of this?”
As gracious as ever, she smiled and welcomed me into her storytelling. “Why, yes, dear. They knew my friends and I smoked during the air raids in London. The cigarettes calmed us in the deep level shelters as we listened to the bombing overhead.”
My question, and any potential follow-up, was no longer charming, humorous or witty.
Her WWII response left me mute.
I froze in my chair and didn’t have a worthy comment.
I finally started to stammer an educated retort into the now quiet and compassionate room but she’d have none of that. Instead she eloquently added another sentence or two about her English family and simple dress fashions of that era. Her answer to my question did not intend to make me feel uncomfortable.
When my brother-in-law walked back in with his Marlboros, there were a few chuckles around the room.
“What’s so funny? Were we the butt of your jokes while I was gone?”
“Clever. No, dear. We were just talking about England and my family.”
Trudy moved the holiday along and continued. “Sit down and tell us about where you’re working now? Do you have a girlfriend?”
Trudy kept the atmosphere upbeat and had seamlessly transitioned the conversation to someone else. This British adopted aunt certainly did add to the family. Like the moon, Trudy reflected light in our life and made us all a little brighter.