In the summer of my 22nd year, fresh from college with an elegant diploma in one hand and no job offers in the other, it was decided that I should become the companion to my great-aunt Emma. I did not decide this, but I went along with the family consensus. No one else in the family had the ability or inclination to uproot their comfortable, or uncomfortable, existences for the sake of wrestling with a prickly and distant woman. I, however, was her namesake, which apparently meant the position as companion had been foreordained.
My mother made the point as she stuffed newspaper into boxes and eyed her collection of regional saltshakers, each carefully selected from gift shops at the world’s finest resorts, cruise ships and amusement parks.
“I can’t think of anything better for you,” she wheedled around the packing tape clenched in her teeth. “All those books, all that stuff. You love stuff. Look at your room.”
“My former room.”
“No one would know it from the amount of stuff you have in there. Just put it in a box and we’ll ship it to Aunt Emma’s when the movers come. God, I hate moving.”
That was the sort of thing she said, in the midst of the chaos of shifting housekeeping, though really she had dragged my father through the whole process of downsizing and moving to Florida. The midwestern winters had become too much for her thin blood. I had never intended to go. I hadn’t intended to go to Aunt Emma’s either, but even that seemed preferable to becoming part of the decor at my parents’ Florida condo.
I wrapped saltshakers morosely. Of course someone had to go to Great-aunt Emma, for she would go to no one. An independent streak is a fine thing in a woman, until she is pushing old age, divorced, childless, and in the grip of Alzheimer’s.