Sunday, May 16, 2004

Last night I had a dream that I was rich and bought the property my childhood babysitter owned. There's a lot to the story...

My parents were both working parents, and divorced when I was 4, so daycare was needed from early on. My aunt knew a woman from church and introduced Mom to her. She was a grandmotherly type who had raised 4 boys of her own, cared for state babies, and babysat a few other children for extra income. We all called her "Aunt Eugenia" and she and her husband became family to me. Aunt Eugenia and Uncle Cecil lived on her family property. The family had been a farming family and had originally owned a huge chunk of land, complete with fields and orchards, although over time, some of it had been sold off. There still were a good 10-20 acres left. There were 4 houses on it, she and Uncle Cecil lived in one, her brother and 2 sisters lived in another, her uncle lived in another (and after he passed away, her son and his family moved in) and another sister and their mother lived in the last house. They still had a large garden that the family sowed and cared for, a chicken coop, geese, and even a pig one year. Every summer, Aunt Eugenia would can the harvest. I remember us kids shelling peas and snapping beans for her. I probably ate half of what I shelled, but she never complained - I think she was happy we weren't bugging her for junk food. They also grew strawberries and I remember her making batches and batches of jam.

We kids only had a few simple rules to follow, and we knew not to break them. Aunt Eugenia was kind and fair, but she would lay down the law if necessary. The paddle on top of the fridge was a very real reminder of that. We weren't allowed in the front yard unless she was with us. They lived on a very busy road and had lost several pets that way. We weren't allowed in her gorgeous flower gardens or in the vegetable garden. We weren't allowed to keep secrets from one another. All the kids had to play fairly with one another.

The flower gardens were amazing. Her front yard had a rock retaining wall and stone steps. All along the wall and in the crevices between rocks were all sorts of flowers. She had another huge flower bed in the back yard. Those flowers were her pride and joy and they were gorgeous.

As long as the weather was good, we were usually outside. We'd roll down the big hill in her backyard, and sled on it in the winter. We made pretend forts in the forsythia bushes and would climb the pine trees. Sometimes we'd sneak in the chicken coop and scare the hens and watch the feathers fly. On rainy days we might all go visit at one of the houses. The house her son moved into was a big old farmhouse with connecting closets and neat little rooms to hide in. Her grandmother had a beautiful Persian cat that I always wanted to go see, even though their big dog usually tried to jump on me and would scare me.

Sometimes if Aunt Eugenia needed to run an errand or go to the doctor, Uncle Cecil would watch us. He was quiet, but loved the kids. Every afternoon, he'd have his highball. If Aunt Eugenia was out, we kids would have 7-up "highballs" in real glasses with Uncle Cecil. We thought we were the shit then!

Even when I got too old for her to babysit me every day (she only took care of small kids) she'd still watch me if I was sick and Mom couldn't take time off work. We kept in touch with them and would visit every now and then.

When I was in high school, one of Aunt Eugenia & Uncle Cecil's sons needed money. Everyone thought it was a bad idea. He was a scumbag who bounced from wife to wife, had a child from an earlier marriage that he barely had contact with, and was always into a get rich quick scheme. He decided to start a business selling medical equipment. But he didn't have the money and needed capital to get started. Aunt Eugenia decided to take a loan against the family property to the tune of $1 million. The family all felt it was a bad idea, but she was the type who put her children first. So, she loaned the money to her son, and of course, the business failed and he lost it all. The family coulndn't pay the bank back, so the bank forclosed and they lost all the land. The bank did allow them to keep the smallest of the houses, where Aunt Eugenia, Uncle Cecil, and her sister moved. Uncle Cecil passed away a few years back, and Aunt Eugenia's health declined. I'm not sure if she's even still alive.

When I found out about them losing the land it broke my heart. The family had worked and lived on that land all their lives, and it was supposed to be passed on to the children. I know it probably would have been divided up and slowly sold off, but it was sad to see it gone all at once. The people who moved into Aunt Eugenia's old house didn't care for the flower gardens and eventually tore them out. Whenever I visit home, I feel so sad when I pass by there.

In my dream last night I bought back the land, restored the houses and gave them back the the people that were such an important part of my childhood. I wish things could have ended more happily for them.

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