My Aunt Blanche just turned 90. She’s outlived everyone in her immediate family, including her parents, which is amazing because she was the one with the most health problems. She is mostly blind, mostly deaf, suffers from asthma and sinus troubles, yet still motors on like the energizer bunny – some days. Some days are not so great. But, from what I hear that’s what life can be like at 90.
Aunt Blanche gets a little tired now, but she never seemed to when I was young. My cousin and I would take turns staying overnight at each other’s houses and I always marveled at Aunt Blanche’s energy. She was always painting something around the house, or cleaning or cooking. She was a great cook, but didn’t seem to love cooking the way my mother did.
Sometimes I’d see her in the kitchen muttering to herself. She’d see me watching her and say, “Francy, You wanna see cooking with love?” Then she’d pick up the raw chicken she was dealing with and slam it down on the counter, slap it around a few times and look back at me. “Now that’s cooking with love,” she’d say with a smirk.
She was spunky too. In 1975, when word got out that a man in the Sears Catalog, on page 602 had a little something extra protruding from the boxer shorts he was modeling, Aunt Blanche was determined to discover the truth. She pulled out the biggest magnifying glass she had and she and my mom sat at the dining room table inspecting the photo, so they didn’t miss a thing. She made my mom howl with laughter.
She was born 11 years after my mother, but they were two peas in a pod. Both went to Idora Park for our school picnic and both came home with matching light up framed pictures of Jesus. They had more religious icons in their homes than most Catholic churches. And they both ended up marrying men with the last name Tunno.
My mom told her sister how nice and handsome my dad’s brother in Italy was. She showed her a photo and told her to write to him, so Aunt Blanche did. There’s a rumor that a photo of a bathing suit clad Aunt Blanche may have been sent to Uncle Richard, which, of course, would have left him helpless, because Aunt Blanche was built! They met in Italy after corresponding for a while and got married there. I’m grateful they did because it’s always been nice to have such a cool aunt and uncle, plus cousins who I share both sides of my family with.
Every major holiday always ended with a visit to each other’s houses. As soon as we walked in, Aunt Blanche whisked off our coats and made us sit at the table. We’d laugh, talk, drink wine and eat, even though we’d already eaten, because God forbid you visit an Italian household and don’t eat something.
We always had great conversations, and still do, but poor Aunt Blanche can never hear us, so her daughter-in-law, nurse Cheri, gave her a stethoscope. We yell into it and she can sometimes hear us. It’s like a scene from a cartoon. I would give anything for perfect hearing and the gift of sight for Aunt Blanche.
I am so grateful for my aunt and uncle. My parents may be gone, but every time I walk into their home, it’s like turning the clock back 40 years. We sit at the same table and chairs, look out at the same garden and hang out in the same kitchen, dining room, and living room we’ve been hanging out in since the early ’60s. The decor has changed slightly to a chicken/rooster motif, but, when I’m there, I’m a kid, at home again. And their house is the only place that ever happens. I wish them both many, many happy healthy birthdays to come.