My Aunt Sitha
My Aunt Sitha has a front yard as littered as her own life. Her tall grass almost disguises the clutter. Today, as I pulled up her gravel drive, I ran over not one but two plastic duck planters blown over by last night’s frisky winds. Aunt Sitha blew out the door wearing that pink bucket hat of hers. I gave it to her on her last birthday never knowing she would wear it to death. Anyway, no matter how hard she’s been praying, her car still won’t start up. She called me early yesterday to ask for a ride to the museum.
“Life is so random,” she always tells me. I get the story often about her little cousin who climbed out of a pickup after a wreck and into a pile of fire ants. I get that story about as much as I got the one about Moses when I sat in her lap way back when. Little Alice almost died from the onslaught of fire ants and bore jagged scars head-to toe. Aunt Sitha says that is when she got religion. She was twelve and her parents were heathens just like her Uncle Bud who died in the wreck. She prayed day and night that Alice would survive.
The herbal tea she carried outside to the car was made in honor of Alice who committed suicide last year. Having all those scars for all those years consumed her. Alice never married but Sitha looked out for her. Alice had a green thumb too. Those two cousins clung together like half-runner beans to a stick.
We got going, burdened as a bunch of teachers on a field trip. She had to bring extra this and that. I have the summer off but feel stifled; school starts in three weeks. Aunt Sitha waddled out carrying her half-gallon of lemon balm punch concentrate. She wanted to drop it off at the museum a couple of days before the herb festival. I drop her off there often to reminisce over the old sepia tone photographs.
“I think I got this one just right,” she puffed. She has herbs growing in every nook and cranny. Once she took me up in the hills to find ginseng. I love my aunt like folks love to hunt for herbs in these mountains. Aunt Sitha loved Uncle Steve for over forty years. She had him cremated, even though it is a pagan practice, and has him sprinkled in with her mints and rosemary. She wants us to do the same when she goes. My parents dread that undertaking so I guess I will be the one to do it. Aunt Sitha has helped me start some herbs in our backyard.
She adjusted the bucket hat pulling it down tight. The sun was wicked and the weatherman had predicted over 100. We wound our way down the loop past the old state police post.
“Get me a paper honey,” she asked clearing her throat. Local people stand at busy intersections to sell the weekly paper. I usually buy it just to see who got arrested for drugs or drinking. With all the construction on that ramp, it is distracting. A wayward road cone outside the perfect line of orange warning markers, grabbed my eye. I glanced back at the cone and stopped suddenly. It felt like a kid who gets yelled at for running down the hall and comes to a screeching halt in those Chuck Taylor Sneakers.
“Dang!” the newspaper guy mutters as I handed him a dollar.
“Keep the change,” I said. He glanced over at Aunt Sitha like he knew her or something. I put the paper in my lap and looked over at her as well.
Good thing she had on a brown blouse. She was soaked as a soggy tea bag. Aunt Sitha dabbed at herself with a worn Kleenex from her straw bag. We darted into the parking lot of the Combs Motel where she put the jar down on the floorboards and recovered it with the wax paper. She picked up the paper and unfolded it flat like she was going to read it right there, wet and all.
“I am so sorry,” I groaned.
“No matter,” she said as she blotted her shirt with the funeral notices. She looked down at the tea spots on the paper and gasped a little.
“I always wondered about this one,” she started to say as she turned the paper in my direction. The motor was still running. “He was the first guy I …” she trailed off.
A yard sale at the corner of the motel was coming to life. Aunt Sitha got out and bought herself a Lucky in Kentucky t-shirt, all she could find in her size. When she got back in the car, I had dabbed her seat dry and crumbled the paper into a ball.
She pressed it open to read the part about Paul. Not one to cry about any messes, she handed me the jar and we drank what remained. She said Paul was that part of sin that still tingled. The mint in her tea concentrate tingled as it hit the back of my throat.
“The first guy I did it with is dead too,” I admitted. Mu Aunt Sitha smiled big as a sunflower. We drained that jar and she reclined her seat and pulled her blouse off. I helped her put on that t-shirt. Nobody saw a thing.