My brother and I spent this past weekend at my aunt’s house. We hadn’t visited in a really long time, so she invited us to spend the night. My father dropped us off at her place on his way to the office on Saturday morning, and we spent the day trailing around after my two older cousins, who doled out attention as they saw fit. Then, we stayed up way too late watching television and waiting for them to get home from wherever it is that teenagers without curfews spend their Saturday nights.
Luckily, we passed out from exhaustion before either one of them had returned. Otherwise, we never would have been able to get up as early as we did (I still don’t know how my cousins managed). It was pitch dark outside when my aunt woke us up the next morning and piled us all into the car. She wanted to get an early start because she was taking us to a giant flea market that was being held way out of town (in the “country”), and she wanted to make sure that we got there before it got too crowded.
We got a great parking space (we were practically the first ones there), and then we spent the day wandering around the grounds, inspecting all the cool junk that was for sale and (mostly) stuffing our faces with food. It was a really fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
But the best part was getting to spend time with my aunt and my cousins just because we wanted to (for a change), and not because my father was shipping us off for the weekend the way that he used to when my mother first died.
As I think that I have already explained, my father works really hard. Being a doctor isn’t like a lot of other professions. My dad can never really leave his work behind him at the office when he comes home for the evening. Sometimes, he has patients being treated in various hospitals around the city, which means that he has to make rounds and visit them after work, and make lots of phone calls all night long in order to keep up with how each patient is doing, and what kind of treatment they are getting. And, sometimes, my father gets emergency phone calls in the middle of the night from patients who are sick and don’t know what to do to feel better. Then, there’s all the paperwork and the dictation that needs to get done. It never seems to end. And, of course, you can’t leave out all of the calls my father gets from family members and friends in need of an over-the-phone diagnosis, or who want some sort of prescription called into the pharmacist on a Saturday afternoon (“…if you don’t mind.”)
So, you see, being a doctor is a very time-consuming profession. It’s one of those careers that can take over a person’s life if he lets it. And, unfortunately, that is pretty much what happened after my mother died. My father threw himself into his work (even more than he had when her was just out of medical school), and he let it take over his life.
He buried my mother, and then my dad went right back to work, gradually increasing his hours until he was working five days a week and almost every weekend. As a result, until I was old enough to babysit myself (and my little brother), we were always getting shipped off to spend the weekend with either my grandparents, or with my aunt (my mother’s parents and her sister – my father’s parents are dead, and he’s an only child).
At my grandparents’ home, everything is fairly normal. Simple white walls, draperies on every window, wall-to-wall carpeting, plenty of food in the fridge. In fact, except for the fact that it’s an apartment instead of a house, my grandparents’ place isn’t all that different from my own home.
But, my aunt’s house is strange; bordering on a little bit scary, actually.
It’s one of those really, really old homes. The kind with lots of creaking floorboards, long shadows, twisting hallways, and dark corners. It has a dimly lit, musty basement, and an entire third floor that’s full of cluttered, unused rooms (the perfect hiding spots for all sorts of monsters and ghosts and robbers…not that I believe in monsters and ghosts, of course, but…).
And my aunt’s decorating choices don’t help either.
There’s nothing light and airy about the house – nothing. everything is either eerie or bizarre. From the moment you walk through the door, you know that this is not a typical environment.
The walls and tables in the living and dining room are cluttered with dark, foreboding paintings and abstract artwork of the nightmare-inducing variety (you know, dead bodies, haunting landscapes, strange industrial sculptures, that sort of thing). The first floor furniture is an odd collection of wooden rockers, flea-market finds, and hand-me-downs. And there are dust balls and spiderwebs in the corners of every room (and over the unused furnishings and artwork as well).
The house is unlike any I have ever seen or read about in any book. And so is my aunt’s lifestyle. She’s an artist who earns a living by traveling around the country in an old beat-up van selling fabric at flea markets and outdoor fairs (like the one that we went to this past weekend). She doesn’t especially like traveling – she’d rather be creating art, I suppose – but it’s a living. And, she has to do whatever work she can, because she’s divorced and she doesn’t get any support from her ex-husband.
Oh, and did I mention that she’s eccentric (at least, that is what I have often heard her called behind her back). And, since my dictionary defines an “eccentric” as a person who “departs or deviates from the conventional or established norm,” I would have to agree with that description.
Weekends at my aunt’s house have this strange, otherworldly quality to them. Whenever I’m there I start to feel a little like Alice, who dreams of (and “visits”) a strange world in Lewis Carroll’s book, Through The Looking Glass, Except, of course, for the fact that I’m not dreaming of a strange world, because my aunt’s strange world is real.
Don’t get me wrong. There aren’t any talking lions, or unicorns, or chess pieces at my aunt’s house. Her world doesn’t resemble Alice’s in that way. What makes them similar is the fact that they’ve both upside-down, backwards, and topsy-turvy worlds completely unlike the one that the rest of us live in on a regular basis.
Except, when Alice enters the looking-glass world, everything seems odd to her because the rules have all changed. At my aunt’s house, everything seems strange and out of place because there simply are no rules.
My cousins basically do whatever they want, whenever they want. And, when my brother and I visit my aunt’s house, we just tag along and watch as they try to raise themselves. Usually, that means following them around while they wander, directionless, through the city streets.
There were weekends, right after my mother died, when we’d spend entire days taking train rides to nowhere. We’d get off the train at some random station, and then walk all the way home along the railroad tracks, stopping every so often to lay pennies on the tracks (and then we’d stand nearby and watch as the trains roared past and flattened our coins into useless, awesome-looking, illegal pieces of metal).
It was a very bizarre experience, all of those strange drifting weekends.
I sometimes wonder what my father would say if he ever found out what we did with ourselves on those days that he dumped us at my aunt’s house; if he ever found out how completely unsupervised we were. If he ever discovered how much fun we had.