i learned how to sew when i was ten from my aunt june. she and her husband earl are ninety-four years each. they have been my surrogate grandparents nearly my entire life. i spent every sunday at their house, eating homemade peach, apple or pumpkin pie, watching america's funniest home videos. i also spent every holiday and holiday eve with them as well. so today, i was thinking of them as i plugged in their camera to print some photos of my last visit. during my last visit, i drove to their house with a peach pie and some ice cream, for old times' sake, and we sat and chatted over tea. uncle earl drinks his with a straw because his hand jitters so, his shaking is such that it's a miracle that a bite ever reaches his mouth. aunt june rambles from topic to topic, barely stitching the thoughts together, elated to have the opportunity to get them out. we sort through some garage sale remnants, i take some things mostly to lighten their load, plus a couple of heirlooms that aunt june has saved for me: the side table that uncle earl built in 1912 at whatcom middle school, and his father's wooden chair, the chair he sat in after his stroke, persistently rubbing the side of his face that was paralyzed....until the feeling came back. i loaded the truck with my treasures, tarped and tied the load, honking the customary double-honk-wave as i drive away. they're waving back, grinning from ear to ear, standing whitehaired in their driveway in that worn out golf course cul-de-sac. there they stand, older than the tall trees in their yard. uncle earl won't even remember my visit an hour after i've left. nevertheless, it made their day, and so it made mine as well.
i took their digital camera with me to print the pictures, because i knew they have no idea how to use it. scrolling through the photos, i found a video that proves my point. its uncle earl, sitting in a chair, posing for a photo. the camera is filming for several minutes as aunt june struggles to figure out why the flash won't go. she hands it to earl to see if he can figure it out; the footage that follows from his shaking hands feels like a ten point earthquake. it's hilarious and sad at the same time. they're adorably ignorant of technology and so innocently attempting to understand. the things that once seemed a breeze are now impossible. aunt june can't work her new digital toaster oven, or her new digital sewing machine. but for some reason she still feels the need to "upgrade", only to find the progress of human technology useless, confusing and debilitating.
since they had no idea how to use the camera, they also had no idea how to delete old photos. so, of course, there are hundreds, dating back to when they originally bought it. maybe i should have known better, but i looked through them all. and there she is, smiling that familiar cheeky grin, smiling back at me: my mom. it's still a gaping mystery to me, a horrible inequity, how she could live to only fifty-five, while aunt june and uncle earl, seemingly ageless, have a ways to go at ninety four. alas, some of life's mysteries will never be solved. when i start to feel the sadness creep in, i try to harken the words of a wooden plaque my mom posted in the outhouse at our cabin:
Don't take life too seriously. You'll never get out alive anyways.