My family doesn’t like to flaunt its good fortune. Too many of our relatives in our extended family are likely to walk off with it.
I’m sitting on the floor of my great-aunt Foy’s house, trying to thin out 90 years of her life. As fast as I throw something in the box, Aunt Foy digs it out and puts it back. It’s like trying to push water uphill.
“These stay,” Aunt Foy says, lifting a stack of Readers Digests out of the throwaway box.
Tottering across the living room in her ever-tasteful orthopedic pumps, she drops the magazines on a chair, right where I found them.
“Today’s youth are so wasteful,” my cousin Tommy Sue says, snapping her bubblegum. Thumping a goblet, she evaluates the quality of the ring like a Waterford Crystal appraiser.
Tommy Sue is supposed to be helping me with this project, but her idea of cleaning up is thinning out the Burger King sugar packages that Foy has stashed in her silverware drawer.
Tommy Sue is our relative by marriage to my cousin Terry Don, and we love her. But basically, the woman’s a vulture in lime-green Spandex.
“Aunt Foy,” I say, “why do you need to keep the May 1996 issue of National Geographic?”
“Suppose next month’s issue doesn’t come?” Aunt Foy asks, thumbing through an article on dinosaur eggs. “What in heaven would I read?”
“There ARE bookstores,” I say. “You could actually buy a magazine there.”
“Duplication of spending is why this country’s in so much trouble,” Tommy Sue says as she opens another sugar package and pours its contents onto her outstretched tongue.
“You should listen to your cousin,” Aunt Foy says, wagging her finger at me.
I roll my eyes at Tommy, but she’s too busy watching TV to notice. It occurs to me that Tommy Sue is spending a lot of time with Aunt Foy lately, and that’s not a good sign. You can always tell when a relative’s about to kick the bucket. Tommy starts circling.
“Aunt Foy,” I ask, “how are you feeling?”
“Oh, I’ll outlive you all, if that’s what you’re asking,” Aunt Foy declares as she drags a box of Sears catalogues back to the closet.
I go back to sorting before she gets down on the floor and starts doing one-arm push-ups.
“What are these?” I ask, pulling a wad of red plastic out of a paper grocery sack.
“They’re bags that onions come in,” Aunt Foy says, taking the sacks from me. “They’re very useful.”
“Yeah,” I say skeptically. “These puppies belong in the gar-bauge.”
“Tommy Sue!” Aunt Foy cries, wrapping her arms tightly around her grocery sack. “Gina’s trying to throw my onion sacks away!”
“There, there,” Tommy says, consoling Aunt Foy with a hug while taking the opportunity to check out her cameo stickpin. Tommy Sue is human Saran Wrap: 100 percent plastic and totally transparent.
“You know,” Tommy says to me with sugary-sweet breath as she bites into the silver picture frame holding great-uncle Luke’s photo, “I haven’t seen your new turquoise and silver necklace.”
“It’s not much,” I say hurriedly. “You’ll see it when I wear it Christmas day.”
“You look a little pale,” Tommy says, putting the back of her hand to my forehead. “How are you feeling?”
“Oh, I’ve got a long way to go before you come after me,” I reply, pushing her hand away. “And besides, turquoise isn’t your color.”
Gina Tiano is the author of Life in the Bike Lane, available at Amazon.com.