Aunt Meryl was not my favorite aunt. Sometimes she was my least favorite aunt. However, Meryl Richardson has silently been with me all of my life in my neurons and my facial structure.
“Ha!” Exclaimed my older brother once. “You look just like Aunt Meryl.” And yes, he’s correct. No matter how much I wish I looked more like my mother or her sisters, my father’s oldest sister Meryl is definitely implanted in my genes.
If she had been college educated, Meryl might have been an English teacher, or maybe a professor of art or music. As it was, she became a pianist in a band, a writer, and a well known landscape artist from Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco.
Childless, Meryl doted on my cousin Linda, who was admittedly adorable and sweeter than I ever wished to be. I was the niece who wore my brother’s jeans and climbed trees and didn’t like my hair combed. But I was also the niece who spent winter weekends and summer weeks with my aunt when my mother was ill, which was often the situation until I was ten.
I remember these visits with my aunt like vinegar and sugar. Diane, brush your hair. Delicious apricot pies. Why don’t you wear a dress? Lavender scented bubbles in the bath tub. Sit up straight. Scrabble games. Don’t be rude. Art lessons. Where have you been!? Music jam sessions. Hush! Camping trips in Yosemite.
Memories of the annoying nighttime rhythmic tick rock of the mantle clock and my uncle’s snoring mingle with the daytime delight of painting beside my aunt on her tiny back porch. My Uncle Wayne and Aunt Meryl took weekend excursions to places where she would paint plein aire in watercolor. Later when she would render her watercolor sketches in oils, I watched –fascinated. I imagine these were some times when she said, Hush! But more often than not, she would set up an area for me with a large sketch pad and some paint.
“Draw with a paint brush,” she’d say. “Paint whatever you like.” She never criticized my immature paintings. Instead, she taught me how colors mix, about perspective and composition — patiently, kindly.
She was always her best self when painting or playing the piano. Her nervousness, her obsessive worries about propriety, her perfectionism, these issues simply disappeared when she was occupied with her talents.
She lived a long life, outliving two husbands. In her later years I admired her zest for living. I think she had a good time in her later years: traveling, playing the piano for a swing band, playing bridge, and painting small scenes and flowers. When I last visited her in her senior care home, she determined that we were served lunch in a grand manner with warm hospitality. Her hand painted notecards were on display in the lobby, purchasable for a nominal price. I’m told that when she became bedridden, she practiced her music on the bed sheet, her fingers moving through trills and chords.
You never really know someone, but when you can feel someone’s presence in your own nuerons, you have to be grateful. Or else, what would you be saying about yourself?!