Monday, June 30, 2014

Aunt D's Shocking Past


 ‘Les Demoiselles D’Avignon’ by Pablo Picasso

My grandmother taught me to respect and to be hospitable to others, especially when they were guests in her home.  Through her stories and her behavior, she also taught me not to judge others.  Kind of like the parables in the Bible, she often made her point by telling stories instead of by saying things outright.  When I look back over all the the stories that she told me about others, especially those about some of our relatives, I think that she was trying to teach me that it's okay to have your opinions about other people's actions, but you should keep them to yourself.  After all, we all have things in our lives we wish we could do over. We have all done things that may seem questionable to others; but life isn't black and white.  It is easy to judge someone if you have not walked in their proverbial shoes.  My grandmother was one of the most religious people that I have ever known, but she never used her religion as a platform to judge others.  I love that she instilled that in me at a young age.

Mawmaw used to tell me a lot of secrets; the older I got, the more she told me.  The most shocking story was the story about Aunt D's past.  Aunt D married into the family long before I came around.  In fact, her husband died before I was even born, but she still came to family functions and visited my grandparents from time to time.   Aunt D must have been in her seventies when I was a child, but she sure didn't dress or act like it.  All of the elderly women I knew dressed like little old ladies, but not Aunt D!  I NEVER saw her without full makeup, jet black, teased hair, skin tight Calvin Klein's, sparkly button-up shirts, and four inch heals.  Despite her best efforts, her age showed in the lines on her face, but never in any other way.  She walked with amazing posture and confidence not usually seen in women her age, especially women who had lived through as much as she had.  Not only was she relatively young when she was widowed, but she also had three children who were constantly getting into trouble.  Aunt D also carried a big secret in her lines and Calvin's, one more shocking than I would have ever guessed.

One day when I was about twelve or thirteen, I asked my grandmother why Aunt D dressed and acted so differently from other women her age, at least the ones that I knew.  My Mawmaw told me, mostly in French, that it was because Aunt D grew up very differently from the other women that we knew.  In fact, before Aunt D married into our family, she was a full time prostitute.  I don't know if I was more shocked by Aunt D's past or by the fact that I was hearing this story come from Mawmaw, who was undoubtedly the most prim and proper woman I knew!   I had never seen my Mawmaw treat Aunt D any differently than she treated anyone else, so how could she be an ex (shhh) hooker?  I was so naive.

My grandmother went on to explain that my Uncle C met his future wife in the bar where she picked up clients.  Apparently, Uncle C fell head over heels in love with her the day that he met her, and he did not waste time before proposing marriage.   From what I hear, he worshiped her until the day he died.  She must have changed her ways and devoted herself entirely to him as well because they were happy for many, many years.  Even on his death bed, he begged his family to please look after his "beautiful wife."  He was felt guilty about leaving her alone.  (I'm tearing up here.)

My grandmother treated Aunt D just as lovingly as she did everyone else.  She explained to me that if Aunt D's past didn't bother Uncle C, then it shouldn't bother anyone else.  Because of my grandmother, I never thought less of Aunt D because of her past.  If anything, I just felt more compassion for her. I often wondered, and still do, what kind of childhood she had and what led to her feel that she had to do what she did to get by.  From research I learned that she had at least eight siblings and came from a poor family.  Who knows what other factors led her become a prostitute.  Perhaps it wasn't her choice at all.

It makes me think of the movie Pretty Woman.  Like Vivian, Aunt D met her prince.  He saved her from a life where she felt she had no choices; he made her feel loved and cherished, maybe for the first time in her life.  Now that she is gone, I wish that I could go back in time and do something nice for her. I wish that I could ask her about her life with Uncle C. Their love and years of commitment to each other is living proof that we are not defined by our pasts and that love can truly change our lives.

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