If we’re lucky there is an elder in our lives—a grandpa, a next-door neighbor, a teacher, a shopkeeper, an auntie. If we’re really lucky that elder will dispel every preconception we have about aging and being old.
My elder was my Great Aunt Kenie (born Kathleen Gallagher). She was a kind of mum to my father growing up and she was the first person to really welcome my mother when my parents moved from Tokyo to London back in 1963. After we moved to Canada, she continued a regular correspondence and eventually came to visit on several occasions. Though she traveled by airplane, the journey across the pond seemed great enough that her stays were always long and leisurely. In the absence of grandparents, she became my go-to person: my comforting songstress, my cozy lap.
Looking back, I remember her as a cinematic melange. She had the politics and beauty of Vanessa Redgrave. The style of Catherine Deneuve. The sass of Katherine Hepburn. The fierce intelligence of Lauren Bacall.
She slaughtered me at Scrabble, taught me about Nelson Mandela, bought me my first Judy Blume book (Are you There God? It’s me Margaret), showed me how to eat shrimp (“scampi”) like I really meant it.
She was my shepherd, ally, friend. When she died in Sussex, I was given a small suitcase containing a few of her possessions. Inside it was a beautiful pop-up book containing a collection of children’s stories and poems, some of which she had written.
I still think of Auntie Kenie often. She inspired me to follow my heart and dreams, including the dream of becoming a writer.