I am one who believes that most things in life happen for a reason, at least to some extent. As a child I was unfamiliar with the powers of the universe, spirituality or even religion for that matter; but looking back on the events that took place that cool March day in 1971 — and all things related in the aftermath — I believe I was better equipped to contend with it all, due to the fact that my Aunt Sue and I were not as close as we had been when I was much smaller. Yes, in hindsight, it was as if the universe had a plan to protect my young heart.
I still loved Aunt Sue very much, and she was a large presence in my life, but my world began revolving more around friends, my baby brother, pets, adventures and other things to keep the average 10-year-old occupied.
So when my mother told me that Aunt Sue had had a stroke while on the job at Glass Containers my first reaction was, “Oh, no. What does that mean? Will she be okay?” I wasn’t crying, but I was genuinely concerned.
I learned a new word that day: “Coma.” “…alive, but unconscious,” was how my mother explained it. She wasn’t crying, but her expression was morose.
The next day Mom and I went to Safeway on 18th Street where we sometimes shopped for groceries — and where my Aunt Bernice worked. I separated from my mom for a bit to wander through Produce and sneak an errant grape or cherry from the fruit bins. Heading over to where I figured my mom was, I rounded a corner and saw her talking to Aunt Berniece. Actually, they looked more like they were just standing there looking at each other — they sort of reminded me of a couple of cats getting ready to strike — but as I drew closer I could hear hushed and foreboding conversation, and I knew it had to be about their sister.
Over the next few days new revelations came into play, and from what I could overhear and gather from adult conversation, that morning on March 5, 1971, Aunt Sue had complained at work that she wasn’t feeling well. She asked to go home, but apparently her boss wouldn’t let her, as they were somewhat short-handed. She continued working, but a couple hours later, collapsed on the job. Instead of calling an ambulance, her bosses put her in a cab, which took her to the hospital.* It was there she fell into a coma, and was soon transferred to another hospital in Martinez.
Of course Aunt Sue’s kids, my mom, Aunt Berniece and numerous other adult family members went to see her, but I was not allowed. “Honey, I don’t want you to see her this way,” was my mom’s stock answer any time I mentioned going to see my beloved aunt. “You won’t recognize her. I want you to remember her as she was.” Over time I learned to accept that answer; it simply became ingrained in my mind, even when I was out of the house, then later living in San Jose — about an hour away from Martinez. I had clearly been programmed.
*A little backstory on that cab ride: My aunt had been somewhat cognitive when she was helped into the cab, and kept mumbling, “Thank you…Curt…Curt…” then voice trailing off. No one knew of a “Curt,” but somehow it was later determined that she was trying to say, “Thank you for your courtesy,” apparently a line she had used before.
To be continued.