Guest blogger Dani Klein Modisett: I recently decided to take my kids up to see my Aunt Thelma. She's 83 now and has had three heart attacks in the last six months. She's always been my favorite relative, regal in stature, a wellspring of compassion, and just this side of sane.
One time when I struggling with depression in my 20s, I flew up to San Francisco to stay with her and she took one look at me at the airport and said, apropos of everything, "You know when I went in to the sanitorium, that was a pretty dark time for me too ..."
Aunt Thelma took me to Club Med when I was 15 and was the first one topless when we hit the nude beach. She lived an upper middle class life in the Philadelphia suburbs until she was 40 when she moved with my uncle to Bali and, although born Jewish, became a minister at 70. She's no ordinary aunt.
"Hi darlings," she said, popping the trunk of her Volvo at Oakland Airport last week. "Oh aren't they cute. I have a baby too, he's at home waiting for us."
Gabriel looked at me.
"Shayna, my shitsu. She's going to love you."
"Oh." Gabriel said, relieved that his relative wasn't a witch who was able to have a wrinkly face and a baby too.
"You want me to drive, Aunt Thelma?" I asked.
"What?" she asked. "Damn hearing aids. Wait a minute." She put her hand behind her ear and adjusted something.
"What did you ask me?"
"Do you want me to drive?"
"Why?" she asked.
"Um, you know, if you're tired."
"Why would I be tired?"
"Well it's late in the day..."
"Dearie, next time, why don't you just say, 'For the rest of this trip I would feel most comfortable if I am the one behind the wheel driving around my most precious things in the world to me?'"
"Okay,"I said, blushing slightly.
Right, we're in Aunt Thelma's world now. It's the Willy Wonka World of honesty. No candy, but only the most colorful, authentic expression of thought and feeling everywhere.
"Good! But the airport is tricky, so let me get us out of here." And she hit the gas, singing all the way to her house, where sure enough, Shayne was yelping and wagging her tail.
My kids may not remember much of this trip, but I will forever hold dear the four of us piled on her couch watching "The Wizard of Oz" together.