Re­mem­ber­ing Aunt Em

A favourite fam­ily mem­ber is re­called in this emo­tional short story by Kate Ho­gan.

The People's Friend Special - - NATURE -

She be­lieved in me far more strongly than I be­lieved in my­self . . .

ICOULDN’T have asked for a bet­ter day. The sky a silken sheet of blue; the un­ex­pected early morn­ing frost cre­at­ing a shim­mer­ing translu­cence to the vista; Matt be­side me. Who­ever would have thought it?

I was such a ner­vous lit­tle girl. I’d open my mouth to speak in school when asked a ques­tion, but my mouth would go dry and my throat would start to tighten.

Ev­ery­one would stare at me as I tried ever more des­per­ately to speak, while fight­ing the urge to run and hide.

I found it so hard to make friends, let alone keep them.

Mam said that if I wanted friends I needed to join in with what­ever the other chil­dren did. So I fol­lowed the other girls around the play­ground, try­ing to join in but not re­ally know­ing how.

“You’re just a lit­tle dif­fer­ent,” Mam would say. “Noth­ing wrong with that.”

But there was. I used to get so anx­ious, as well as mis­er­able and lonely. Each day, as I set off for school, my stom­ach would cramp and my heart would flut­ter so wildly it took all my strength to put one foot in front of the other.

One day on the way to school my legs re­fused to con­tinue the jour­ney. I re­mem­ber find­ing it dif­fi­cult to breathe. I was dizzy, too.

I spent that day sit­ting in an old bus shel­ter. Each day af­ter that I found some­where else where no-one could find me.

By the time my tru­ant­ing came to light, and the school board had vis­ited my home, I’d spent so much time hud­dled in the Jan­uary cold that I’d de­vel­oped bron­chi­tis.

As ill as I felt, though, I was glad there was no ques­tion of forc­ing me back into a class­room.

“You’ll have to go and stay with Aunt Em,” Mam said. “You’ll soon be bet­ter, but I’ve got to go to work at the fac­tory, and some­one needs to keep an eye on you.

“If only your dad were here,” she added with a frown.

Aunt Em was some­thing of a fam­ily mys­tery. Dis­tantly re­lated to my dad, she’d been ac­tive in the Auxiliary Fire Ser­vice dur­ing the Blitz, where she’d acted as both a pump op­er­a­tor and a fire­fighter un­til she’d in­jured her back res­cu­ing an old man from a burn­ing house.

When she was un­able to of­fer her ser­vices in such a phys­i­cal way, she’d turned to the more in­tel­lec­tual ser­vice of teach­ing the many chil­dren who hadn’t been evac­u­ated.

I knew she’d sup­ported Mam when we lost Dad,

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