Remembering Aunt Em
A favourite family member is recalled in this emotional short story by Kate Hogan.
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,