My brother, Mike, and I spent about three days last week completely flustered, paranoid, doubting our own sanity (even more than usual) and doubting the sanity and common decency of our own family (even more than usual).
Mike left me a voicemail one day saying, “I just got a call from [cousin] Linda. Call me.”
I hate messages like that. It sounds like he’s sorta preparing me for something bad. I went out again before returning the call. When I got back, the next message said, “Call me when you get in. Linda says ‘Aunt Mag died.'”
Aunt Mag? Aunt Mag died ten years ago. Shortly after the family reunion. I have a photograph of her with LG at the reunion; they wanted a picture of the oldest with the youngest. I didn’t go to the funeral. In fact, I heard about it late. The family is (was) so big, and we’ve always been on a “reunions-only” basis with most of the ones that live far away. But . . . I do remember that she died. And the times I have been down there to visit Mom since then, I did not stop by Aunt Mag’s house, which I always would have before. Because . . . she was dead!
I called Mike. There must be some mistake. But, no, he repeated that Aunt Mag had died. And I said to him, “Mike, you’re gonna think I’m crazy, but I thought she died a long time ago.”
Well, turns out, Mike was sitting at his house the next state over, thinking that HE was crazy, because he would have sworn that Aunt Mag died 10 years ago, too. And he HAD stopped in her house since, and her grandsons had taken it over.
So then we started thinking. How on earth could both of us have the same wrong memory of her dying? Oh my gosh; did they put her in a nursing home and tell everyone she was dead, and take her home, her car, her stuff?
Both of us said that we didn’t know what to say to whom. If we came right out and said, “I thought she was already dead,” well that sounds awful. What kind of great-niece and nephew are we that we didn’t even know? And if there were a conspiracy, who was in on it? We were both flabbergasted for days, not saying anything to anyone else about it.
Then I got another call from Mike. It was a problem in translation. In Hillbillian, Mag is pronounced sort of like “Ma-eeeeg.” Aunt Mag died 10 years ago. It was Aunt Mae (Ma-eeee) who just died. Who had, in fact, been in a nursing home for 11 years. Whew.
I’d missed the funeral, but they had an online condolence thing, and I sent a note to Mae’s daughter — not a “blood” cousin, but her daughter from before she married my uncle. The cousin, Peg, is about 20 years older than I. Although I spent a lot of time with Aunt Mae as a child, Peg was already out of the house, out of the state, by that time. I told Peg how I remembered her mother talking about her and her son, how proud she was of them. Peg emailed me back over the weekend. She is now very ill, but she remembered me and appreciated my memories of her mother.
Well, there’s one family scandal that didn’t materialize. One. (Most of them materialize very flamboyantly.)