My aunt died the first Thursday morning in December. She was damaged at birth, her head so swollen and bruised from the drunken misuse of forceps they wouldn’t let my grandmother see her for days.
Pam Ferris spent her life trapped in a broken body, legs and arms and voice virtually useless.
Her mind was perfectly fine, though. She was difficult to understand, which frustrated her, as did most of life. My mother knew what she was trying to say for the most part.
Pam loved to argue with my father, an attorney, about the usefulness of lawyers. What is the point of them exactly? She would ask him, and they would go round and round, my mother interpreting.
A long time ago, when she was a young woman and had some degree of control over her hands, she would make pot holders on a little loom at my grandmother’s house. It took her days, weeks even, of work to make one five-inch square pad. She willed her hands to clutch only one of the stretchy cloth loops at a time. She willed them to release the bunch she had grabbed by mistake, until finally, finally, she had her prized piece. Then she worked to attach it to the nail on the loom, then she worked to stretch it to the nail on the other side. Once she had painstakingly lined all of the loops up in the same direction, she began the tedious process of weaving. Over and under, over and under, with only one loop, until she managed to hook it to the proper nail. Always she knocked the anchor piece loose, and had to start all over.
She operated her hands like the machines with the mechanical claw and the box of stuffed animals, but there was more of disconnect.
My sister and I didn’t understand when she would begin to sob in frustration when we sat with her at the little card table and whipped up pastel potholders in minutes. We just went off to another activity and left Pam and her mess at the table.
Aunt Pammy wanted to be useful. I just wanted to watch TV. It incited her, watching me veg out in front of a vapid daytime program when I was a pre-teen. She bellowed at me, beseeching me to go outside and play or read a book or make some use of myself. It was effective as far as limiting my TV watching.
That was her dream I think, to be useful. I don’t remember her ever verbalizing a wish to walk or write or speak clearly. But she said over and over, “I want to be of some use.”
I wrote a cookbook thirty years ago. She would have been almost fifty, and was at St. Barnabus Nursing Home. She was excited about this endeavor of mine, and decided to sell the books for me. My mother set her up a little shop, a table with a few books and a cash box, and she sold them outside her from on the 4th floor where she lived for 37 years.
The morning of Pam’s funeral, the world was pure white. Unexpected snow had covered the brown scraggly grass and barren shrubs and bare tree branches during the night. The morning she went to heaven, the world was new. Perfect. The color of angel wings.
I knew what that meant.