Aunt Lena’s house was perfect, in a pop-culturish sort of way.
She had a tri-level before most bi-levels had developed envy of the neighbors’ extra stairways.
Her bathroom fixtures were all pink, on floors of light green hexagonal tiles, and her kitchen had aqua appliances—even the sink—that rested on a black and white linoleum floor.
Aunt Lena’s house was the essence of what we now dub “retro.” In fact they probably fashioned retro out of photographs of her home.
I loved Aunt Lena’s living room, her plush sectional sofa sprawled behind a kidney-shaped coffee table. On that table were the latest issues of Life and National Geographic Magazines, so when teachers asked for examples of recent history, or stories about other countries, I went to her house with scissors.
The living room was on the house’s middle level, just inside the entry door, in front of a picture window. Beautiful. In December, when the Christmas tree was up, the outdoor view was stunning.
Aunt Lena was ahead of the times, and in the ‘60s, when aluminum trees became the rage, hers was first to show up in the window, showing glittery gold balls and all blue lights.
But Aunt Lena was wise, and had a second tree—a live balsam fir—in a corner window of the downstairs recreation room. Even though the upstairs one was more stylish, the balsam was the treasure, decorated with family ornaments and lights that looked like little candles. That was the tree I loved.
My aunt would stand on a ladder for hours, placing tinsel on that tree. She hung the strands one by one, side by side, one branch at a time, and when she finished, the branches were laden with “icicles,” so thick and precise, I could squint my eyes and be carried away by its ethereal loveliness.
But at Aunt Lena’s house, that outward beauty simply housed the beauty of what lay within.
In the classic kitchen, she prepared enormous Italian meals every Sunday morning, knowing for sure that all corners of the family would venture over after Mass. There were no plans. She just knew they would come. She believed it, and it always happened. She had faith.
In the living room, on the coffee table, Aunt Lena placed her hope. She wanted her beloved granddaughter to attend the college she herself attended, so she spread the school’s brochures, where all could browse. Aunt Lena was never subtle, but constantly hopeful.
And in the pink bathroom, Aunt Lena always left out her bottle of my favorite colored nail polish “Revlon Frosted Butter Pecan.” She knew I would find it, and even though I was too young to wear it, my aunt would say, “Go on. Just try it!” She loved me. Her love was jolly, sincere, and obvious.
These days I don’t think of Aunt Lena’s house, as much as what it represented. At Thanksgiving I’m grateful for those young years I got to spend there, where my mother, Big Kate, and her sister Lena, taught me faith, joy, love, and respect.
During Advent I remain hopeful. The things we wished for in our youth were miniscule as nail polish, I know now. But those wishes hopefully colored our ability to understand and lead our own children, helping them live virtuous lives while happily growing up in our homes. We may not have chic tri-levels, but we can fill them with generosity and thoughtfulness, like Aunt Lena filled her Christmas tree with tinsel.
And I’m joyful, because Jesus came to us then, as he would come to us in all the centuries that were to follow: in a manger. As adults we can also see his presence in our children. And now, their children.
I believe the happiness in my own heart came from those early years of preparation, anticipation, and then realization. After we put up the trees and admired the tinsel, we were gifted with the grace that came through the Lord Jesus’ birth.
I wait for you in thanksgiving and hope, Lord God.
And I praise you with love, Jesus. Sweet baby Jesus.
Aunt Lena’s house was perfect, in a pop-culturish sort of way. She had a tri-level before most bi-levels had developed envy of the neighbors’ extra stairways.