“I will pick you up in a few minutes,” my mother yelled as I opened up the gate and skipped up the cracked sidewalk. I barely heard her words, much less cared. I was focused on the steps ahead that led to the door. The door that led to the house of love.
I couldn’t wait for those afternoons with my great aunt Bootsie. Her given name was “Una.” But who wants to be called Una? We just called her Bootsie and I adored being in her presence. Once through the door and into her home, I was swallowed in her love. Her fat folds embraced my skinny, undernourished self. Her vital spirit welcomed me as if I were important. My afternoon of magical godsend had begun.
First on the agenda – rolling out the dough on the white-flour-coated counter. We cut lard-infused circles, biscuits from scratch. The southern flaky ones, that when met with a pat of butter, went on for days. Like hot lava pouring from a volcano. While the biscuits took their time baking, we danced in the kitchen. Bootsie’s infectious laugh enlivened the room and more importantly, my starved spirit.
Next up, fashion design. We peddled her squeaky sewing machine as we fastened together homemade clothes for my naked baby doll. Where my doll was going to wear this, her newly coiffed attire, I had no clue. But it didn’t matter. I was in the land of Bootsie and that was all that counted. My drop-off magic.
During those afternoons of my childhood, time stood still. I relaxed into the fullness of the moment. And then all of a sudden, the clock reminded me of its harsh ability to betray. My mother was at the door, beckoning my leave from Bootsie’s house of unfiltered love.
You see, Bootsie was never able to have children. Back then, they called it barren. Her husband died a few days within my birth, so, naturally, just by the sheer luck of fate, I was the fortunate recipient of her transferred affection. Loss can do that – make us look for new targets for our love. But Bootsie’s and my arrangement was not just one-sided. It was very mutual. She needed to love and I needed love.
Female love was a rarity in my family. It was too cluttered, too junked up by layers of expectation and dictation of how and what to be. Although rarely spoken aloud, it was clear that scripts were used to shape the formation of a woman. A biscuit cutter of a different, a more lasting kind. But to me, Bootsie offered the refreshment of creativity and play. An agenda-less freedom. She was a nurturing maternal figure and I was the lucky little girl.
Bootsie died while I was in college. Sadly, it was a non-event. Her mind had vanished, long before Alzheimer’s was an “in” diagnosis. I imagine her caretaking relatives were relieved that her body had finally called it in. Her graveside service was small, with only a few in attendance. Unfortunately, I was not able to be among them.
All these decades later, I wish I had that biscuit recipe. My attempts at duplication are more like rock-hard hockey pucks than Bootsie’s perfect circles. I do have a sewing machine. It sits in the musty basement, probably in need of a tune-up, just waiting for me to take the time to put it to use.
But, I do dance in the kitchen – even when my embarrassed kids tell me to please stop.
However, such concrete measures are indeed immaterial. What is most important was Bootsie’s impact. To my little girl heart, this full-sized attentive woman was huge. She was my drop-off magic, my unexpected surprise dose of love.
Love does that, you know. It just shows up. In unanticipated wondrous ways. As a young girl, I sure needed that. Heck, I still need that. I imagine you do as well. We might just need to look around for its offerings in life’s creative underground.
And perhaps on a good day, as the circle goes round, we can be the ones extending surprise love to someone else. For who knows? Maybe it’s in the giving that the magic truly abides.