AUNT OOGIE’S SHOES
So Aunt Oogie took right to Miss B., maybe ’cause Miss B.’s nephew owns a rib restaurant in Toledo where Aunt Oogie eats and that seemed to make for a fast and deep bond – an O Hee O, as Miss B. says, thing. I had not thought to make that connection about Miss B. being from Columbus, since she’s French. “Miss B. is French Columbian,” I explain. Anyway, it’s hard to say exactly what makes these things happen, the way people take to each other, or not. But in their short time together they agree about things too numerous to recall and hug goodbye at least twice.
Miss B. walks us out still talking and next thing you know she’s smack dab in the middle of another hippie van story. I wait as long as I can stand it and finally say, “I keep waitin’ for Beau to be in this story,” and just then he is when she says, “and Beau proceeds to eat the shower curtain.” That is the way it always goes in a Beau story: “Beau proceeds to fly to the roof of the monastery and won’t come down, Beau proceeds to destroy the cedar closet.” Beau is her bird and whatever Beau does, he always proceeds to do it.
Aunt Oogie takes our photograph on the street corner across from Miss B.’s as we stand reading clinic brochures. She is trying to place where Aunt Vera lived. I say over there, but as I am pointing in the direction where Aunt Vera lived I am wondering if it was Aunt Vera or not. Still I figure it must have been her since she has entered the conversation, like a player at a game. I am trying to remember what season it was when it might have been Aunt Vera’s birthday, when I come to find out Aunt Vera wasn’t really anybody’s aunt at all, although Jeff says she was probably somebody’s.
Aunt Oogie and Jeff stash their shoes beneath the steps to the beach by where Aunt Vera lived, but I hold on to mine because they’re green. Aunt Oogie lifts her shirt for the camera, feeling, it seems, as far from Toledo as she can get. I point to the pink building, which I think is the actual Aunt Vera place of residence, and confess to Jeff that I keep thinking Aunt Oogie is Aunt Vera, at least when I start to introduce her, maybe ’cause the words Aunt Vera have already been in my head from the question, “Is this Aunt Vera’s birthday?” When somebody poses a question like that I always feel like I have to try and answer it, so I have already been wondering about Aunt Vera for either three months or a year and a half, I can’t figure out which. It’s a time like that.
Aunt Oogie tries to find shells worth picking up. Jeff takes her photo, she takes our photo, I take their photo. We sit on the mound of sand and talk about when the matinee was a nickel, about family homes, nostalgic journeys. Brothers. Sisters. Things like that. The things they do. The things that make up our lives. Until Aunt Oogie decides she wants a cigarette.
The title should tell you how this story is going to end. When we get to the steps where the shoes are stashed Aunt Oogie’s shoes are not there. Jeff picks up his shoes and socks, offering to share and saying the whole scenario flashed through his mind when we passed the guy on the beach with a pair of shoes sticking out of his backpack. He decides right then, even though a fast decision is out of character for him, to go after the guy with the shoes.
Walking up the path Aunt Oogie complains about her arthritic feet saying, “Here I am with the toes on one foot pointing north and the toes on the other foot pointing west and I got no shoes.” And then she explains to me that she is Aunt Oogie and how and why and when that came to be so. I’ve got it good and straight now that Aunt Oogie is not Aunt Vera, but I’ll never remember who she was before she became Aunt Oogie on the sidewalk walking up from the beach just at the point where the yellow hibiscus bloom.
These perceptual lags, I have trouble with them even on my best days, but it just is not often enough that you get to be in the middle of a story without knowing when the author wrote you into the room. So perceptual lags notwithstanding, it’s worth every bit of dis-orientation just to remember at the experiential level how a story works, a family story at that.
It was a short episode in the day and I was the character who got to the story late. That night driving home, I thought about some part of it and started to laugh out loud remembering the whole thing, especially the part about Aunt Oogie’s shoes.