A journalist observes life in the far north.
I have one of the best aunts a person could have. She has always remembered my birthday, sending McDonald’s gift certificates when I was little, cash later and cards more recently. She has visited me twice in Alaska. She calls. She writes.
My aunt lost her job waiting tables when the Italian restaurant in Chicago where she worked was sold to a condo developer a couple of years ago. Pretty soon, she lost her apartment. My uncle took her in while she tried getting work in the merchant marine. That never panned out. Aunt Lynne eventually wound up at my cousin’s house and sometimes spent time at my sister’s place, I believe.
Finding work has been hard for her. She’s about 50, divorced, overweight and chain smokes. She is sweet but has the blunt manner of our Swedish descendants. I am told she sunk into a depression. On the phone, she sounded like she always had but I knew times were tough. At Christmas, I sent a little cash.
Eventually Aunt Lynne started passing the time drinking coffee and watching game shows. Some days she hung out at the library. A couple of weeks ago, Aunt Lynne fell and broke her collar bone.
Now she is living in a group home. There are social workers, who I understand are helping her get her life back together. It’s the best thing for her, I am told. I am instructed not to send money because that would enable her. Enable what, I wonder?
I think about flying home to the Midwest. If this isn’t a family crisis, what is? But I don’t know exactly what I would do. Maybe me and my one-year-old would add to the family burden. I like the idea that my favorite aunt might be on the path to getting her life back. I hate thinking of her living in a shelter.
I wish my mother were still alive. She would know what to do.