Sky Harbor International.
We were being forced into picking up some relatives coming on their holiday, dragged from our permanent summer positions in the pool playing Marco Polo and dragged into being something called… presentable.
This usually meant matching summer dresses, white sandles, and combed hair, usually wet as we had waited until threatened with bodily harm before exiting said pool and interrupting very important Marco Polo game.
“But I don’t remember Auntie Jeanie, or Auntie Rita”, followed quickly by,
“Isn’t there another one? Whats her name again?”
“Yes, Auntie Mary, you remember she lives in Vegas with Uncle Orin, we went to see them at Easter….”
“What is a holiday?”
“A Holiday is it’s a vacation”, mother explains.
“Are these the really old Aunties?”
“Are we illegal?”
“Do they talk funny?”
“Why do they have to come to our house?”
Her grip on the wheel was going white, time to back up. I had a sixth sense for the swing.
“If a holiday is a vacation, why don’t you just call it a vacation?”
Whoops that was it, here it comes.
The Blind Arm Swing.
The Blind Arm Swing was a talent my mother had developed that enabled her to, without turning around, blindly swing her one arm and slap formed hand into the mists of her five off spring sitting in the back seat while driving with the other hand and landing a blow on usually the only one who wasn’t paying attention and therefore a totally innocent party.
It didn’t matter who got hit, anybody would do . The Blind Arm Swing usually led to quiet, which was exactly what she wanted in the first place. Punishing the guilty had nothing to do with the Blind Arm Swing. But I’d see it coming, and this being the time before seat belts and car seats, had escaped into the very back of the wagon, into the backwards seats. She missed me completely.
Upon our arrival at the Sky Harbor terminal, we raced onto the terminal roof, it was outside and rock covered. I still do not understand how placing landscaping material atop a roof enables better heat reflection, but there you have it.
We watched the planes land from a distance, watched until we could yell out the planes identity, American! United! TWA! There was always a smile for those first with identifying the plane.
We watched the stairs being put next to the planes, watched as the doors opened, and watched as those brave souls inside felt the heat of an 115 degree August afternoon. We would giggle as the relatives from Scotland descended the stairs, and crossed the tarmac. Like a scene from Lawrence of Arabia, the heat waves, warping their shapes into a tartan mirage until they were very close.
Closer inspection found them wearing suits, hats, girdles, and hose; They carried enormous bags, handbags filled with delightful British candy that never made it unmelted into our airspace. They sported bright red faces, hankies, and serious sturdy shoes by one, strappy wedges by the other.
The Aunties had arrived.
The Aunties were my Nana’s sisters.
Nana came to live with us shortly after my Papa died. Nellie Bell was white-haired blonde about 4’10, blue-eyed, liked a high ball at four pm, smoked like a chimney and introduced me to Harold Robbins novels when I was about 11. Nellie didn’t really cook, liked to dress up in sparkles and go out dancing, but did make shortbread, tea, scones, and hot lemonade in a big kettle on the stove. Nellie came to live with us, and it changed everything.
Nellie told stories, tales of American soldiers during WWII in Glasgow, stories of her younger sisters running off to dances, riding on the back of motor bikes, and staying out all night with the brazen American GI’s. She told stories of meeting my Papa, dancing the Charleston on the factory floor of Collin Book Binders, seeing him watching her, knowing he was the one for her.
Now, the sisters were here, I looked at them, knowing the stories, trying to match the tales with these pink faces, neither of them looked like they would ride on the back of a motorcycle at all.
First came the retrieval of the cases. Large unyielding monstrous hard sided suit cases weighing more than humanly possible to lift even before they were packed. Each bag had two tiny fixed wheels on one end and a plastic loop strap on the opposite end, these only concessions the manufacturer had given to the notion of manageability. Inside were the usual gifts of the Scottish relatives, rock candy, a peppermint stick as long as your arm with a picture all the way through of Edinburgh Castle, Tartan Tea Towels which were actually cloth wall calendars which after the year upon the kitchen wall where then washed and then had a second life as a tea towel, and leather bookmarks, made by uncle or auntie or cousin so and so…and mothers favorite, Black Magic Chocolates which of course we could have none of, unless of course, she didn’t like them. It was years before I actually got to eat a candy that didn’t have my mothers teeth marks and a bit out of them first. She of course had to taste it to see if she liked it….
“Just one bag each Willie,” the Aunties were the only ones who called my Dad…. Willie. The talking and cackling had begun in earnest now, the woman lagging behind, Dad ahead wrestling the suitcases, all five of us kids milling around and holding the hands of either an Auntie or Nellie Bell. Soon we would be home and then the party begun in earnest.
Unlike other preteens in 1975 America television was band for the most part at our house. Television, snack foods and soda pop were determined to be, “Crap” by my father. That is unless the Aunties were here, for when there was company, there was booze, and when there was booze, there were mixers…Ginger Ale and Coke a Cola… it was like Tony the Tiger says, Great!
The brogue thick, crackles loud and continuous the house full of members of the British American Club. There was Bill T. a creepy man who even at age 11 I knew to stay away from, but he wasn’t a Brit, he was just married to one. There was Johnny Bev, a lounge singer who befriended my Nana at a dive, think Tom Jones only tackier, all chest hair, low-cut polyester shirt, and gold chains, and then there was Bob Shaw, my dads best friend, he owned a jewelry store in Glendale. Years later he would be beaten and killed in his store, and my dad went to every parole hearing for his killer until the day he died. But back then Bob was very much alive, and very much the trouble maker. Bob would make up contests, have us all standing on our heads in the hall, to see who could stay on their heads the longest. We never won, he always beat us, I never got a good look, but I swear the top of that mans head was flat.
The slosh was danced, a line dance from Glasgow, usually only the woman, and usually only when they had too much to drink, booze flowed, dollars handed out to us kids just for refilling said booze. My sister Michele could mix a perfect High Ball before she could write her name…
Later when everyone else was sound asleep, I heard the Aunties all outside swimming with Nellie in our pool. They were cackling, still had drinks and smokes, and stories, I opened the window to listen….
” Wasn’t it you Jeanie who went on the back of that bike with that American?” Nellie laughed….
” Uck aye hen, t’was”
“.. what did mother say when you came home again?”
“She did’nee say anything, she just hid behind the door and when I came in there she was with her shoe in her hand…and she battered me with it all the way up the stair within an inch of me life!”
“But it was worthy every bloody smack I tell ya I’d do it again!”
Roaring laughter, all round.
Tomorrow it comes full circle.
Tomorrow I become one of the Aunties going to visit a beloved sister, on my way west, stopping in Sky Harbor, at least for a little while.
Tomorrow I go to visit my sisters.
I wonder if it is time to tell our stories, of who jumped off the cliffs of the Salt River topless, who snuck out the window, who drove our parents station wagon at 14, who sang in a band, and where we received our first kiss. I wonder if they the new ones looking at us would every believe such tales possible, such tall tales about four such old Aunties.
It makes me cackle in anticipation, mine mixed with the laughter I remember, and hear still in my heart.