When we were kids, Auntie Lourdes handed out candy after every weekly dinner- each time a different kind. Smooth rectangular bars of Hershey chocolate, some weeks with almonds, other weeks without. Sometimes we got a Sugar Daddy—a solid caramel bar on a stick that you had to suck on until caramel drool ran down your chin. At that point, maybe then you could finally bite off a piece. The next week it might be a Bit-O-Honey, Butterfinger, or maybe a bag of M&Ms, an Abba-Zabba, or Butterscotch LifeSavers.
The ritual of receiving Auntie Lourdes’ weekly candy distribution went this way: while she and the other adults remained at the dining table talking, the kids moved into the living room. We’d turn on the TV and start watching Super Car- whose characters were lip-synching marionettes brought to life with dubbed- in dialogue. We’d toss Grandma’s sofa pillows across the room at each other while she wasn’t looking. Finally one of us cousins would say, “Who’s gonna ask Auntie Lou for candy this time?” It had to be one of them because my father didn’t like me or my brother be the first to ask, though it was totally okay to line up once one of the other cousins started things going.
“Bring me my purse,” she’d say, as if maybe there might be candy in there, but she’d have to look first. The rest of us would peer toward the dining room from our spot on the sofa and when Auntie opened up her purse we’d run over to line up next to her chair. After she handed each their candy, the customary response was to kiss her on the cheek, and say, “Thank you, Auntie Lou!” Every week she made us feel like we were her very special Sugar Babies.
She really loved desserts. All sweets. I still imitate the way she spun her ice cream in the bowl until the hard frozen scoop softened into a creamy soup. I remember the first time I tried it on one of those Sunday dinners at the grandparents’ home. The flavor was marble fudge. While I was focusing on getting the fudge to blend with the vanilla ice cream, I spun the dish right off the table onto the floor. Luckily, my grandparents always placed newspapers underneath the kids’ table to catch any food that happened to fly off the table. Auntie Lourdes saw that, and gave me the kind of look that said, “Uh-oh, you’re playing with your food, Lisa-T,” shaking her head in obligatory disapproval.
But there was a split second of mischief in her smile, understanding what I was trying to do, just before my dad whacked me on the backside for playing with my food. I thought better of saying, “But Dad, I was copying Auntie Lourdes!” No, that wouldn’t have helped. A few minutes later, her eyes squinting into a little smile, she leaned over, whispering, “Next time, hold on tighter to the cup, that’s all. Next time, Lisa-T.”
In our immediate family on the Suguitan side, there are only two girls: Lori, and me. I was the lone girl among the four Martin boy cousins, until finally, when I was eight, Lori was born, followed six months later that same year, by the arrival of Auntie Lourdes and Uncle Sonny’s twin sons, John and Gareth. Yes, two more boys made the nephew: niece count 7:2, but we had our Lori, and besides, John and Gareth were our first set of twins in the family and they brought double pleasure, double trouble, and double fun.
When Lori arrived, Aunties Lucrecia and Lourdes, and I exclaimed, “that’s one for us girls!” I’d like to think that the aunties had a say in Lori and me getting names which began with an “L”, thus establishing a kind of girls' club within the Suguitan clan. (Incidentally, had one of the twins been born a girl, she would have been named Lynette, from Tales of King Arthur's Knights, from which Gareth's name also comes.)
Auntie Lourdes enjoyed buying dresses for us. My earliest memories include frilly florals with a stiff under petticoat which left scratch marks on my chalky dry legs. There’s a photo of the grandkids in Grandma and Grandpa’s garden one Easter with the boys dressed in suits, and me in one of those dresses, a little handbag in a gloved hand, and straw hat atop a head of curled and coifed hair. I was around five years old I think. I don’t know when it was that I stopped wearing dresses and I’d probably have stopped at a much younger age if not for Auntie Lourdes’ influence and encouragement of stereotypically feminine style of florals, preferably on a dress or a skirt, with matching sweater, earrings, and a purse. Lori was much more fun to dress up.
Perhaps one of the most cherished memories will be shared among the nieces, who, beyond the time we had become aunties ourselves, received a special gift bag from Auntie Lou every Christmas. The bag always contained several items she’d gathered for us during her trips to the Mall, Macy’s mostly: a holiday-themed blouse or sweater, a gift card, a little accessory for dressy occasions- a bracelet, a scarf, or earrings. The other nieces, much more stylish than I, sometimes received sweater dresses or skirts. Auntie Lourdes stuck to workout pants, long-sleeved tees, tank tops for me. She knew my size better than I knew it. Throughout my adulthood, I really looked forward to receiving her gift bag. Evocative of my childhood, my heart stood in line to receive her love. For she is the Auntie whose sweetness and love set the model of what kind of auntie I myself eventually became. Auntie Lourdes, I will miss your special combination of fiery strength (masked by your sweet way), honesty, humor, and the love and support you always expressed about things I did. Heaven became divinely sweeter when it called you Home.