My father was born nine years after the youngest of his older sisters. Four children in total, the middle of the girls, Carol Jean, assumed a shortened version of her name and a close bond with my dad. When I came along in the spring of '83, Auntie Jeannie attended my baptism and accepted the spiritual duties as my appointed Godmother. The earliest of core memories consistently including her and her husband, Uncle John.
Without children, the two of them designated the space to myself and my three younger siblings. The attention strengthened the bonds, always anticipating their visits. They wintered in the city and summered at the lake. We were there for all of it. As we grew, the time was even more dedicated, focusing on the individual as much as the collective.
In '95, a freak accident led to an emergency surgery on my left eye as my retina was shattered by a direct hit from a twenty-five cent rubber jacks ball. With Regina being two hours from our farm in Kennedy, the burden of follow-up appointments was slightly alleviated as I was granted time off school for a couple extended stays at my Aunt Jean and Uncle John's. With my Uncle freshly retired from a twenty-nine year teaching career and my Aunt still working, activities were endless. Afternoon movie matinées, visits to The Royal Saskatchewan Museum, The Science Centre and Imax, and hamburgers at A&W. The greatest of field trips.
Well-kept, their home was a manifestation of their minds and a caregiver with creaky bones. The walls filled with relics of their youth, artifacts from travel, and curiosities in bronze and oils portioned out upon inset shelving and bleeding culture to the floors.
Uncle John sat in his far corner of the living room in peace washed over by concertos. If the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation wasn't occupying the tranquility, specific selections were brought from the main hallway to the oak cabinet which housed his turntable. Thousands of vinyl nesting among hundreds of books. The snapping of hot birch sap roasting in the fireplace in syncopation with the turning of pages.
With a patch over my left eye and the early summer heat swelling the floorboards, Uncle John suggested we spend an afternoon in the air-conditioning of The Book and Briar Patch. My parents, frugal with their spending had me conditioned to look without any expectation of a purchase. I politely asked the lady at the bookstore check-out if they carried R.L Stine's Goosebumps series and was led to a small section with three in stock, none of which were of the selection at my elementary school library. My excitement was in the name of research, further asking the employee to write the titles down in hopes my school would bring them in.
I returned them to their shelf and continued to wander.
"You didn't find anything?" Uncle John asked as I ran into him.
I shrugged, intuiting the deeper meaning to his question but modest in my response.
"Your Aunt Jean should have supper ready for us, we'll take off in a few minutes." He said as he left me by the magazines.
He walked to the check-out counter and again disappeared into the small labyrinth of bookshelves, myself, unable to see above them. In moments, three taps to the top of my head from behind as he handed me Goosebumps #22, #25, and #35; Ghost Beach, Attack of the Mutant, and A Shocker on Shock Street. I felt the guilt of acceptance as I ran my fingers across the embossing on the front covers. Three brand new, crisp, Goosebumps books.
I spent my evening reading with ferocity, as efficient with one eye as I was with two. Uncle John, joined me across the room in his chair. My 9:00 PM bedtime came and went, I moved on to my second book and my aunt served us some snacks. With a mighty yawn I exhaled, on cue the entire house cracked as if it were unable to contain my happiness.