I was trying to make it as a writer, but sometimes the ideas just wouldn’t come.
“Why don’t you write your aunt a letter?” My mother suggested. “Or better yet, why don’t you go visit her? She likes men, you know. It’s just her sisters who visit now and when your dad shows up, she talks about things she never shares with me.”
I didn’t have anything better to do, so I decided to bicycle down the quiet streets to her assisted living apartment in the late morning.
“She likes Chinese food,” my mother suggested as I walked out the door. It was on the way, so I decided to stop. The lady who owns the restaurant is sweet and I ordered 2 chicken teriyakis.
“Thank you very much,” she said. My mother loves this lady and always says the exact same line back to her “Thank you very much,” in a thick Chinese accent.
“Somebody’s going to accuse you of being a racist,” I said.
“Your accent is stronger than hers.”
When we leave the store, the lady always walks back into the kitchen and yells at her husband. I can’t understand Chinese, but I know who runs the restaurant.
The assisted living building is well-kept. It reminds me of a classy hotel. Orchids are arranged in the lobby and the young staff are dressed in red-fitted uniforms.
“Can I help you?” A girl asks.
“Yeah, I’m here to see my Aunt Jeanne.”
“Oh, Jeanne Scott; third floor, room 3.”
I walk out of the lobby and past the living room. There’s a couple of women arguing about the rules of Bridge and a World War 2 veteran hunched over in his wheelchair, snoring loudly. A young nurse walks over to him and adjusts his oxygen mask.
In the elevator, a late 40s man dressed in a suit accompanies his wife. “Do you think she’ll be awake this time?” He asks.
“Who knows? She can fall asleep at a moment’s notice. She was awake when I talked to her on the phone.”
I turned the door handle and walked into my aunt’s room. Her smell was there. It’s been the same in both houses she’s owned. I’ve never smelled anything like it before. It’s a combination of dust and old lady perfume.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
“Fine,” Aunt Jeanne said. She still had a strong Idaho accent.
“You in school?”
“Yeah. I’ll probably never get out. They have me writing papers.”
“That’s fine. When my late husband and I put together the dictionary, it took a lot of time. You just stick with it and you’ll get through.”
I liked talking to her and I started to think I might get some story ideas from our conversation.
” Jorge will be in here shortly to check-up on me. We have to keep our relationship secret.”
“Oh,” I said. Sure enough, a Hispanic gentleman entered the room and adjusted her oxygen tank.
“Will that be everything Miss Scott?”
“That’ll do, until later,” she said with a wink.
“It looks like they treat you well,” I said after Jorge left.
“The food isn’t bad, but I don’t like to talk to those ladies downstairs. It took 80 years of card games and bingo to turn them into empty heads filled with cotton and Vaseline coming out of their ears. There’s not a lot of people who hold a good conversation here. How’s your family?”
“Well, my mom’s doing fine.”
“I don’t mean your mom. What about your 5 kids?”
“Aunt Jeanne, I’m only 20 years old and unmarried.”
“What?” She paused for half a second and then kept going. “Do you attend church?”
“Yeah, but only when I feel like it. Is there a place that you go?”
“Satan and Jesus stop by here once-and-awhile, but they usually don’t have much to say to me. They get along too well and I can’t get a word in edgewise.”
I laughed inside when I thought about what my pastor would think.
“You know, there is someone I do like to talk to. Frank lives next door. He robbed banks for a living in the 40s. He’s over 100 years old. He can’t talk very good after his stroke, but he was able to draw me a map of where he buried the bank money.
Jeanne pulled a folded piece of paper out of her Western novel that marked her place. She handed it to me, and I opened it. It looked like a Kindergartener had drawn a map with crayons. I wasn’t going to take a second look, but then I noticed something familiar.
It was a lighthouse I knew, 12 miles away. It showed a gnarly tree with a red X drawn near the roots.
“Don’t you need money to get yourself through college?” My Aunt asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
She handed me the map. My Aunt asked about my father’s work as a bounty hunter in Europe and then I had to go. I was riding home and I got this crazy idea. What if my aunt wasn’t 100 percent delusional?
I turned a fork in the trail and rode south towards the lighthouse. It was twilight when I got there, and nobody was in sight. I didn’t have a shovel, but I looked around and found one, leaning up against a shed. I followed the drawing out back and looked for an oak tree resembling an old man.
Its branches were bent and twisted in several places, like it had arthritis and I started digging at the roots.
Pretty soon I struck wood and I pulled a chest out of the ground. I broke the rusted lock and opened the lid. There was enough cash in there to attend University for a lifetime.