Driftwood by Catharine Amato & Marie Wilson

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Auntie Elva’s ocean side home smelled of dusting powder and seaweed. I visited her often there and walked with her on the beach. Even when beachcombing, Auntie Elva dressed as if for the theatre or shopping, saying that she’d sooner be dead than wear “sensible shoes”. Her beach finds were distributed throughout her house along with the things her husband, dead these many years, had brought back from his trips around the world. Cloisonné vases full of shells, driftwood perched on ebony trunks, bits of coloured glass atop brass tables. One day after our beach stroll Auntie Elva brought a tray of tea to the living room then sat on the chesterfield opposite me. While the tea steeped she began stitching a hem on her sister Myrtle’s dress. As she talked to me about the seagull situation and the garbage problem she casually used her left breast as a pin cushion. And that was how I found out that Auntie Elva had had a mastectomy.

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Every Christmas the families gathered at Auntie Elva’s house. There was a turkey in the oven, presents under the tree, and Auntie Myrtle, who always wore sensible shoes, holding court on the chesterfield. Without fail Auntie Elva gave her three nieces dolls. I was the youngest niece, my sister Leah was a year older than me, and our cousin Beth was a year older than Leah. Every year I reeled with happiness as I tore the wrapping paper away to reveal the brand new doll, the intoxicating scent of new plastic was perfume to my nose. We would take our new dolls to the big, carpeted landing on the stairs. It had a stained glass window and was ideal for playing house. And then one Christmas Beth opened her gift and it was not a doll. It was a sweater. My sister and I still got dolls but the next year my sister got a sweater and Beth did too, again. I was the only one with a doll that year. I didn’t want to stop getting dolls; I had a nice family of them at home and I loved each one. There was Debbie, so named because she looked like Debbie Reynolds to me. And there was the doll I named Purpose when I was five because I liked the sound of the word. But of course I got my sweater the next year and soon after that the dolls got packed away. I never saw them again and often wonder what happened to them.

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Uncle Andre always liked to tell the story of the rose liqueur. Whether he was at a party, a bar or just visiting, he would tell and tell again that story. It involved a famous actress who passed him in a hotel lobby in Paris and dropped her scarf: “The finest silk scented with roses…” Whenever he said this his fingers moved back and forth as if feeling the smoothness of the silk and he drew a deep breath in as if inhaling the fragrance of a thousand roses. “I ran to catch her. She was so grateful to have her scarf that she took down my name and room number.” And that night a bottle of rose liqueur with a whole rose in it was sent to his room. “The very next year that lady became a Princess.” Cheers, Uncle Andre.

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Photographs by Catharine Amato; writing by Marie Wilson. Catharine and Marie were among the original founding members of aamora. We thank them for sharing with us this collaboration and hope it’s the first of many. It reminded us of something written by Pierce Harris in the Atlantic Journal: “Memory is a child walking along a seashore. You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up and store away among its treasured things.”

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Vancouver born Marie Wilson, a founding aamora.com member, is a writer, photographer, artist, actor, mother & muse living in Toronto. View her work on her website, on JPG Magazine or on aamora.com.

15 thoughts on “Driftwood by Catharine Amato & Marie Wilson”

  1. p.s. Was Uncle Andre married to Aunt Elva???….what a character. The only thing better than the gift of rose liqueur, would be if the famous actress had delivered it herself 😉
    Cheers!

  2. WOW….I don’t have the words to say how much I love this. Marie, your writing is transportive (pin cushion, indeed!). And, Catharine, the image of Aunt Elvie, all dressed up, walking the beach, and the “doll room” – well, that photo should be hanging in the MoMA. What an inspiration. My gratitude to you, both…and, of course, Aaron! 🙂

  3. It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to spend on Aamora – this collaboration is thrilling, what a gift to come back to. I love Auntie Elva, she’s quite the character, your childhood memories are sweet and poignant. I would love to wander through this room filled with dolls, walk the beach with Auntie Elva and share a story or two with Uncle Andre. “Driftwood” – perfect and poetic!

  4. incredible and beautiful collaboration, the photos are amazing but the dolls one…outstanding! well done to all of you Catharine, Marie and, of course Aaron! :)))

  5. First of all, thanks to Marie for giving my photos a whole new dimension, thanks to Aaron, and thanks to all who viewed and commented generously.

  6. Thanks all. And thank you, Catharine, for the excellent photos. Thanks to Aaron for aamora (and for the wonderful title of this piece). Happy Victoria Day!

  7. The words and images transport me. I remember looking through my grandmothers old photographs. Now I see that “Granny” and Auntie Elva had similar taste in apparel. Thanks for the journey.

  8. Loved the pics, Auntie Elva, and Uncle Andre. Summer at the beach, Christmas with the girls…I can’t wait to find out about Halloween.

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