December 7, 2009

Whenever my parents went out of town they had my Aunt Jean come over and stay with me.

More than a babysitter, Aunt Jean taught me to gut fish and sing songs about the railroad where she worked for twenty-some years. I asked her once if she’d ever been a conductor and she laughed like I’d called her a name I didn’t understand.

On one occasion when my parents had gone to Europe, Aunt Jean came over and brought a sack of red maple leaves with her. She asked me if we had any wax paper and I said I’d never heard of wax paper. “How could you make paper out of wax?” I asked.

She made like she was going to hit me for not knowing, but then she put her hand down. “I don’t hit girls,” she said, “but you really should know about wax paper.”

We went to the store and picked up a roll of wax paper and some hooch. She told me I wasn’t to touch the alcohol-even if she drank too much of it and offered it to me. I promised I wouldn’t.

After a swig from the bottle, Aunt Jean had me roll out one long sheet of wax paper and arrange the leaves on top.

“What else can you use wax paper for?” I asked.

“Baking mostly. And bank robber masks. ”

“Bank robber masks?”

“Well, the best thing a bank robber can do is put pantyhose of his face. It smushes up his features, making it hard for someone to identify him. Wax paper can work in a pinch.”

“Are there women bank robbers?”


It made me sad to know there are some things you just can’t do.

Then we put another sheet of wax paper over the first one with all the leaves.

“Go get me your iron,” she said.

I came back with my mom’s iron and a Tootsie Roll to split. I broke it in two and kept the bigger half since it was my candy to begin with.

She turned on the iron and when it was warm enough began pressing it against the wax paper-and-leaf sandwich.

“We used to do this all the time on the train.”


“No, not really.”

When she was done we hung the wax paper leaf art in the window. Three days later my parents came home and Aunt Jean took the art with her when she left.

That night, when I put my hand under my pillow, I found a pair of pantyhose. I put them over my head and looked in the mirror. My nose was smushed and I could touch it with my tongue.

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