Never Pass A Chance To Say I Love You

25 03 2011

Not many people have vivid memories from when they were three, but I have one that will stay with me for the rest of my life.  A memory that serves as a life lesson at a young age. One that to this day I still employ every morning.

With us being a one car family and my wife a stay at home mom, on days that she needs the car, the whole family piles in the blazer an hour early and she drives me to work to drop me off.  Before I leave the car, our boys (Conner age 6 and TJ age 8) and I have a routine and it goes exactly like this: Hugs, Kisses, Fist bump, and a closing of “Love You”.  I should mention: Per the kids it has to be in that order or I have to start over.  Sometimes I go for the fist bump first just to get a reaction.  Hey, I’m a dad it’s what we do!  On the days that I’m running late  (I can’t lie, I’m always running late) we never deviate from the plan: Hug, Kiss, Bump, Love You…  Then it’s me off and running into my building hoping to catch an open elevator in the lobby.    

Darlene Rubino who would later marry and become Darlene Hubbell was my aunt and the proud mother to two beautiful girls, Valerie & Teresa.  When I think back to my first memories of her, they are random and brief. Keep in mind I was three and this has been over 30 years ago.  I know she was a very pretty and loving person.  She took me to see Star Wars at the Liberty Theater, she drove a VW bug, she fried up kielbasa for my dad and I, served on a vintage 70’s style yellow plate.  Why these events have stuck in my head I’m not really sure.  There is one more memory which is probably the most vivid.   August 17th 1977,  she was watching me for my mom and dad, but had decided to join one of her brothers at the beach.  So the decision was made to take me to my grandparents and drop me off.  The destination is the picture you see above.   

I remember the drive out to my grandparents, long windy road through the trees.  The sun was out and would hit the car intermittently as it shined through the tall trees lining the road.  With it being so nice out the windows were down, it smelled like the coast in summer, like warm pine, fresh flowers and salty air.  I remember us getting lost and her asking me for directions.  Looking back she was probably just playing with me to keep me entertained.  I remember us pulling into a farm-house that looked like my grandparents and turning around.  I now know this was the Olson farm on the way to my Grandparents.  I remember the song “Year of the cat” by Al Stewart playing on the radio.  To this day whenever I hear that song it immediately takes me back to this memory.

After our drive through the country we finally arrived at my grandparents farm in Olney.  I remember they had both come out to the front porch to greet us.  I remember getting out of the car and my loving aunt coming towards me with her arms open asking me for a hug and a kiss goodbye.  Of course I did what most children do when they have an audience… I ran away from her, doing my best “kisses are icky” routine and round and round the car we went.  Like a couple of keystone cops… I remember her laughing as she chased me, letting me stay just in front of her, even though she could have easily caught me.  Until finally I ran up the concrete moss-covered stairs to the porch and the safety of my grandmother.  As I hid behind my grandma I was asked, “Aren’t you going to give me a hug good-bye?”…  I went mute and buried my face into my grandmas apron,  but that didn’t remove the smile from Darlene’s face.  With a warm smile she told me good-bye and said that she loved me.  She then turned away, walked down that set of cracked mossy concrete steps, got into her car and drove away…. the sound of the gravel driveway crunching under her tires.   And that’s it…. I have no further memories of that day.

That was the last time I would ever see my Aunt Darlene…  Just a few hours later she would borrow a friends Pontiac Firebird to leave the beach and head to the store for what I’m told was a pack of cigarettes.  It was at this point that a horrible fate would intervene.  She drifted off the right side of the road and over corrected causing her to hit a large tree.  The end result was a life that would go unfinished and a family cheated out of a wonderful Mother, Sister, Daughter, Aunt and Grandmother.

So many times in my life I’ve wished I would have told her I loved her and given her a big hug.  Or wished that her two daughters would have had my wasted opportunity to give their mother a hug and say they loved her.  It’s always tough when you lose a loved one, it’s even tougher when you’re one of the last people to be with them before they unexpectedly leave this life.  Your mind starts to wonder, “What if I would have done something different?”  “Would it have changed what happened?”  It’s a lot for an adult to deal with let alone a 3-year-old child.  Over time I’ve come to terms with the fact you can’t think “what if”… You only have control over the here and now, and the here and now is ever so fleeting. 

As an adult and father to two young boys I take stock in the fragility of life more than ever.  I treat every goodbye with my boys as if it were the last time I have the opportunity to let them know how much they mean to me, as if it were the last time I’m able to hold them in my arms.  Every time I give my boys a hug, kiss, fist bump, and tell them that I love them, I remember my Aunt Darlene, it’s my way of honoring how much she meant to those who knew and loved her. 

In loving memory of my Aunt Darlene

“Hugs and Kisses, I love you”

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