She was my favorite aunt. But I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t want to keep a list of favorite people when I was little. I didn’t think that was right. But now as I look back, she was my favorite - hands down.
She was my mom’s older sister, and though they were of the same Norwegian blood, Sherleigh would turn a deep golden tan every summer and Mom would always burn. Aunt Sherleigh was outgoing and silly; my mom, a reserved, proper, quiet type; a more traditional Norwegian.
Aunt Sherleigh loved needle point and fishing, sunbathing and laughter. She was a dichotomy of sorts; though she could be rough and rugged in all kinds of conditions, she was always feminine and beautiful at the same time. She was North Idaho, born and raised, but throughout her life, she seemed to me to be the traveler that journeyed to far off places and unique adventures.
She was impeccable in her dress. She could be dressed to the hilt and look totally comfortable, or she could be in jeans and moccasins and be every bit the same person. She was one of those people that seemed totally “comfortable in her own skin” as the saying goes.
She had the most beautiful nails…always kept to the most perfect degree. I remember always wanting those nails. I must have expressed that at one time, because I remember distinctly on a particular visit to Grandma’s, Aunt Sherleigh told me she would paint my nails like hers. “But!” she said, “you have to push your cuticles back first,” and she proceeded to show me how to do just that. “Now you make sure you continue to do this,” while she also let me know just how bad mine were. She sent me off to the bathroom to run water on my hands to help soften the cuticles, so they could be properly pushed back. As I worked and worked on those cuticles, I began to cry. I wasn’t very old, eight or nine, I think. Pretty soon someone came in to check on me and found me crying while still working diligently on those darn cuticles. Mom, Grandma, and Aunt Sherleigh all tried to figure out why I was crying. “Maybe she thought I wasn’t going to paint her nails,” queried Aunt Sherleigh to the others. I could tell she felt really badly about the whole thing.
But that wasn’t it. I knew she was going to finish the job she had started. I didn’t tell them why, but it was because I was ashamed and embarrassed over my cuticles. I was angry that they were in such poor condition, but I hadn’t known about keeping them pushed back until that very day. Seems silly now to be upset about that….but that was the child I was….ha, maybe still am in some ways. Ok, a lot of ways.
However, Aunt Sherleigh was only teaching me correctly. Now as I look back, I wouldn’t necessarily call her a perfectionist; but everything she did, she did very well. She stitched needlepoint, - actually, petit point - that was of the most beautiful I have ever seen. She had fine taste in clothing and food. A wonderful cook, that was always different than her sister or her moms - who were the best of the best, by the way. Aunt Sherleigh was more of a gourmet type cook. She made things that I did not usually get to eat and she had wonderful recipes that most people would not take the time to make. One of my favorites was “Surprise Pack Chicken”, which we eventually named it. It was chicken wrapped in bacon and a batter made from cheese crackers, then wrapped in aluminum foil and baked in the oven. This was one recipe my mom did get from Sherleigh and continued to make throughout my childhood.
Two children were born to my auntie. F. who died as a baby and C. (named after his father) who was just about the best older cousin any kid could have. It is a wonder to me now that I never thought of the pain she must have endured in loosing a child.
Aunt Sherleigh divorced from her kid's dad and later married a gentleman we came to love as Uncle Sandy, who deserves a character sketch all his own, but that will be for another time. Uncle Sandy worked in construction, I believe; and his work took him away to all kinds of places. He seemed very wealthy to me, I really don’t know about that now. Part of his journeys took them to the Northwest Territories…you know, clear up there above Canada. This was in the 1950’s and I believe this was a pretty desolate place at the time. I think it probably still is. Population in the Northwest Territories during the '50's stayed between 15,000 - 19,000 in that great big expanse of area. Aunt Sherleigh was the first white woman to come to the Northwest Territories and live among the Native Americans there. I don’t know why I didn’t learn more from her about that adventure as I grew older. That is definitely a “woulda, coulda, shoulda” thought in retrospect.
But one thing is for sure, Aunt Sherleigh had a deep love for all things native. It was in the Northwest Territories she learned to make fascinating crafts from porcupine quills, and it seems her jewelry always consisted of beautiful Native beadwork. Two of my favorite needlepoint pictures that she made were of little Indian children that absolutely seemed to come alive upon the cloth on which they were stitched.
She also spent some time in Montana. It seems she was drawn to the Native Americans there as well, and it just seemed to become a part of who she was. As I said earlier, I think of my mom and Grandpa as Norwegian - quiet, reserved, and well…Nordic; but Aunt Sherleigh to me seemed more at home as a Native. She was funny, affectionate and anything, but reserved.
The memories I have of Aunt Sherleigh, are all good memories. I don’t ever remember her being angry. I cannot for the life of me picture anything but a smile on her face. I know she was a good listener and I can picture the caring in her face as she became that listener, but she also loved to talk. I laugh at that now, to me that didn’t fit with her Norwegian heritage, either.
This lovely woman lived to be in her late 70’s, I believe. I’m not sure if she hit 80…probably should know that, and will definitely try to find out about that. I don't know how much of my recollection of her is correct. I'm sure I have forgotten much of what I would love to remember. Often times when it comes to relatives, you love them just because of who they are. That's a good thing! But then one day, time and age catches up with you and you wonder if you really knew them at all. You wish you could do it all over again to pay a little more attention the next time and listen a little more often. One thing I do know: Aunt Sherleigh loved her nieces and nephews. And she was a kids kind of aunt - seems she always had a puppy to love, a cackle in her laughter and a story in her heart.