The Vanishing of Great Aunt Deborah

I love how Japanese porn seems to be the natural progression of my great aunt Deborah’s severely protestant Scottish moral values. There’s this very large contingent of fallen women getting stuffed in all holes because that’s what they’ve had coming to them. Why? Because they’re giggling schoolchildren? Well…no. I know that’s the sort of image that pops into your mind when I mention this, but the true bulk of it is older women. Usually this is scare-quotes-“older” but, still, we’re going by the titles here. I keep seeing things like “Unmarried older sister punished,” “single MILF trades cream for cash,” “lonely grandmother does brutal screaming painal,” “neighbor’s wife gets done deep at the office.”

My take away — and great aunt Deborah would agree — is that if you aren’t a nice girl who gets married at 18 and sits at home all day till you die, then you’re in trouble.

Strangely, Deborah was never married. But, then, she lived her entire life with my grandmother, her youngest sister, right up until a fine summer day when she vanished.

Great aunt Deborah used to knit. That’s, like, all she did. For decades. She never worked, she never had a husband or lover, she had no friends, and yet she was wildly and sometimes violently vocal if any girls in the family went unmarried much past their sophomore year of college. Of course, most of the women in my family had committed suicide by then, so it wasn’t like this was a major bone of contention.

Deborah seemed to have a disconnect there, though. So you’d get holiday conversations that went like:

Deborah: Mary Jean should find a good man and settle down!

Grandfather: Deb, Jesus Christ, Mary Jean hung herself 35 years ago.


She’d knit through all of this — dinner, screaming at people. I once asked my grandmother if Deborah knitted while she was asleep and my grandmother blew out a big breath and said, “She don’t sleep.”

We all had something that Deborah knitted. Not like scarves and mittens, I’m talking about blankets for king-sized beds. Every Christmas you’d get a big box and there’d be a gigantic knitted afghan in there. Christmas after Christmas after Christmas…

Oh, yeah. Sorry. I probably should have mentioned that. That’s all she ever knitted — Afghans. I forget to explain these things sometimes because, when I knew Deb, she was 80 and she’d been knitting afghans since she was 6, so you didn’t really think about it. You didn’t ask her what she was knitting, there was never any conversation about it.

My dad once asked and Deborah stopped and stared hard at him for five whole, long minutes, and then went back to knitting as we all sat there with forks poised halfway to our mouths, watching the two of them warily.

Dad was always a little out of touch with the family. Like he was moving through someone else’s movie and the picture had crossed over to our TV sets, but the sound from a totally unrelated film was playing. So most conversations people had with my dad ended after three minutes when they were forced to ask, “Bob, what are you talking about right now?”

My favorite would be when dad would carry on the conversation as if he were hearing the correct replies.

Dad: (out of the blue during, say, a football game) …Yes! Yes! So they age the cheddar for a year in caves that get salt spray!

Family member: What?

Dad: Oh, yes! I know. But that wasn’t the case!

Family member: Bob? Are you…? Am I?

Dad: *laughs* Oh, well, I suppose you could if you had help! Maybe two or three men per wheel!

That used to be my entertainment if there was a storm and TV reception was bad. What’s dad gonna do next?

Deborah vanished one day in early August. Another family tradition. She piled into my grandmother’s brand new 1985 maroon Chevy Nova (she didn’t have a license and, as far as anyone knew, had never driven) and waved at us as she drove down the road past the porch where we were all gathered drinking iced tea and doing summery things.

We stared blankly until she was out of sight, and then my grandfather said, slowly, “Oh…shit.”

Deborah was as gone as if she never existed — and so was the car. We didn’t hear from or about her until 1996 when a distant cousin told us that she had heard that Deborah went to LA. I spent a few weeks calling around and talking to hall of records people, researching obits, etcetera, until I finally tracked down a clerk for LA county who found her name.

“I can’t give you any details unless you’re the next of kin,” she told me.

I explained that Deborah never really had anyone except for all of us, and I was her nephew, and the clerk sighed and said, “I can tell you that I have a death notice on file from 1985. Natural causes.” She then gave me the site of Deborah’s grave.

So Deborah just drove off to die, I guess. She knew it was her time… Though why she had to drive 3300 miles to die remains a family mystery. We had no ties or history in LA.

I reported my findings to my grandparents that evening and my grandfather leaned forward and barked, “What about the fucking car?”