Kage Baker was a dedicated and enthusiastic aunt. She loved her siblings’ and her friends’ offspring, and participated in their upbringing as much as she could. It’s a system many mammals use, as she said: if it was good for baby elephants, it was probably good for baby humans.
Besides, Kage adored babies. She liked nothing better than sitting quietly with a sleepy child in her arms, crooning sea chanties until they fell asleep. A lot of babies went peacefully to Dreamland to the sound of Blood Red Roses or The Lowland Sea in Kage’s smoky alto. Not to mention The Eddystone Light or Sir Patrick Spence or The Maid On The Shore … she was so fond of that last one, she ended up writing a story around the title: haunted pirates and Captain Sir Henry Morgan in the Panamanian jungles.
The first crop of nieces and nephews, born of brothers and sisters, is now pretty well grown: there’s a nephew who’s a chef, and another in the Coast Guard, and one working on becoming a history teacher. One niece is almost a lawyer now, another is a budding artist like her grandmother and her Aunt Kage; the youngest niece just got accepted to Annapolis! Kage was delighted when the one nephew became a sailor – she had a life-long love for maritime gentlemen. But the niece who is going to Annapolis – that would have had Kage dancing round the living room! One of our girls will be a Naval officer! And since the girl in question is the Emma of Hotel Under The Sand, Kage would be incandescent with joy.
You can see Kage’s influence in all of the nieces and nephews – these are kids who grew up learning how to use their minds, listening to Kage and the rest of us tell tales late at night at the tail ends of family gatherings: voices by candlelight around the wooden table in the dining room, recounting family history and the the king lists of England and France. Arguing over the tragic fate of the Romanoffs, telling outrageous stories of Hollywood parties held right there in the house (or only up the hill a little).
We always seemed to end those family gatherings sitting round the hand-planed table, laughing and laughing. It’s how I remember all of us girls most clearly – sitting there with babies being passed from lap to lap, little faces peeking in fascination over the edge of the table, laughing our asses off over – everything.
As Kage grew older, she delighted in being the wild aunt. She was one of the Mad Aunties, the ones who left home and went for adventures with the Faire. (With me, her fearless driver and companion in madness.) She told the craziest and best stories, and claimed her patron saint on the road was Toad of Toad Hall. She brought weird and wonderful presents back from trips, and introduced all the nieces and nephews to peculiar candies, and old-fashioned toys, and the urgent desire to go eat in restaurants with good bars and linen napkins …
Kage made life sound so interesting.
I went over for dinner last night with sister Anne, and her two girls – another Kate and Annie. Also their two foster guinea pigs (provenance uncertain; I know she told me but I don’t recall it.) They are just a temporary pair of fuzzy little blobs in a cage, watching us with that blank robotic stare guinea varmints have … also the exquisite Pandora, a gold-eyed, jet-black lady Great Dane like a great ebony swan in her divine posings – Great Dane females are the most elegant things, canine Sarah Bernhardts. And the current star of the household, a rescued cockatoo with the temperament of a Don Juan. He too is temporary, a rescue being rehabbed, and he likes to spend his time lolling in any available female bosom and being petted.
And as usual, we ended up sitting around and laughing – a little weepily, because Anne and I are always aware of the missing flame that was Kage. When the conversation turns to her, as it always does, we both cry. But we’re laughing, too, these days, remembering her: so that’s all right. How she’d roll her eyes at the sight of Anne, cradling a drowsy parrot in her lap while the baby who used to snuggle there is showing off her latest surreal canvas to me.
Time goes on. Family traditions may melt and mutate, but they get maintained in defiance of all storms and grief. And when we talk about Kage, life is still so very interesting …