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My Shoplifting Aunt

Aunt Mary
Linda Troeller

Tub Be or Not Tub Be: A thief, that is. The author's aunt Mary Margaret, the blue-haired matron of sticky fingers, takes a breather from her rounds of larceny to indulge in a relaxing soak.

Accompanying my mother's sister Mary Margaret on a trip downtown is a little like a double bill of 'The Longest Day' and 'The'Untouchables' with a Three Stooges short thrown into the mix

By Richard Camp

MY AUNT MARY Margaret's biggest ambition in life is to someday shoplift a canoe. My aunt, needless to say, is not exactly well, although she is an excellent shoplifter. It is something she is proud of. Everyone needs a hobby.

When we take her down to the Pacific Garden Mall with all the other tourists, we have to keep a close eye on her. It usually takes three or four of us, trying to act casual but watching like spies. We spread out, surrounding her.

One of us is assigned the duty of watching her handbag, which is deep and dark and big as a mailbag. It is full of pens and pencils and candy bars, TV Guides and Chapsticks and cans of Dr Pepper, plastic fruit and pocket knives and a growing collection of little angel figurines. There are small kitchen gadgets, marbles and lots of tiny hotel room soaps.

There are also several of those little Christmas-scene globes filled with water and glitter that look like a blizzard when you shake them up.

Sometimes there is even a handgun and bullets, which is the main reason we don't want her to get caught.

Once, we found an entire litter of tiny, mewing kittens.

So we watch her like hawks.

Usually, it doesn't work.

We know we really shouldn't let her out of the house, but we are tired of all our stuff disappearing. She is like a crow attracted to shiny things. She just can't help it. She takes things and hides them, hoards them in a little secret nest somewhere.

In the wake of her last visit, we found most of my grandmother's antique silverware wrapped up in yarn and stuffed deep into a crevice in the couch.

So, as we walk down Pacific Avenue, we try to steer her into antique stores and art galleries and places that sell mostly really big things.

Larcenous Spinster

SHE LOOKS HARMLESS enough, a blue-haired matronly woman in polyester stretch pants and a pastel knit sweater buttoned tight about her ample, grandmotherly bosom. We drift down the mall like the gaggle of Secret Service agents guarding the President of the United States, smiling at no one and usually having a very bad time.

Except for Mary Margaret--she always enjoys the challenge.

Most of the merchants are too worried about the Rainbow kids and the punk boys and the grunge kittens to pay her any mind.

If it helps any, for whatever it's worth, my aunt still believes what the nuns told her 50 years ago--that if you kiss a boy for over a minute, you'll get pregnant.

After she leaves, we always conduct a thorough search of the house and donate everything we find to charity.

Except for the diving mask and snorkel and the inflatable wading pool. I kept those.

Shoplifting, for my aunt, is actually much more than a hobby. It's a calling, an avocation, an illness and an obsession. It is her one great skill.

Shoplifting, for my aunt, is like writing is for me. I can't help it.

So bear with me.

My friend Sean, the poet, suggests that at this point I should embellish the truth and say that I got to see the Hale-Bopp comet from underwater because I was up in the Santa Cruz Mountains late at night swimming naked with a woman friend, which he says sounds much more exciting and closer to the truth than "skinny-dipping."

He suggests that the two of us, this woman and me, move silently together through the dark water, like a secret, and as we embrace the starlight kicks across the surface of the lake, and we pause underwater to peer up at the celestial visitor, and it looks just like the sky is falling.

That, he says, is what writing is like. Not shoplifting.

But the truth owes much more to Aunt Mary. The truth is that I was in Boulder Creek, out in the back yard just before dawn, splashing around in Aunt Mary's stolen wading pool, wearing the mask and snorkel, looking up at the stars.

There was no naked woman friend. No underwater dance. No night landscape charged with secret knowledge.

There was only me, alone, sitting in two feet of cold water. But all I can do when I think about it is smile. It really did look like the sky was falling.

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From the April 3-9, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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