Yes, that’s what she was called. I don’t know if I ever remembered her given name. But Aunt Mute it was.
The nickname came into being before I was born and continued until she was found, slumped in her red and blue plaid cushioned armchair, a matching ottoman for her feet.
She still had a blanket over her lap, but her knitting, needles, and the yarn had careened off onto the floor. She was gone.
Her husband, my uncle, died many years before in a car crash. Her children, numbering four, lived too far to visit except for special occasions.
It was up to her to entertain herself.
In the summer of 1999, my father and mother moved back to his hometown with their two children; my brother, six, and myself eleven.
We were only four houses apart, and I would walk to Aunt Mute’s house after school. Most of the afternoons I sat next to her and did my school work or read a book.
In the summer she would open the windows on either side of the television and let the breezes blow the curtains. If it was hot, she had two floor standing fans that she placed on either side of her to give more motion to the air.
If it was winter, she had a small space heater that was placed in front of the ottoman to warm her always cold feet. And her favorite blanket crocheted by herself on her lap. Maybe sometimes there were gloves on her hands.
I always wondered how she got her name but never had the nerve to ask.
It was to become apparent when one afternoon after I had finished my homework, I was sitting on the floor next to Aunt Mute’s chair.
“Why do you watch movies with no sound? How did that get started?”
Watching her knit my next sweater, a mix of blues and purples, I finally have gotten up the nerve to ask the question.
“It was a simple one, really. I was watching my all-time favorite movie, Casablanca. I knew most of it by heart and was suddenly thirsty. I had made tea earlier, and heating a cup walked into the living room. That’s when I discovered the remote was back in the kitchen.”
She puts the knitting needles on her lap, and with the back of her one hand, she wipes her eye.
The needles are back clicking their music in the background while her voice continues her story.
“I was lazy. Didn’t feel like getting up and retrieving the damn machine. And, besides, I knew so much of the story.”
She stops knitting, sits, her head cocked off to one side.
“It was a revelation. I didn’t need to hear the movie, but to see it. So, my dear, I tried it with another movie I knew well, Rebecca. It worked again.”
She stops talking, and I’m still puzzled.
“Tell me why you continued, even if you didn’t know the movie,” captivated by this strange habit.
“Without the sound, I began making careful observations. Noticing the subtle difference I didn’t see when sound was on. The nuances of facial movements, of body language, and the placement of each of the characters. That became central to me, not the voices. The background, the shape of the room, the furniture, and where it’s all situated began standing out.”
The knitting again stopped, and her hand reaches up to wipe her eye.
“Why not learn to read lips,” inquiring.
“More fun this way. Come, let’s go have some tea and cookies.”
And that’s how Aunt Mute got her name.