An Aunty

The story goes that she drove by a house with a chimney fire. She stopped to tell the people and found a single dad raising a teenage daughter. This was in the late 1940s. She ended up staying as a housekeeper for grandpa and raised mom. There are underlying whispers of other stories. That there might have been more going on between Aunty and grandpa. That they might have married except for his heavy drinking. The nights when he would be drunk, yelling at mom and Aunty and throwing slices of bread across the table at them.

Mom's wedding

Mom’s wedding. Grandpa in the suit, Aunty on far right.

She said she was Canadian and was very proper. She never left the house without coat, hat, skirt, gloves, purse, all matching. When we were born she told mom to have us call her ‘Aunty’ because ‘those children have enough grandmas’. She was a nanny to well-off Seattle doctors and lawyers but never had children of her own, even though she was married four times. It was so sad that, as she told us, all four died of pneumonia. As I got older it dawned on me to wonder about that. I wore the wedding rings from her marriage to Ben, who, she said, was her favorite. And hmmm…lived the longest.

She was small but with these awe-inspiring huge breasts. And her arms had long flaps of skin that she would let me flip back and forth while sitting on her lap.

Lisa and Aunty

Cooking for her was a handful of this and a pinch of that. Amazing platters of fried chicken and, oddly, platters of fried smelt as a side dish. She would take little Nilla wafers and painstakingly frost each one, then add sprinkles, for us. Stewed tomatoes and dry toast for breakfast. A glass of carrot juice with Metamucil stirred in. Hard ribbon candy stuck in solid lumps in little crystal bowls. Glass bowls with layers of different colored Jello flavors, with fruit in between. Collections of salt and pepper shakers.

Her windowsills were full of jars of plant cuttings that never got planted. Her clothesline had mason jars of rose cuttings hanging from it. She swore that was how to root roses, that the motion of the wind moving the jars of water made the cuttings root. She always had beautiful roses.

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And of course she was feisty. One time young men moved in across the street and started harassing her. They would park in her driveway and block her in. Stand outside her bedroom window at night and smoke, so she could smell it and know they were there. She started sleeping with a bowling pin next to her bed.

And then she recognized one. The son of a doctor she’d babysat. She stomped across the street and lit into him in front of all his friends. Phrases like ‘I wiped your bottom’ and ‘I taught you better’ and ‘you should be ashamed’. Mom was horrified, afraid there would be retaliation. But they never bothered Aunty again.

There was the day when we were in her boat of a car, huge with tail fins that always smelled musty. She sat on a pile of pillows with another pile behind her, to see over the steering wheel. There was a group of teenagers in the middle of the road with their bikes. She stopped and waited. Honked. They laughed and didn’t move. She honked again. Nothing. She gassed it and drove right through the middle of them, right over their abandoned bikes as they scattered.

Each summer she took one of us on a trip. We were special, singled out, and didn’t have to share her with siblings for one whole week. We’d get to ride a bus and go someplace we’d never been. The youngest spent the whole week homesick but still wanted to go. We all wanted that adventure with Aunty.

three of us

The upstairs of her house was exciting to sleep in because it was scary. A narrow old staircase that creaked loudly. A big bed three of us shared. A sloping roof with narrow windows at each end. A bookshelf crammed full of moldy smelling Reader’s Digest magazines. And, across from the foot of the bed, right were the roof angled down, were three small doors. If you were brave enough to kneel and crack one open, a blast of cold, stale air would come out. You’d see nothing but pitch black. You were left with only your imagination to show what might live behind those little doors.

I had a very vivid imagination.

Freckles

and freckles

She told the same stories over and over until we became bored and tuned them out. I wish now I could remember them. The one that sticks with me was about a black horse (in my memories, a stallion). She thought she could ride him and ended up galloping down Main Street out of control. She survived but got in trouble. The story was supposed to be a moral for us to listen to our parents.

I like that image though, of Aunty when she was Ethel Ellen, before she was prim and proper with the sagging breasts and sagging flaps of skin of old age. Before she took in a lonely teenage girl.

Back when she was young and free and riding a wild stallion.

Aunty & us Easter

Stones From the River Quote

I am re-reading Stones From the River by Ursula Hegi. It was an uncomfortable book to read when it first came out and I wondered if now, a few years later, I’d still have that reaction. So I decided to try again. Once I finish the book, I’ll talk more about that.

But for now, this paragraph captured me. Trudi is the protagonist.

‘It was like that with stories: she could see beneath their surface, know the undercurrents, the whirlpools that could take you down, the hidden clusters of rocks. Stories could blind you, rise around you in a myriad of colors. Every time Trudi took a story and let it stream through her mind from beginning to end, it grew fuller, richer, feeding on her visions of those people the story belonged to until it left its bed like the river she loved. And it was then that she’d have to tell the story to someone.’

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A Quick Freezer Story

I know my posts have been serious lately with our recent loss so here’s something that might make you smile.

A blog post I just read online was about how fish can survive being frozen solid, as in a pond. It reminded me of this, which some of you have probably heard many times as it still makes me laugh.

I used to know a classic old cat lady. One day while visiting she said she was thawing out a pot roast and asked if I wanted to stay for dinner. Can you see where this story is going?

She started to unwrap the pot roast, stopped, stared, and said ‘That’s not pot roast! That’s CC!’

Yep. She’d thawed her cat, CC, for dinner.

It was winter and she couldn’t dig the frozen ground to bury CC when the cat died. So she wrapped him up and popped him in the freezer to wait until spring.

Except that she thawed him out for dinner.

I never ate there after that.

And by the way, CC was a nasty mean old cat that would attack and bite you every chance he got. I believe he eventually ended up buried under a rose bush.

But first he had to thaw in the sink.