This, my friends, is the lady who fed me lunch from third through sixth grades. The exceptions were Thursday and Friday of third and fourth grades, and a bit of fifth grade, when I went to my paternal grandma's house for lunch. In those days, we didn't have a school cafeteria. Kids and teachers, alike, went home for lunch.
She also monitored playing with the little girls in her neighborhood (we lived outside the city limits and the kids nearby were across a busy highway), and she made sure my Barbie doll inventory of clothes and accessories was maintained. Not one tiny high heel went home with another little girl!
She drilled me on my spelling words, played Steal the Pack with me, not to mention the Elsie game, Sorry, Parcheesi and whatever other games Mopstick had in the attic. (Mopstick is her only daughter and the cousin of anyone's dreams!) Mopstick had a great game, Changeable Charlie, and I loved her building blocks. One year Aunt Mary gave me my own set of blocks and I built a lot of fine buildings!
She nagged me about my procrastination of writing reports, made sure I'd done my arithmetic homework, and generally ran my life from right before school when Dad dropped me off at her house to after school when Mom picked me up at her house.
One day, in sixth grade, I arrived there to find Aunt Mary and Mom engaged in a basically silent, but vicious stand-off. The looks were the kind that only sisters who are best friends can exchange with impunity. When we got home, my mother got out the Sears catalog, got her tape measure and began measuring me around the chest. Apparently the disagreement had to do with Aunt Mary's observation that I was developing and it was time for a bra. My mother, ever in a state of denial about matters relating to sex, was, against her will, accepting that her older sister was right. I was horrified!
Aunt Mary quickly disabused me of any notion that I'd get out of wearing the damned contraption!
She was stylish, with a very unerring eye for beautiful lines and a good fit. Her dress pumps matched her purse and she bought nice things. Not a lot of things, mind you, but what she had was well-made and she always looked lovely.
One summer day she arrived with Uncle Eddie, wearing a new dress. My mother wanted to take her picture, so Aunt Mary posed on Mom's lounge chair (with the cushion no wet bathing suit was allowed to touch), but our Springer, Kingaroo, saw the camera, and being the complete ham, bounded toward the chair, knocking Aunt Mary out of it and onto her bum in the grass! "God damn it, Kinger!" she shouted! Mom's finger was on the shutter though, and the picture she got was that of Kinger, posing in the chair!
Needless to say, they started over, with me holding my brother-dog by the collar, whispering to him that it had been pretty funny and that he was quite the card! The sight of her going bum over teacups in her fine dress was just too great for an 8 year old!
I "vacationed" a lot with Aunt Mary and Uncle Eddie and my cousin/oldest sister, Mopstick. (She was a skinny thing and nicknamed by my mom's best gal pal's husband. Even though she is now Grandmotherly padded, I like to call her Mopstick because she is still the same clever and insanely funny person. And it's payback for her calling me Foolu Snodgrass!) As little kid, I got up with the chickens (as Aunt Mary declared), so in order to keep me in bed a little longer, I got to stay up to watch the Late Show, along with drinking a Coke in one of those short bottles, and eating Cheese Curls. Breakfast was whatever sweet rolls Uncle Eddie picked out, toasted over the gas burner on a campfire toast rack thing.
Uncle Eddie was the grocery shopper in that household, and I loved his choice in cookies... the cookie jar was always stocked. Scotch cookies were my hands down fave, and I think they were his, too. Aunt Mary meted them out so he wouldn't notice how many were gone!
On Thursdays, Aunt Mary went to our house for lunch and a killer game of pinochle with Mom. One time our cat, Sam, got onto the kitchen counter while she and Mom went out to the shop to call Dad in for lunch. When they walked into the house, he was calmly helping himself to the boiled ham! Mom started to freak out, thinking Dad was going to strangle the cat, but Aunt Mary just grabbed the knife and carefully (she was a perfectionist) trimmed each and every slice that the cat had touched. You never would have known anything had happened to that ham between the time Tony Marini sliced it and my mom served it.
And she really was into perfection... her house was immaculate, her housekeeping schedule was exactly as it was embroidered on the dishtowels... Monday - laundry, Tuesday - ironing, etc. Uncle Eddie's church shirts were sprinkled with a soda bottle fitted with a kind of watering can nozzle, and ironing took place between the stove and the kitchen counter, near the outlet in her red and yellow kitchen. The curtains in the kitchen were polka dotted, but they got changed out seasonally. Washed and ironed to a fair-thee-well. When she helped Grandma make ravioli, her little belly-button twists were uniform and done just so. (These were tortellini to the entire universe except in our corner of the world, where they were ravs.)
If you had a nitsy-pitsy job that required patience, she was your man. She could unsnarl the worst of knots, sort through mounds of stuff with the organizational skills of a general, and, boy! could she ever bitch about what she was doing! ("How did you get this all tangled up? When will you learn to take care of your things?" gripe gripe gripe) But at the end of the day, the dandelions she was cleaning had nary a speck of dirt and whatever the job was, it was done right. To this day, when faced with a task of that nature that we don't want to do, my sister and I call it an Aunt Mary job. In her honor, we mutter and complain. But whatever it is we're stuck doing, we do NOT give it the quick and dirty!
In this picture, she is grinning - Aunt Mary could get supremely tickled about things and many was the time when she'd just grab me and smother me in what my sister dubbed her toilet plunger kisses. She'd make 'em loud and boisterous on purpose. We loved it! She spoiled us rotten, and in some ways, we probably benefited by the big difference in age because we each pretty much had her to ourselves at the time when she was the most effective in shaping us.
After she was widowed, she made some massive changes to her life and moved away. It was a rough patch, to be sure. I was in junior high, and it was a time when her understanding of how mean girls can be would have been a big help. But somehow I "got" what was going on with her. Mom was silent on the subject, but I know she missed her a lot. They didn't keep up, and I've never understood that. But in some regards, it didn't matter. The lessons she taught me about how to treat people stayed put and there is a lot of her in me....right down to the same exact crooked bottom teeth.
So, to aunts everywhere: you matter. They watch you and they learn from you. Whether it is the stories they will tell about the fabled dressing table covered with Merle Norman cosmetics that you let the girls play with (Aunt Pep was a rock star, too!), or your blanket condemnation of a group that gives you a royal pain the in ass ("Damn Catholics!"), they pick up nuances and details. They probably understand you better than they do their parents, at times! I say, revel in it! Spoil 'em rotten when you can and kvel over their every little achievement. Grieve over their heartaches and just be the cheerleader on the sidelines. Be nutty, be kind and be ferocious, if need be.
Above all, don't forget to make sure the Barbie shoes stay with the right little girl!