Friday, September 14, 2007

About My Great-Aunt

September 15 was my great-aunt's birthday. She was born in 1899 and she lived to be 90 years old. She raised my grandmother and another sister after her mother died. She never married and spent her whole life helping take care of people.

When I was small, she helped out my parents by watching my brother and me. She lived just across town (about a mile away) and she helped out by doing light housework and trying to keep us out of trouble.

One thing she did was to iron clothes in the den, which was next to our large basement playroom. Of course we were warned well away from the hot iron. That probably made it more entertaining to us. I remember one day in particular when I was watching her iron clothes, making them smooth. I probably also liked that they were warm.

I had a toy iron. It was small enough to fit my hand and had a black handle, a red body and a smooth silver bottom. I think I also had a kid-sized ironing board that I set up next to my great-aunt's.

At first, I ironed right along size her. I took my little toy iron and worked on my doll's clothes as she used the big iron on the big clothes. Then I asked her to do one of the doll dresses, and she did. I noticed how much easier it was for her to get the wrinkles out and she told me it was because the heat did that.

I don't remember who suggested what, but she let me press my little toy iron's bottom against the bottom of the big iron as it sat there. After a minute or so, it would be warm, and I was able to get more wrinkles out of the doll clothes. It would not stay warm long, so after a while I'd have to re-warm my iron against hers again.

I'm guessing I got tired of this pretty quickly, but the memories are so sharp that I think I must have done that more than once. How we managed to keep both of us from getting burned may have been a miracle!

My great-aunt out-lived her sisters and everyone else in that generation of our family. She was over 80 years old when she moved out of a house into an apartment, where she continued to cook her own meals three times a day.

So in honor of the anniversary of her birth, here are some of the other things I remember about her:

- Her favorite color was red.

- She loved the red cardigan sweater we bought her one year.

- She loved bird-watching.

- It should not surprise you she loved cardinals, which she called "red birds."

- At some time she had learned to play piano. When I started lessons, she sometimes pecked out some old hymns on the piano in my living room.
- Her favorite hymn was "The Old Rugged Cross."
- She had dark, almost black hair most of the time I knew her. Then my mom finally convinced her that she shouldn't be dying it black, but maybe a softer color. The light brown color was a much better look for her.
- When my grandma and she made donuts, my great-aunt and I took care of glazing them and stacking them on a platter.

- She kept a big pile of old photographs jumbled in a shoebox under her bed.

- She didn't drive. She said she trusted us kids, once we turned 16, to drive her around safely. If she was nervous, she didn't show it to me.

- Every time I left home to return to college (at least twice a year) she cried when I said goodbye saying, "I might be dead before you come back." She was still alive when I graduated.

- I think the last meal she cooked for me was when my now-wife and I visited. It was a lunch that included sausage, biscuits, and milk gravy.


June said...

Thanks. I never knew my grandmothers, so reading your words gave me a nice virtual grandmother moment.

sister AE said...

You are welcome, june. She was essentially my 2nd grandmother.

Finn said...

What a lovely remembrance. I think I would have liked your great-aunt. She sounds like an amazing woman.

Hi, Michele sent me today. Have a wonderful weekend.

sister AE said...

Thanks, Finn. I'm glad you stopped by.

Jo said...

I really enjoyed this.......I've just written about what my grandmother meant to me and so I loved reading about your great aunt.

sister AE said...

Thanks, Jo. I'll have to stop by this weekend to read about your grandmother. And I have a much shorter "grandma" post waiting in the wings.

Maria said...

She sounds like a lovely person. And what a great memory about ironing!

I love biscuits and milk gravy. I have not had them in years. Maybe this will be a good breakfast to try on my daughter tomorrow. Saturday is our day to have complicated breakfasts like french toast or omelets. I think I WILL try this...

Great post.

sister AE said...

Hi, Maria. She always cooked like we'd been working on a farm, since that's the way she learned. Heavy on the starch and grease - filling and homey. If you do make them, you'll have to let me know how they turn out.