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Tuesday, 02 November 2010

Aunt Warrena

By Johna Ferguson

How any of my cousins can imagine that Aunt Warrena influenced me in any way seems ludicrous. She was the butt of so many family jokes yet somehow they all rolled off her back. Either that or she hid their effects.

She was wife of Uncle Bill’s, the youngest of my father’s siblings. They had no children; at that time I was too young to care or discuss that subject.

Uncle Bill chose not to build a summer cabin at the beach but at least two Sundays a month, he and Auntie would drive down from Seattle to share the family meal. We were all pretty casual at the beach. My father, on arriving, took off his suit, white shirt and tie in favor of a tee-shirt and soft cotton pants. My mother and Aunt Clara wore their printed cotton housedresses all the time; no one changed into dressy clothes because it was Sunday.

But what Aunt Warrena wore was always a topic of conversation, but one held behind her back. She wore taffeta dresses, high necked with a ruffle around it plus a cameo pinned at the front of the neckline.

They were dark plum, deep purple or navy blue in color and she wore black, high-topped, laced boots, the kind my mother wore as a child. Aunt Warrena had tiny feet, only size four and she was proud of that fact and wanted to show them off along with her tightly cinched in waist. Actually she was small, just 5 feet tall, so the other adults towered over her.

She never helped with the meal preparations over the hot wood stove like the other aunties did for after all, she and Uncle Bill had brought fresh ice cream for dessert; in her mind that was enough. She sat herself down daintily on a chair and just watched the family.

She had a huge mass of brown curly hair, done up in some kind of a bun, but lots of curls escaped, probably on purpose. She liked to think she looked about 19 and she laughed with a tinkling sound like a small child. She often clapped her soft, little white hands when she thought something was funny. She really never paid much attention to me or my cousins; I suppose since she had no children of her own we didn’t interest her.

However, when I was pregnant with my first child, she called and invited to take me shopping to buy baby necessities. Then when I delivered, she and Uncle Bill were the only family members who came to visit me in the hospital. She only peeked in the room as though she was afraid of babies. Uncle Bill, however carried in a huge poinsettia, as my son was born days before Christmas.

After that, we were transfered to Spokane. I thought my husband and I should visit to say good-bye. She told me that she wanted to give me a set of hand-painted china plates she had done in college, but would wait until she knew I would truly appreciate them.

She also said I was her favorite niece, why she bestowed that honor on me I’ll never know since I, like the rest of my cousins, had ignored and also laughed about her.

I didn’t hear anything for five years until my uncle passed on. After that my 13 cousins and I received a letter from an attorney for our aunt. Seems a couple had moved in to care for her after my uncle’s death. They were willing to stay on the job, but felt in return they should eventually have her house and everything else.

I thought about it long and hard before I returned the letter. After all, she was my relative and she had, in her small way, bent over backwards to befriend me. But I had three children; my hands were too full to add another person into our family, especially one who might become a little weirder.

I sent the letter back, agreeing like my cousins, to the terms. I just hoped they were kind and considerate. There went the hand-painted china plates. Aunt Warrena lived on another six years, crazy as a hoot they said, but they cared for her so in the end they deserved everything.

In spite of my seeing so little of Aunt Warrena, she still had an influence on me. I learned from her that one can dress and act as one pleases. I remembered her kindness towards me; I must do the same to someone in the future, be it family or friend. I am sure it caused her great pain to shop for baby clothes, and then to stop by the hospital later; perhaps Uncle Bill insisted, but she came along nonetheless and bestowed on me her sweet little girl’s smile and best wishes.

I can still visualize her garbed in outdated finery, but never complaining about a thing. She had dressed up for the occasion and the hell with the rest of us.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What a touching story. You, like me, were influenced by an older relative. Do pass down what she gave you, and a little more. I am so sorry you never got the plates. The people who got the house probably didn't care.
Our elders live forever in our hearts. Would she like me to do this? yes she would.

I think having at least one relative that is "not ordinary" adds depth and character to the whole family. I certainly think it gives the upcoming generations more than one way to think about something. Thank you for sharing.

I agree with Mary, the unsual relatives are the ones who teach us to accept people as they are.

I had a childless Aunt Mary who was influential in my life. She did give me her sterling silver flatware in her will, however. It's too bad that your Aunt did not make provisions to fulfill her promise to you.

Great portrayal - and honest- of your aunt! I can just envision her... I had a delightful and just a bit eccentric "Aunt Jo" from Portland, OR, who had no kids, did archery for fun and loved the horse races. She liked us kids, though, and even took us with her once to the races. It really made me nervous, though, when she would be driving and take BOTH her hands off the wheel to adjust her hair bun!

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