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Monday, 25 April 2011

Aunt Knett

By Johna Ferguson

Knett was the mysterious aunt in my life. Not only did she have an unusual name, but she lived in Chicago and was a working woman; all the other women I knew never worked outside their homes.

She once came “out West” to visit my mother, her older sister, but I was just a child at the time and have little memory of her other than from pictures. In them I see she was slim and continental looking compared to my somewhat dowdy looking mother, but she had a friendly smile and interesting eyes.

She occasionally sent me a birthday gift. It was never the kind of thing a young girl hoped for. When I was 12 she sent me a hand-tooled, red leather purse from Italy. Right now I would die for it as an accessory; then, I probably just handed it back to my mother and said, “Do as you wish with it.”

Another time she sent a long gold rope necklace when no one my age would be seen dead wearing old lady jewelry. As I look back it was probably 18K gold and might be worth a lot. So be it.

As I grew up, I became more interested in her as a person and finally pinned my mother down to tell me about her past.

After graduating from nursing school, Knett married a psychiatrist, a very rich, handsome fellow from Chicago. They lived in a huge house with an elevator and lots of help, but something went wrong. He had a sordid affair, went insane and they divorced.

She found work in a social agency in Chicago, took an apartment of her own and began her life over. She invested wisely in the stock market and bought unusual but valuable pieces of furniture and jewelry.

She had an artistic flair, flaming red hair, smoked like a trooper, talked quickly in a hushed voice with a flutter of her hands and always had interesting stories to tell. Her son was in the Foreign Service and when his wife had children, Knett quit her job and moved around the world with them to help out.

One day she wrote my mother that she would be arriving on a ship from Thailand to Seattle with her goods. We wondered what she could possibly want to move from that far away place, but my husband and I said we would meet her and she could stay with us until the retirement home where mother lived had a vacancy.

We drove our station wagon to the pier to get her, but what a shock. We had to tie two huge wooden crates on the roof of the car plus load the entire inside full to manage everything she had.

My mother’s comment was, “How typical of Knett, to only think of herself and never think about the bother to others.” But I shrugged this off for finally I was going to get acquainted with my mysterious aunt.

She stayed with us two weeks before moving into the retirement home. We delivered her crates wondering what they could be filled with. It was like Christmas morning to see the joy on her face as she unpacked her treasures; she lovingly handled each one as she carefully unwrapped them.

She brought a pair of teak, carved, Oriental-style, stacking tables; a ceramic lamp made from a pottery teapot with a chartreuse Thai silk shade; framed pictures of old Chinese horses; gold lacquer trays, interesting jewelry, silk scarves and dresses – well, you name it.

She remained the one true family member to stand by me through my divorce with an always positive outlook. But then, like all older people, her health suffered and she was moved into the infirmary.

Before she died, I was able to choose a few items to remember her by. I chose a signed Toulouse Lautrec poster print, Ambassadeurs-Aristide Bruant, the teapot lamp, the two carved tables and a string of pearls.

To this day I can still visualize her sitting in the retirement home on her black and white zebra skin chair with a leopard printed silk scarf around her neck below her short, fuzzy orange hair, smoking and sipping a glass of sherry and telling me about her experiences.

She told me tales of another world in a way no travel movie or voucher could. I almost smelled and felt the things she described from Africa to Asia. Partially because of her, I am living part-time in China and enjoying my unusual life. I think she had a profound influence on me for she opened not only my eyes but also my mind to new ideas and the world.

Thanks Aunt Knett, I owe you one.

[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


Thank you for sharing this wonderful story!

Wonderful story...lucky you to have your very own "Auntie Mame," so to speak...She really lived her life, didn't she, what a wonderful role model..You are the most wonderful writer, so descriptive, I caught a whiff of her sherry..will spring for a bottle in her and your honor...thanks for sharing...

Johna - What a character!

I have this terrific image of Aunt Knett, sipping her sherry, smoking her cigarettes, "sitting in a black and white zebra skin chair, with a leopard printed silk scarf around her neck", telling you her wonderful stories.

They don' make them like that any more! - Sandy

How blessed you were to get to know her. This post is wonderfully written, Johna. I could just picture her, as Mary and Sandy also did.

Such a great story! So descriptive! I too was transported to sitting at Aunt Knett's feet listening to her exotic tales. How lovely that you attribute your own adventuresome spirit to her. That is quite a legacy.

Oh, how I would have loved to have known Aunt Knett.

She was a wonderful character and you described her to us very well.

Loved your story,Johna..

How wonderful to have had Aunt Knett as a role model. Your story was so well written that I was there with you all the way. Thank you for sharing.

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