Special Southern aunts | Column | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | November 11, 2017 5:00 pm
Last Updated: November 8, 2017 at 12:21 pm
Last week “Southern Living” posted an article about southern aunts, and how they shape our lives.
Amen. Auntie Mame’s got nothin’ on our aunties. (BTW, Southerners say “ant.” If you’re from off and say “ont,” that’s okay, we’ll still love you.)
For the record, I have five aunts: Drucille, Allis, Gaylene, Perla and Eleanor. I’d love to say they taught me how to host teas or smock Easter dresses, but their lessons were earthier.
Drucille, Allis and Gaylene are my father’s sisters. Dad was the youngest and the only boy, so he was called Sonny to the day he died.
Anyway, Aunt Allis didn’t much like men after she was 30, which is when her husband was arrested for being the Pink Glove Bandit: He robbed banks wearing her Playtex dishwashing gloves. It was a scandal. The only saving grace was that he didn’t rob the bank in their hometown.
He went to prison and she went to a lawyer for a quick divorce.
Sadder but wiser, Aunt Allis taught me a valuable lesson: Skepticism. “Smile but verify,” was her motto.
Aunt Gaylene was a ball of energy. She grew up picking cotton, selling eggs and working in a textile mill. If she couldn’t sleep at night, she’d get up and paint the kitchen.
“Hard work never hurt anybody!” she’d say cheerfully, and then go build a chicken coop.
She had me shelling beans and scaling fish before I was six. Thanks for the work ethic, Aunt Gay.
Aunt Drucille gave me a thirst for travel. She was always on the move because her husband, Clam (my hand to God), was in the military. She sent me postcards from all over the world. One Christmas she gave me a doll from Germany, and I wish I could find it now.
Drucille and Clam finally retired to a mountaintop in Virginia. She was dying the last time I saw her, but wanted to know where I’d been lately. When I left she winked and croaked, “It’s a big world, kid.”
Aunt Perla and Aunt Eleanor were my mother’s sisters. I wouldn’t recognize Aunt Perla if she sat on my head.
She was the youngest of Mom’s siblings; she married as a teen and left town on a Greyhound bus. Nobody saw her again for 20 years. She and Durwood lived in California and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
I think I’ve seen Perla maybe four times in my life. She wasn’t big on letters or phone calls, either. She did send Mom a black-and-white Polaroid of her and Durwood on snowshoes in front of their cabin.
By her absence Perla taught me—and this drives my husband nuts—that no news is good news, and that family ties can survive years without contact.
Widdle asks me, “How can you not see your sister in 15 years?”
“Easy,” I reply. “We live on opposite coasts. Besides, we’re friends on Facebook.”
Aunt Eleanor had dark hair, a flair for cooking and a sharp tongue. In her later years, she adopted a colony of feral cats that she fed and took to the vet.
One day Mom and I dropped in as she prepared the cats’ daily meal: Ten pounds of fresh shrimp, shelled and soaked in two cans of Carnation cream.
I thought Mom would faint. “Sister!!” she gasped.
Aunt Eleanor gave her the stink-eye. “What?” she snapped. “Cats like seafood!”
Eleanor gave me a cookbook when I got married the first time. In it, she wrote: “Beauty fades, but good biscuits are forever.”
Thank you, aunts. You taught me well.
(Julie R. Smith, who can still split and scale a spot in 20 seconds, can be reached at email@example.com.)