Staying with Great-Aunt Mary was a step back in time.
She lived on the far side of Doty’s pond, three houses from our old home. This eased my moving transition, since I was still near my friends.
The Mason home existed decades before any others in the neighborhood. Giant hydrangeas lined the front and roadside foundation. Aunt Mary’s long driveway began with a circle and ended with a stem leading to her garage, creating the numeral six. An old water pump sat in the center of her driveway circle. It pumped spurts of rusty colored water after I primed it with rainwater collected in an old bucket.
Maple trees older than my father lined the road and were home to a herd of gray squirrels. Like her brother (Grandpa), Aunt Mary loved animals. She tamed a family of squirrels to eat from her hand.
One day, before I was born, she heard a shotgun firing in her yard. She ran out to find her squirrels lying dead on the ground. A stranger had stopped his car and shot the poor things; so tame and trusting they didn’t run or hide.
Confronted by Aunt Mary, the shooter simply said, “They’re just squirrels.”
After telling me this story, Aunt Mary confessed, “If I’d had my gun with me, he might not have made it home.”
In the backyard, Mitzi, an aging German shepherd, was chained to her doghouse. She created a well-worn circle of death around the length of her chain.
A coal stove sat in a corner of Aunt Mary’s sitting-room, with a little library holding books from the 1800s behind it. David and I liked holding our feet in the space underneath the stove until they surpassed our toasty-level. Her kitchen contained a wood-burning stove/oven. The round burners each had a slot, and required a metal lever to pry their covers open.
After watching her do it, I surprised Aunt Mary by chopping extra kindling wood for her stove, using her ax. I only did this once, because I could never find her ax again.
One cold day, I sat against the wall in the narrow space behind her oven. I entertained myself by pressing a few stubby crayons against the hot backside, watching the melted wax streams slowly slide down on top of each other, creating new color combinations. My mistake was showing my creation to Mom and Aunt Mary.
Aunt Mary taught her two cats, Sandy Cat and Rascal, to use her toilet; a very reasonable and practical talent. They perched on the rim of the base, raised their tail, and did their duty. Mom refused to let me train Cotton Kitten to use our toilet.
“Make sure you put the seat up when you’re finished in the bathroom,” warned Mom, while staying at Aunt Mary’s. “Otherwise the cats will pee where you sit down.”
Technically, Aunt Mary had four living-rooms: a sitting-room, a large sunroom filled with windows and plants, a small music room, and her actual living room containing not one, but two sofas. When she and Uncle Clifford first married, they lived near Grandpa in a huge house with a bowling alley. I sorely wished they’d kept it, so I could bowl like Dad did when he was a kid.
Uncle Clifford passed away before we moved in. He smoked cigars and gave David and me his cigar rings. The lower half of his right arm was missing. David and I were told it got chopped off while reaching under his power lawn mower to clean out the clogged grass. This information was imparted while David and I were reaching under his mower to unclog the grass.
Much later (forty years), Dad finally told me a stalk of corn caught in Uncle Clifford’s glove, pulling his hand into a self-feeding silage cutter. Why didn’t we get to hear that story when we were kids?
Aunt Mary loved the neighborhood children and regretted being unable to have any of her own. Her other regret was not becoming a nurse. In the late 1800’s, women didn’t have the opportunities of today, which is too bad because Aunt Mary would have been a wonderful nurse and mother. Like Grandma, she baked lots of yummy cookies and handed them out to David and me, and the area kids who all called her Aunt Mary.
While we lived with Aunt Mary for a few months I had no idea that in a few years she would come to live with us.
Now it’s your turn: Do you have memories of an older relative’s home?
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