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Memoir: A Collage of Aunts

January 29, 2014

 

A Collage of Aunts

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

            Polar Vortex II seems a little less bothersome if I count my blessings—instead of degrees below zero.  Among the blessings which I count are my

seven aunts.  Only one of my dear aunts is still living—my Aunt Kathy, whose birthday today, January 28, prompted me to ponder my “Collage of Aunts.” 

 

            Only one of my aunts—Aunt Rosemary—died in infancy.  On Memorial Days and at other times when we went to the cemetery in Clinton, Indiana, we visited Aunt Rosemary’s small grave.  I do wonder what she would have been like if she had been given the gift of a long life as all the other aunts received.  I remember hearing that my Aunt Rosemary was a beautiful baby; I wonder what she would have looked like as an adult and what she would have done.  Would she have melded into the collage of my aunts?  Would she have become a liberated woman before the era of women’s liberation—as my other aunts and my mother?

 

            Although I grew up in a small rural town during the 50s and 60s, my aunts were excellent examples of the many choices I could have in my future.  I did not need the women’s liberation movement because I grew up with these strong, independent, supportive, and caring aunts.  Both directly and indirectly, they taught me so much and enriched my life.  Sharing with you a mini-portrait of each of these aunts is challenging because there is so much to tell about these special women.

 

            Often, I have thought that an entire book should be written about my mother’s oldest sister—my Aunt Zita—who was so special to me and who was an extraordinary woman of her generation.  If you have read my blog of May 20, 2013, you know how she was always there when my family needed her.  When my mother became postmaster before I began school, I often stayed with Aunt Zita.  She was the more tolerant and supportive of my creative ways.  I enjoyed being at her restaurant which she managed alone after the much too early passing of her husband.  With her especially calm demeanor and dedicated employees, Aunt Zita ran her extremely successful Italian restaurant with an appearance of great ease.  In her living room, attached to the restaurant, I used to devour the World Book Encyclopedias which were at easy reach for me from her bookshelf.  While managing the restaurant and being head cook, Aunt Zita raised her two sons and sent them to college.  At the restaurant, our extended family had an abundance of happy times.  I think Aunt Zita would be delighted to know that her great-granddaughter Annie has recently started a restaurant in Mexico.

 

            Of all my aunts, only one chose not to work outside her home.  My mother’s other sister—Aunt Lydia—worked on the farm that she and her husband called “home.”  For her generation, she was tall; and she had beautiful hair.  Aunt Lydia loved to talk.  When I was between jobs for a period of time, Aunt Lydia called me on the phone most afternoons.  She always had news to share, but also managed to give me some gentle advice and had a quiet manner of understanding others.  Like all my aunts, Aunt Lydia was a very good cook; for one of my favorite recipes from Aunt Lydia, please refer to my blog post of September 5, 2013, where you can read a little more about this aunt who raised three children on their Illinois farm which I so enjoyed visiting.

 

            Although each of my aunts was blessed with laughter and a sense of humor, Aunt Theda was the one who greatly enjoyed telling a humorous story or a joke.  She had a memorable laugh:  when I think of my Aunt Zita’s restaurant, one of the sounds that echoes in my mind is the laughter of Aunt Theda who was a waitress at Binole’s Restaurant for many years.  Then, Aunt Theda decided to go to “Beauty School” to become a beautician.  For decades, she worked as a hairdresser and owned her own shop.  I remember so distinctly that after my cousin Carole (Aunt Theda’s only child), two of our grade-school friends, and I went to a movie at the Palace Theatre on a Sunday, we walked to Aunt Theda’s shop for a ride home; however, she treated each of us to a “wash and set”—quite a treat when I was in the seventh grade.  Like all my aunts, Aunt Theda had a powerful work ethic.  Undoubtedly, if there had ever been a car race among the aunts, Aunt Theda would have won.  She did have a heavy foot to fly through those seven miles between our hometown of Blanford and Clinton, where her business was located.  At age 80, she was still the beautician for a few of her longtime customers.

 

            No one of my generation became a hairdresser:  almost all of us became teachers.  While all of my aunts taught me so much, only one of them was a teacher by profession.  The wife of my dad’s youngest brother taught at the elementary level in her home state of California for many years.  One of her two children became a teacher.  For decades, Aunt Kay was involved in politics.  After she retired from teaching, this aunt from the West Coast became a travel agent and conducted some tours: this profession seemed to suit her very well because she and my Uncle Jules had traveled around the world throughout their long marriage.  Besides traveling to exotic places, they also, from time to time, came to Blanford for a visit.  I looked forward to their visits because I knew great and stimulating conversations would ensue.  Aunt Kay was one of the most intelligent people whom I ever met.  Since she knew so much about such a wide variety of topics, I always thought she should have been a contestant on my favorite show—Jeopardy.  I think she would have been a five-time winner and would have returned to the show for the Tournament of Champions.  (Please return to my blog on February 2, when I plan to post one of Aunt Kay’s recipes.)

 

            Like Aunt Kay, Aunt Louise had a mind at which I marveled.  The wife of my dad’s next younger brother, Johnny—Aunt Louise—even into her 90s, had an unbelievable memory—not just for events or happenings, but for the corresponding dates.  As the years progressed, Aunt Louise became even dearer and sweeter in my mind.  Having raised two sons who were devoted to their parents, Aunt Louise and Uncle Johnny were perfectly matched in so many ways.  They viewed life from a very positive and happy pair of glasses.  Even during harder times, they were able to look ahead to brighter days and enjoy life.  For decades, they traveled to Las Vegas three or four times a year.  With family gathered around, they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in Las Vegas.  They were always sharply dressed.  Since they lived 90 miles away in Indianapolis, my parents and I enjoyed meeting my aunt and uncle at Turkey Run State Park for dinner at the lodge and a nice Sunday visit.  I think, due to their very positive attitudes, Aunt Louise lived to age 92; and Uncle Johnny also lived to age 92.  The famous radio commentator Paul Harvey really should have noted this couple’s 67 years of marriage.  Aunt Louise certainly left me a goal to live my life with a more positive attitude.

 

            Fortunately for many others and for me, 26 years after my paternal grandmother’s first child was born and 24 years after my dad was born—my grandma gave birth to my Aunt Kathy; thus, I am still blessed with one “young” aunt who should write a book about her childhood when she was growing up on the farm with four much older brothers.  In 1956, my dad’s sister married my mother’s nephew Bill; thus, our families (who had known each other in Italy) had become even more connected. This past summer, my cousin Carole and I—who were flower girls for my aunt’s wedding—went to Minnesota to help Aunt Kathy and Bill celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary.  (For a fun gift for their 57th anniversary, instead of a bottle of champagne, I gave them a bottle of Heinz 57 Steak Sauce.)  Through these 57 years, Aunt Kathy moved more times and moved the farthest from “home”; likewise, her three adult children live far from “home.”  Despite the miles between us, Aunt Kathy and I have remained close.  Perhaps, to often, I told my nephews, when they were in a not-so-talkative stage, that I would send them to the “Aunt Kathy School of Conversation!” Yes, on the phone or in person, Aunt Kathy is a most pleasant force of rapid conversation.  I like people who can easily carry on a good conversation.  Undoubtedly, her superb communication skills and her vibrant energy led also to her being an outstanding employee.  When she was in her teens, Aunt Kathy began working at the Vermillion County Hospital; along with raising her three children, she continued to work at doctors’ offices and at medical clinics as a medical transcriptionist.  Now, she and my uncle are retired and are blessed with four beautiful and extremely intelligent grandchildren; nevertheless, Aunt Kathy and Bill still remain on the Frozen Tundra of Minnesota.  When my sister and I visited our Minnesota relatives in August of 2011, my aunt gave to me a gift which I cherish.  During the time that my dad was in the Army (1941-1945), he gave his little sister a powder compact shaped like an Army hat.  Her giving me this gift from my extraordinary father continues to mean so very much to me.  While I would not visit Aunt Kathy and Bill in the middle of winter, visiting them is as close to being home with my family as this “senior-citizen writer, once-upon-a-time flower girl” can be.  They are far away from Indiana, but their hearts still exude that Hoosier and Italian-family spirit which still warms and nourishes my soul. 

 

            Each of my aunts is unique and remembered so fondly; each touched my life and embellished it in so many ways.  God bless all my special aunts! 

 

Counting blessings,

Alice

 

January 28, 2014, Tuesday (for posting on January 29, 2014, Wednesday)

 

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11 Comments
  1. May God bless you too. dp

  2. What a wonderful tribute to some wonderful women. And what luck, as you noted, to be born into a family with such forward thinking women. Mary Fornero and I had, coincidentally, just had a conversation about how many aunts there were in your family. ( It had come up in reference to an old article from the Clintonian containing local Italian family names.) This piece really hit the spot on that topic.

    • Fran–Thanks for telling me about the interesting coincidence. I miss THE DAILY CLINTONIAN and do remember the columns which focused on the “old days” of Clinton and the surrounding areas. My best to you and Mary F.–Alice

  3. Thanks, Alice, for the beautiful tribute to your aunts, our aunts, and my mother! You described all of them with perfection. I always look forward to the Wednesday blog, with your superb writing and delightful details. Your skill in capturing all of those memories in such an interesting way is exceptional. Love . . . Carole

  4. I don’t remember too much about my aunts. Most of them lived in other towns far away, were married to my father’s or mother’s brothers, and came to visit with their families once in a while. Most of them have now divorced my uncles, and I’ve lost touch with them except for one with whom I exchanged Christmas letters last year. My dad’s sister lives here in town, but I rarely see her. Thank you for sharing your wonderful memories of your aunts.

  5. Kathy Binole permalink

    I had to return to comment once the tears stopped flowing. What a moving tribute to your aunts and what a special birthday gift to me! I enjoy all of your blogs, especially of family. They bring back wonderful memories. Thank you for your wonderful writing and love of family. Much love to a special niece. Aunt Kathy

  6. Wonderful tribute, Alice! Hope you and Zoe are keeping warm.

  7. Nancy Buckner permalink

    Alice, thank you! So meaningful and so lovely.
    Love, Nancy

  8. Mary Fornero permalink

    Alice,
    Unfortunately, I only knew your midwestern aunts. What a moving tribute to all of them. For those of us in the Class of ’65, we have very special memories of Aunt Zita and Binole’s. She was always so kind and patient with us teen-age girls – not to mention her food. Ferruccio and I had our rehearsal dinner there. It was the perfect place for our family and friends.

  9. Our dear Aunt Kathy’s comment is as special as she is, Alice. I can’t help but think that our mother and all the aunts in heaven are buzzing with excitement about your wonderful collage! I know they are very proud of you!
    Love, Mary

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