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A Collage of Aunts (An Update)

January 24, 2018

 

NOTE:  For this week’s WORDWALK post, I revised the essay “A Collage of Aunts,” which I first posted on January 29, 2014, in the midst of Polar Vortex II.  Since my Aunt Kathy will celebrate her twenty-first-plus-six-decades birthday this weekend, I thought that my family and, hopefully, you will enjoy this updated version of “A Collage of Aunts.”

 

A Collage of Aunts

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

The Milwaukee Streetcar Project seems a little less bothersome if I count my blessings—instead of days, months, and years that my guide dogs and I have been surrounded by construction.  Among the blessings which I count are my

seven aunts.  Only one of my dear aunts is still living—my Aunt Kathy, whose birthday this weekend, 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 had 20/20 vision or worn glasses?  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, one year prior to my entering grade 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.

 

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 Clinton, Indiana’s 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.  Even at age 80, she was still the beautician for a few of her longtime customers.

 

No one of my generation became a restauranteur nor 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 (Jules) taught at the elementary level in her home state of California for many years.  One of her two children also 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 the small town of 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 visit my archived blog post of February 5, 2014, for Aunt Kay’s Quiche recipe.)

 

Like Aunt Kay, Aunt Louise had a mind at which I marveled.  Even into her 90s, Aunt Louise, the wife of my dad’s next younger brother (Johnny), 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.  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 (“Charlie”) was born and 24 years after my dad (“Jimmy”) 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. In the summer of 2013, 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 the years, Aunt Kathy moved to two Eastern states and two other Midwestern states for her husband’s work as a chemist and food plant manager; likewise, her three adult children live far from “home.”  Despite the miles between us, Aunt Kathy and I have remained close.  Perhaps, too 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.  Although she has been retired in Minnesota for a number of years, Aunt Kathy is quite active at the Y and with church groups.  Besides being blessed with good health and good neighbors, Aunt Kathy is blessed with four beautiful and extremely intelligent grandchildren, as well as one darling great-granddaughter who loves Elvis’ music and her “G.G.” (great-grandma).  Thus, traveling to Mexico, Oregon, and Ohio is important to my “jet-setting” aunt.

 

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.  In December of 2016, when I sent copies of my book, The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season, to family members and friends as Christmas gifts, Aunt Kathy called me after reading my holiday book.  On a voice-mail message, my aunt, filled with emotion, managed to say, “Your parents would be so proud of you.”  These words from my Aunt Kathy meant more to me than any words from even a reviewer from The New York Times could mean.

 

While I would not visit Aunt Kathy in Minnesota in the middle of winter, visiting my aunt is as close to being home with my family as this “senior-citizen writer, once-upon-a-time flower girl” can be.  Aunt Kathy is far away from Indiana, but her heart still exudes 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!

 

SPECIAL REQUEST:  In the “Comments Section” of this blog, please share a note about a special aunt of yours; or, if you know my Aunt Kathy, please add a birthday wish for her.  Thanks!

 

Counting blessings and sending birthday wishes to my Aunt Kathy,

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

January 24, 2018, Wednesday

 

 

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18 Comments
  1. Dear Alice,
    Thank you so much for writing this beautiful tribute to our amazing aunts! Your memories of them, not only brought tears of love to my eyes, but also gratitude for these admirable women in our lives. I wish we could all be together to celebrate Aunt Kathy’s birthday, as we have gathered to celebrate so many treasured family times in the past. Happy 81st Birthday, Aunt Kathy! Although we are miles apart, you will be close to our hearts on your special day and always.
    Love, Mary E.

    • Mary–Many thanks for being the first to add a comment on this special post!  Cheers to Aunt Kathy!

      Love, Alice and Willow (who gives Aunt Kathy a “four-paw” rating!)

  2. Alice, what a great tribute to an amazing collection of strong, independent women. I remember your post about your aunt, and it hardly seems like it was five years ago. Here’s to many more wonderful posts. Thanks for another wonderful taste of your gifted craft Alice. dp

    • Deon–Special thanks for your nice comment!  Oh, yes, these years are rolling by too quickly.  I appreciate your reading all 1993 words of this post–perhaps, my longest.  I know well from your writings that you also have quite a remarkable family.

      Talk to you soon about “Rainbows Rising”–Alice and Willow

  3. Sue McKendry permalink

    Alice–Perhaps I enjoyed this post so much because while I am not a mother, I am an aunt. With no children to remember me down the road, maybe one of my nieces or nephews will. It is always enjoyable to read about your family with so many interesting and noteworthy individuals on both sides.

    As per your request, I’ll say a few words about my mother’s oldest sister, Aunt Irene. She was also ahead of her time in that most northern Wisconsin farm girls did not go to college. Aunt Irene did, through her own hard work. Since she was the oldest of 11, there was no possibility of financial help from the parents. She became a nurse, and worked at a hospital in Neopit, located on the Menomonee Indian Reservation, where she met her husband. They moved to Milwaukee where he worked for American Motors. After marriage, Irene was a housewife and mother to their four children. We saw them more often than the other relatives who were scattered around “up north.” She always made me feel special and sympathized with my challenges of being the oldest. When she and Uncle Gordon downsized, selling their house and moving to a condo, she gifted me with her sewing machine and boxes of bobbin thread in every color imaginable. She was a petite, kind woman, and I don’t remember ever hearing her say anything negative about anyone.

    And, though I don’t know your Aunt Kathy, I will go ahead and wish her a happy birthday too, since my eight aunts have all gone on to their final reward.–Sue

    • Sue–Thanks so much for your wonderful comment on this “Aunts” blog!  I do appreciate your adding the story about your very interesting Aunt Irene.  How thoughtful of you to wish my aunt a happy birthday!

      Always glad to read your comments!

      Take good care–Alice and Willow

  4. Fran Rayce permalink

    Alice-What a lovely tribute to your influential aunts. What strong, independent women, who made a difference in their piece of the world, you told us about. And happy birthday to Kathy, one of the two strong Massa women in the CHS class of ‘55.

    As someone who had a number of admirable women for aunts, (both biological and by marriage), I am most grateful for the loving acceptance they extended to me and the many small kindnesses that added up to a very large and wonderful example of how to treat others.

    • Fran–Warm thanks for adding such a special and thoughtful comment to this post!  I am glad that you mentioned the Class of ’55 at Clinton High School. Thanks for another birthday wish for my Aunt Kathy!

      Take care–Alice and Willow

  5. Carole permalink

    Thank you, Alice, for the exceptional descriptions of the amazing aunts on both sides of your family. I wish to add my mother’s sister, who was also a business woman and a loving second mother to me. Aunt Tam (Fran) had a great personality, kind demeanor, and quite the professional who also cherished family time with us every Sunday and holidays.

    Thanks also for sharing the memories of my mother, who had a strong work ethic, great memory, and enjoyed life to its fullest. And yes, she would have won the race of endurance and speed.

    Happy, Happy Birthday to cousin Kathy, who has remained young at heart and soul, as well as actively defying the sign of aging. Enjoy your travels and family time!

    Love,
    Carole

    • Carole–Many thanks for the “like” and your comment on this post about aunts!  I am especially glad that you added a note about your special Aunt Tam, from whom you inherited so many traits. Also, so nice to have a birthday wish for Aunt Kathy, from the other flower girl!

      Talk with you tomorrow–Alice and Willow

  6. Happy, happy birthday to your Aunt Kathy and our sister-in-law. Lots of love and good wishes go out to her.
    Love, Don and Kathy

    • Don and Kathy–Welcome to Wordwalk, and thanks for posting a birthday wish for Aunt Kathy!

      Enjoy the weekend!

      Alice and Willow

  7. Gina Amerman permalink

    Dear Alice, I really enjoyed your Tribute to your aunts! I was lucky to meet many of them in my long friendship with you and Mary! Since I lost both of my parents at a young age, my many aunts also had a great deal of influence on me and my sister. Mary and I visited your Aunt Kathy in her home when we were teens–and always had such fun! Two of my aunts-my Aunt Beulah, 98, and my Aunt Joan (Dunlap, one of your teachers at CHS) 92, are still very important to me. They are very strong women and wonderful examples for all of our family. Happy Birthday Kathy!
    Love, Gina

    • Hi, Gina–How nice to hear from you again!  Many thanks for adding a comment about your special aunts!  I am especially glad that you mentioned your aunt who taught for many years at Clinton High School.  Also, thank you for sending another birthday wish to my Aunt Kathy with whom I had a long telephone chat this Friday evening.  She is in the “land of this year’s Super Bowl” and had much to tell me about the events that have already begun in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

      Hoping this new year has started off very well for you and your family–Alice and Willow

  8. Katherine Binole permalink

    Alice, thank you for the updated blog regarding your aunts. A beautiful tribute to all, especially special for this aunt who celebrated her 81st birthday! It brought back many happy and fun memories of all along with a few tears. These aunts were special to me too. One was my sister, who died at birth, three were my sister-in-laws, one my mother-in-law, and two Bill’s aunts. Thank you for writing about our Italian heritage,our Indiana upbringing and our loving family. It means so much to this “old” aunt.
    I don’t comment on your blog because as in conversation and writing, I’m too long winded. I usually call or email you.
    Thanks to all for birthday wishes.
    I love you, Aunt Kathy

    • Aunt Kathy–I am delighted that the “star” of this blog post has added an especially nice and much-appreciated comment.  Your additional note has made this “Collage of Aunts” even more special for me!

      So glad that you enjoyed your birthday weekend, and best wishes for a wonderful year!

      Love always, Alice and Willow

  9. Paula permalink

    Lovely piece, Alice. Such a loving tribute to your Aunts! All of my Aunts are special, but one , Aunt Leona, who we called Aunt No-no when young kiddos, then, and now, represents some of the best memories that I have of my early years. Memories of walking into her home on a cold winter’s day, warmth enveloping us from the big black wood cook stove and the smell, and soon taste. Of fresh baked bread, sliced and slathered in butter then dipped in a generous side of molasses. Now doesn’t that image do it for ya?! Wonderful memory family, welcoming, home.

    • Hello, Paula–Oh, yes, that homemade bread with butter and molasses sounds superb!  Many thanks for sharing this warm and wonderful story about your special aunt!  I do appreciate reading your family story on this cold January night.

      Great to hear from you again!

      Best wishes–Alice

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