Just as some folks deserve to be forgotten, some people deserve to be remembered. So it is with my Aunt Bess. She deserves to be remembered.
It is strange how her story stayed with me all these years. When I was growing up, this bandy-legged, sun browned woman never directly took center stage in the drama of my family’s life. But she was always a presence.
Aunt Bess was a hardworking farmer’s wife who could wring a chicken’s neck and then serve it for dinner. I remember vividly the times she would snag a hen and then finish the job in her cellar. I even recall that the floor of the cellar had a hard mud-packed floor.
There was so much about this woman that I did not appreciate at the time. Farm life begins early. Roosters do wake you and you better get up and eat because you will need your energy. Aunt Bess would head out to do morning chores. The worst place in the world to me was the chicken coop.
Gathering eggs, feeding animals, cleaning out barns, washing produce, doing something to the milk (never figured out why the milk was poured into a bucket over a clean cloth). These were daily jobs, and they never went away. You always had to feed the pigs you might say. I even bottle fed a few myself. About this time in my life, I knew I would always be a “city mouse.”
Also I never heard Aunt Bess complain. My other aunts (my city aunts) did and often with tears in their eyes. Mostly she always had a bit of a smile. I figured out later that was her general attitude to life. She possessed an inner peace that was also poured through a cloth to siphon off the grit maybe. Still don’t know.
During the summer, almost every Sunday my family, four kids, and parents would pile into our old, green Dodge and ride out to visit. That ride lasted forever. And no air conditioning.
Aunt Bess would always welcome us. Everyone ate Sunday dinner in the dining room. Nothing fancy, there were always fresh, homegrown vegetables, chicken, and beef. How I loved the sweet corn. We would leave with a cardboard box filled with eggs, corn, tomatoes, peppers, and stuff that she had canned. Her chili sauce was magical; she did this for every visit. I never realized what a blessing it was, but I know my parents did.
After she died, I discovered a bit of drama I never would have suspected. When my Uncle Tom fell in love and married Bess, his family disowned him. Back then children were expected to marry in their own ethnic group. I assume they came to love her; but, maybe not. I do not know.
As a couple, she and my Uncle Tom must have had a great respect for each other. Aunt Bess once told me, ”Lucille, I’m not afraid of dying. Uncle Tom and I talked about it, and we know it will be alright.” She didn’t elaborate. I just nodded my head like I knew what she meant. They consulted each other in ways I never imagined.
In her life, she found satisfaction and contentment tending to Uncle Tom, her family, and the land, but she did have a weakness–store bought bakery. How she loved the chocolate chip sweet rolls and the butter crust bread from our Chicago bakery. Rural communities rarely had bakeries.
Even bathrooms were a bit of luxury that came with time, and Lifebuoy was the soap of the day.
Aunt Bess was my Mother’s sister and dearest friend, the only person on earth that my mom completely trusted. As we grew away from our Sunday visits, I got on with my own interests, but the time I spent with my Aunt Bessie stayed with me. Bits and pieces of that time remind me that somehow what we became and did was made from these memories. One way or the other, we will be part of someone’s story, too.
2016 is upon us. Enjoy!