A visit to Aunt Julie’s house was wild times. There were no rules, except one. She needed her afternoon nap, so we had to lie down from one to three till she was done. I thought two hours of enforced bed time would kill me, but we spent the time wisely, playing semi-quietly, tussling with puppies, kittens, turtles, frogs, or lizards, giggling, and building forts. Eventually we’d get around to jumping on the bed and she’d be forced to quiet us with an expletive, a reward in itself since I never got to hear cursing or filthy talk at home.
Aunt Julie’s kids were feral children, with no fashion concerns, styling about in their underwear, or step-ins, as Aunt Julie called them. I embraced this style and would have been a faithful follower, had Mother not shown up and stuck her big nose in my business.
“Don’t you EVER pull that stunt again. (EVER was spoken through clenched teeth for emphasis.). You KNOW better”
i always hated knowing better. “But Aunt Julie….” She cut me off.
“You heard me. Get in the house and get some clothes on right now.” The breeze on my flat chest was just a memory now. Sadly, I went for clothes. Mother was such a downer.
Scary stories are best when told by a believer. On a cold, dark night, the women and children clustered cozily around the fireplace at Aunt Ader’s old house while the men were out hunting. By the firelight, mothers in straight back wooden chairs bumped rhythmically back and forth to lull their little ones off to sleep, as their older kids stretched out pallets in the front room enticed by oft-repeated family tales, some funny, some sad, some terrifying.
I recall this sad story as deliciously heartbreaking, though I never knew any of these distant relatives of relatives. My Great-Aunt Jo told of her pregnant Cousin Lou on her daddy’s side from way over in Alabama. Back before Aunt Jo was born, Cousin Lou left her baby Jessie Mae on a pallet under the shade of an oak while picking beans with her family nearby. Lou looked back often to check her sleeping baby. It was resting so well, she picked on a bit longer, hoping to get enough beans to can a few jars. Little Jessie never made a peep. When Lou’s basket was filled, she came back to retrieve the baby and was horrified to find the shade had shifted and the baby burned beet-red in the sun. Lou and her mother, Ruth, rushed to sponge the baby with cool spring water. For three days, Little Jessie lingered between life and death, before dying. The family had to restrain poor grief-stricken Lou from pulling the baby from the coffin at the burial. She gave birth to a seven-month baby a few days later that only lived a few hours. Though she went home to live with her husband, all she did was pine for her lost babies. She became catatonic, unable to eat, dress herself, or leave the chair where she rocked her dead child’s rag doll. A few months after her grieving young husband took her home to her mama, Ruth, it became obvious she was pregnant again. It was hoped the new baby would bring her back to life though she never responded to the new baby Sally, just kept rocking Baby Jessie’s doll. Ruth was left to raise little Sally and manage her sick daughter. On good days, Lou was like a docile child, sitting quietly or doing simple tasks. On rough days, she cried and rocked her rag doll. On her worst days, she wailed and tried find her baby or throw herself in the well. When she finally roused enough to try to hang herself, Ruth had to put her in the asylum where poor, deranged Lou managed to hang herself after a couple of months. Because she’d killed herself, she was hastily buried at the asylum and couldn’t have a Christian burial with her lost babies. Afterwards, people swore they could hear Lou crying, trying to get to her babies’ graves in the church cemetery dark, moonless nights. I still get tingles thinking of it.
Uncle Dunc and Aunt Lucille had a houseful of kids. Sometimes we were lucky enough that Bert, the eldest would drop in our games, raising our rough play to fever pitch. Naturally, he tired of us soon, leaving us deflated when he went about the business. I was always leery of the two big girls, since they seemed smart-aleck. Ava, the oldest, was pretty with a bouncy, blonde ponytail. Though I overheard Mother whispering she was trashy for mowing in her swimsuit out by the road, I thought it made perfect sense and worked well for her since she married a guy with a greasy ducktail and had a baby before her seventeenth birthday. I kept a watch on both girls to see if they sprouted leg hair like Aunt Lucille.
I believe Ava saw herself like this.
Prudy, the next girl was skinny with a lot of pimples and wore those pointy bras common to the late fifties and early sixties. Her swimsuit kind of wrinkled over her skinny behind so she didn’t mow out by the street. In fact, she worked as a carhop down at the drive-in for a while after dropping out of high school before hooking Toxie, who worked at the filling station and always smelled like oil. Red rags always hung out of his back pocket. I never had any contact with Toxie except when he yelled at me from under the hood of an old car suspended from a tree branch in Uncle Dunc’s front yard when I hit a ball into it. I never really liked him much after that.
Carolyn was just a couple of years ahead of me, but must have been easier to control than her big sisters. Her long hair, parted down the middle was braided so tightly it pulled her eyes back and hung in tight, thin braids almost to her waist. The other girls must have rebelled against their mother in their dress and behavior, but at ten or so, mousy little Carolyn suffered under Aunt Lucille’s bossiness, since she only wore dresses and had to attend fundamentalist church services along with her mother and younger twin brothers. They were wild little boys a couple of years younger than I, still peed their pants a good bit, and didn’t seem worried by Aunt Lucille at all. Carolyn said she wouldn’t be allowed to have boyfriends, drop out of school, or cut her hair till she was sixteen. I was only six or seven at the time, but that seemed very unfair to me.
I made a point to stay out of Aunt Lucille’s way since she yelled at kids a lot and was fond of using a switch on Carolyn and the little boys when she could catch them. I certainly never asked to spend the night like I did at Cousin Sue’s and Cousin Cathy’s house. We only visited Uncle Dunc for a year or so, until he moved off Aunt Ader’s Place, which incidentally was very near Daddy’s favorite brother. I heard later he gave up drinking after a car-wreck left him paralyzed and he had no one to depend on but Aunt Lucille.
House much like Aunt Ader’s
Not understanding the nature of inebriation, I assumed Uncle Dunc, a great name for a drunk, was just playful when he laughed at all our jokes and fell off the high porch chasing us. No one bothered to explain for years that Dunc was a drunk. He was one of my mawmaw’s youngest siblings, younger than some of her own children. Her mother, Cynthia, was a scandal, having been twice divorced before she married John Miller. John only lasted long enough to father a daughter and twin boys in quick succession before dying of lead poisoning. He was shot in a bar fight, he was saved the heartbreak of his fickle wife’s abandonment. Presumably, his son Duncan was the bad apple that didn’t fall too far from either parental tree.
Aunt Lucille demeanor didn’t match Uncle Dunc’s. She was a dour, strait-laced woman not given to smiling, though it’s not likely she had much to smile about, considering her life with Dunc. She looked a lot like Smokey the Bear in a dress. I have never seen a woman more hirsute before or since. Her unibrow and mustache dominated her round face and coarse, black hair, resembling pubic hair covered her legs, though I had no knowledge of such a thing at the time. After a visit there, Daddy always warned against us girls against shaving our legs or we’d end up with legs like Lucille. I was far too young at the time to be aware of leg-shaving anyway, but I certainly didn’t want Smokey the Bear legs like that.
Most of the time when we visited Uncle Dunc’s place, many other Aunts, Uncles, and cousins were there. After dark, a propane lantern hanging on the big front porch cast a cone of light and dozens of cousins chased each other hysterically in and out of the shadows while parents visited in the cool of the front porch. Mamas rocked babies and put them down to sleep on pallets just inside the house where they could be heard if they squeaked. Sometimes there would be home-made vanilla, peach, or banana ice-cream made in hand-cranked freezers. The evening usually ended when exhausted kids were called in for ice-cream, but on the best nights, the old folks launched into deliciously terrifying ghost stories, made all the better because the teller believed them.
A few of my forty first cousins.
To be continued