Just about everyone has at least one aunt and uncle but not every family has an Aunt Pat. She was my favorite, and I looked forward to the time I spent with her which was not that often because they lived in Little Rock. Aunt Pat met my mom’s brother, my uncle Dub (nickname for W.C. initials only – named after W.C. Fields) when she was 15-years-old. Her dad, Mr. Stone, and mom, Nana Stone (that’s what everyone called her, but I think her first name was Pansy) moved to Haskell, OK during WWII so Mr. Stone – he had a military title that I don’t know – could oversee the German Prisoners of War housed in the Armory built a few years earlier by the WPA. The Armory was only two blocks from Nana and Jim-pa’s house where my mom said she used to sit in the big porch swing as a very young girl watching the POWs being marched up and down the street. In fact, my Aunt Betty and Aunt Shirley both met their spouses when the men guarded the POWs marching down Cherokee street in Haskell, Oklahoma. I find that fascinating. I had no idea there were German POWs housed anywhere in the US much less in the middle of it, did you? Anyway, back to Aunt Pat and Uncle Dub. Uncle Dub was a 17-year-old soda jerk at the local drug store and when Aunt Pat sashayed in.
Of course back then she was just Patsy Stone, teenaged daughter of the man who ran the Amory. The Stones came from Brownwood, Texas and Patsy was exactly what you think of when you think girl-from-Texas. I’ve seen a picture of her at that age – she was tall and lean with legs-up-to-there, sparkling blonde hair so high you just KNEW she was closer to Jesus than anyone you ever met, fashionably dressed and well made up with a Texas Twang revealing a free spirited laugh that I can still hear ringing clear as bell even though she’s been gone three or four years now. A high school cheerleader, Patsy was used to speaking loud and as clearly as her accent would allow. She walked in and plopped down on the first stool asking the handsome young man behind the counter to fix her a chocolate malted. Uncle Dub had twinkling blue eyes, dimples in his cheeks and one curly thatch of brown hair insistent on gracing his forehead. He went about gathering the ingredients and mixing the malt as “cool-ly” as he could. When it was completed, he poured it into the glass topping it with whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles and a cherry, straw on the side. When he sat it down in front of her with great flourish, she batted her eyes at him and said, “Thaaaaank Yeeeeeewwww!”with her head cocked ever so slightly towards him. Then she tasted it, trying to look cute and suck up the thick cream at the same time. She screwed up her nose and told him that was the worst chocolate malt she ever tasted and if he would let her come back behind the counter she would show him how it was done! From that moment on, they say they were in love. I’ve heard this story a million times, and I never tire of it.
They married just a few years later when he graduated from high school and they marched off to war together arm in arm all the way to Paris, France where my cousin Pamela was born. Isn’t that a romantic place to be born? Pam was a teenager in the 60’s and I always thought she was my most beautiful cousin. (I have 18 first cousins.) In fact, she looked almost identical to Tina Cole of My Three Sons fame. Pam was so rebellious, and I aspired to be her! In fact, she was such a maverick that when she was 16-years-old she petitioned the courts to change her name from the “hideously old-fashioned” Pamela to the hip and groovy “Leigh Ann”. Aunt Pat and Uncle Dub let her do it so everyone in the family, except my Jim-pa who refused “because it was stupid to let a child do such as that.” had to call her Leigh Ann for about two years until she became bored with that name too and changed it back to Pam. The 60’s were a crazy time.
Nine years after Pam was born Aunt Pat and Uncle Dub gave birth to Dana June. She is named after Mother Kalamity whose name is Doris June, at least it is now, but that’s another story. They are two peas in a pod alright – alike in so many ways. Rounding out the three-cousins-in-four years saga is my cousin Debbie Kay who was born the year before Dana to my Uncle Owen (mom’s brother as well) and his wife Aunt Jan. Cousins Debbie and Kent lived with my Uncle Owen and Aunt Jan in Henryetta, Oklahoma where Uncle Owen ran the local pharmacy (he was and still is a practicing pharmacist) and Aunt Jan was pretty much a socialite – if there is such a thing in Henryetta. They still live in a home on the hill at the end of the main street. It is a beautiful place and Debbie was lucky to grow up in it.
Debbie was cool in that tight jeans, red lipstick ring around a Virginia Slims kind of way. For the daughter of a staunch Baptist elder she presented herself as one wild child. She got a car at 16 tooling down the road in that El Camino woody with her feathered bangs whipping in and out the window while she nonchalantly flicked the ashes of her cigarette and flipped her dad the bird driving by Taylor Drug. Debbie was 16 but Dana actually looked 16, heck with some make up Dana looked 22 so when they came to Oklahoma Debbie and Dana were ALWAYS together. ALWAYS. And I was a baby at 13 ½ so I was NEVER invited along. NEVER. Sitting excitedly by the front door of the den anxiously waiting while watching Donnie and Marie until I saw the headlights of their car turn into our driveway on whatever appointed Friday night they came for a visit, I would run out to hug Aunt Pat knowing she would smell of popcorn and Chloe’. As I breathed in her sophistication, I would look into the back seat for Dana. Almost always, I would be told they had met Debbie at a rest stop somewhere along the way and maybe I would get to see Dana next time. Crushed doesn’t even cover it! Sometimes I couldn’t hold back the tears. I hated being left out; especially by the two people I looked up to the most.
Once, in an effort to redirect my focus, Aunt Pat promised that if I hushed crying she would take me shopping the next day at Gibson’s (an Oklahoma-based discount store) to buy me something very special and not get something either one of them! Well – THAT felt a little better. Okay then, we were going shopping by ourselves and they couldn’t go with US. Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it! I drifted off to sleep with my head in Aunt Pat’s lap, listening to the chatter of my parents visit with them about new happenings while I was dreaming of all the treasures we would buy at Gibson’s the next day that no one else could have …
The next morning, while eating my Toast ‘ems and watching Josie and the Pussy Cats, Aunt Pat was just creeping out of bed. I knew I would have time to watch Kukla, Fran, and Ollie on the CBS Children’s Film Festival before she was ready to go. Maybe she would take us to get lunch somewhere wonderful and exotic like that new Chinese restaurant. I didn’t even know what Chinese food was but I was sure Aunt Pat did! Off we went in her big Pontiac Bonneville, Aunt Pat in her cute dark green and brown plaid pant suit with matching flats she found at Dillard’s and me in my newest Dana hand-me-downs of purple and pink plaid cuffed leg, ultra-high wasted pants and a pink sweater with the Eiffel Tower outlined in little rhinestones – hey, I was hurt that she didn’t come see me but her clothes were very mod! I fancied myself a VERY mod woman underneath the frizzy hair, bad skin and braces.
As we bounced along to the rhythm of Lynn Andersen’s “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden,” Aunt Pat asked what I had been watching on that “Liiitttle Moooovie YYuuuu Weeeerrr Watchin”? I told her I didn’t know the name of it but that it was about two friends, a Catholic boy like all the kids I went to school with, and a Jewish girl who were best friends (later I looked up the film called Hand in Hand c. 1960) and how it was so difficult to be friends because of their different religions. I went on to tell her that people kept saying the Jewish girl was sooooooo different but she looked just like me, brown hair, brown eyes and she even had the same awful knee-high socks and Mary Janes mom made me wear.
Aunt Pat seemed interested, so felt obliged to throw in my two cents about the entire situation by saying that while I understood how the insecurity of one man with the gift of gab could incite people, I was surprised that the same number of people could overlook his ignorance – why anyone could see any substance in his speeches was beyond me. Aunt Pat asked if I had heard his speeches and I said I had heard several because on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the afternoon our class sculpted from something a little better than play-doh while recordings of historical speeches were played with translation voice-overs by nuns if necessary. We were at the light on York and Chandler Street in my hometown. When the light turned green, she just sat looking at me. She asked me if that’s what I really thought and I said yes, he was a total ignoramus, please-don’t-tell-mom-I-called-someone-an-ignoramus-or-I-will-get-in-trouble, his speeches made little sense but poverty had driven the masses to blame someone or something and this person gave an “answer” to the majority of people’s troubles. I reminded her that had happened several times throughout history but not with the same far-reaching results. Still she sat there. I didn’t quite know what to say so I looked up at the light and she finally pushed on the gas pedal.
Since I had wowed her with my brain I thought I might put a cherry on that cake by telling her about “The Great Grape Speech” and how I had not knowingly eaten an American grown grape since 1968 and that was seven whole years! I would eat grape jelly but only Muscadine that Nana made herself. He response to that was it was sweet of me but very odd.
**Full disclosure is that I still do not eat American grown grapes because I feel as strongly today about the migrant farmworker’s plight – probably because my great-aunts and uncles were fruit pickers – and this is a reminder to my soul that while we all may well be created equally, we are not born into equal circumstance, and I am very lucky.**
We got to Gibson’s, and after much thought I chose a bright orange “hairy” pillow for my very groovy room that had an actual black light and black light posters in it. Then she took me to lunch where we ate something new called a Chineeeese buff-ayyyyyyy.
When we pulled into the drive way, she reached into the back and got the pillow. When she handed it to me she held tight to it and said, “Kelli, you have the gift of gab and those nuns have taught you things most people will never have the privilege of knowing. Don’t you dare waste all that. Each time you look at this pillow hear me say that yeeeeeeewwwwwwww muuuuuuust uuuuuuse that giiiift to help those not as fortunate as you.” I was 14 then. I finally HAD to throw away the threadbare pillow that had accompanied me to college, marriage, childbirth and even divorce. I was 34 years old. 20-year-old pillow was matted, partially bald and not the bright florescent orange it used to be but it still held the magic of Aunt Pat’s encouraging words.
A couple of years ago in November, Dana (who I forgave a long time ago – big old snot that she is) called to say the words I dreaded more than any I had heard since my dad died. If I wanted to see Aunt Pat I had to come in the next day or two. I wanted to take her something but I wasn’t sure what – I always knew how much she loved Dillard’s, she even worked there during Christmas so she could get “the discount” for her Christmas shopping and the new spring line of clothing. I wandered around the store kind of aimlessly and just when I had decided to leave, as I passed through the bedding section. There mixed among the girl’s comforters and duvets were a few big hairy pillows just like the one she gave me only this one was in her favorite colors: Royal Blue and Emerald Green. Good grief they were back in style. Perfect!
Saturday afternoon my daughter and I drove over to Aunt Pat’s house. When we arrived there she was, small and drawn, the hospital bed in the living room so she could be near all the commotion. The big blonde hair, long painted finger nails and diamonds were gone but her spirit lifted when I came in. We sat and talked for a long time then I read her this story and gave her that pillow. Dana, Pam, my daughter and I stood around sniffling, crying and laughing at the same time when Dana slapped me on the back of the head and said I got the better end of the deal back then. Aunt Pat only vaguely remembered the pillow but she was clear on the conversation – so she asked me if I felt like I had done what she’d asked. I said yes. She smiled, patted my hand and said, “Meeee tooo darlin’, me too.”
Kelli Davidson is our blogger of the month for August. She blogs at Kelli’s Retro Kitchen Arts.