Forever Sixteen
Barbara E. Foley

Someday when I am long gone and my nieces and nephews are reminiscing about their many aunts and uncles,  I hope they will say that I was a colorful character. Those two words surely describe my Aunt Mary Ford. She was married to my mother’s older brother, Rance Nathaniel Ford, known to us as Uncle Rance.

It was her second marriage and she had two sons, Howard Lee and Evert, from her first marriage. Together, Mary and Rance produced two sets of twins: first, identical twins, Mary Alice and Cathryn Marie (approximately 1944), and then, fraternal twins, Robert and Charlene (approximately 1952). That in itself makes her a remarkable woman!

When I was a young girl, their family (minus the two older boys who were evidently grown by then) would make car trips from their home in Kansas City, Missouri, up to our central Iowa farm. My first memories of their visits start when the younger twins were about four or five, the older twins maybe twelve, and I was about eight. For about the next five years, these trips happened annually, or so I remember.

Their Missouri accents were a novelty to our Iowa ears. On their arrival days, we would stand back, poking each other and giggling, until we got somewhat accustomed to the strangeness of their southern drawls.

I am the tenth of twelve children and we were already overflowing in our small farmhouse. Don’t ask me where Mom found room for six more bodies! All I can tell you is that there was always room for company at our house. And plenty to eat. But let’s get back to Aunt Mary.

She was an attractive lady, probably 5’4” or so, petite, with dark, wavy hair, sparkling-  blue eyes, and a rather dark complexion. There was always a beautiful smile on her face. In fact, she was usually laughing about something. Mom commented that Aunt Mary was forever sixteen. That was not meant as criticism because it was obvious that Mom enjoyed Aunt Mary’s company—everyone did.

Aunt Mary had a fun-loving nature and loved to tell stories and anecdotes, animating them with entertaining body language. She would pick just the right moment to twirl her index finger in the air or throw her head back and laugh as she swung her hip to the side. Everyone laughed with her except Uncle Rance, who would shoot her disapproving glances and chastise her every chance he got. Mom adored her big brother, but even so, she would get after him for being so hard on his wife.

Uncle Rance was, I suspect, not an easy man to live with. In fact, he was no doubt chauvinistic and he would often be cranky with Aunt Mary, although he was sweet and friendly with everyone else, even his kids. But she knew how to handle him.

I’ve never forgotten one particular occasion when he had gone down to our basement to take a shower. After a while, Mary realized he had forgotten to take a towel. Being the thoughtful person she was, she grabbed a clean towel and ran down the basement steps to deliver it. She was soon back laughing and telling us that Rance had snapped at her for walking in on him in his birthday suit.

“Woman, what do you mean barging in on me?” he yells at me.

“Well, Ford,” I told him, “I just thought you might be needin’ a towel to dry yourself. Next time I’ll remember to wear my shades!” Then she burst into laughter and we all laughed with her, but, of course, no one mentioned it when Uncle Rance came up from the basement.

My sense is that there was always a twinkle in her eye. Unfortunately, there was usually also a cigarette in her hand. And it was amazing to me how she could manage to do almost anything, all the while balancing that cigarette in one hand. For instance, I can picture her opening their suitcases and sorting and selecting fresh outfits for everyone from neat stacks of carefully pressed and folded clothes. Somehow she would manage this with the right hand, lit cigarette in her left hand, and usually talking and laughing through it all. I would stand by saucer-eyed as I took in the juggling act.

This memory, by the way, tells me that Aunt Mary had some organizational skills. Can you imagine the headache of packing for six people for a week? She made it look easy.

It would be magical to be able to relive those family visits of long ago. One of these years, I hope to drive to Missouri, look up my cousins, and reconnect. It will be intriguing to discover in what ways Aunt Mary’s daughters have become like their kind-natured, fun-loving mother. I am hoping to once again experience flavors of her though them.

P.S.  We all loved Uncle Rance, too, and I didn’t mean to be overly harsh on him. But, truth is, he had an ornery streak, and Aunt Mary seemed to get the full brunt of it. As the song says, we tend to hurt the ones we love the most.

Copyright 2005, Barbara E. Foley. All rights reserved.

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