My Two Great Aunts
My father had two old maid aunts, his father’s sisters, Anne and Margaret. Since neither ever married they always shared a home. Anne taught school while Margaret stayed home and kept house. When I was a child, my guess is that they were in their seventies. By that time, of course, Aunt Anne had retired and they both spent their days at home,
which was Nevada, Iowa, just down the street from St. Patrick’s, the Catholic Church where I and most of my siblings were baptized. Our farm was some seven miles away.
In my memory they looked like identical twins, although they were not. Their tightly permed silver-gray hair was neatly tucked under a hairnet and their steel blue eyes peered out through classic granny glasses perched on their noses. They both had receding chins and loose “old lady” skin which hung beneath and shook gently as they chattered. I was fascinated by their non-stop chattering, which contrasted sharply with my dad’s strong, silent demeanor.
Frequently my parents would stop in to visit them on Sunday afternoons or sometimes just after church. They were eager to have someone to talk to besides each other, although I’d venture to say it probably wasn’t much different than when it was just the two of them. Except that they had a fresh audience. As soon as my folks were greeted and seated and we kids were corralled onto the sofa and whatever chairs we could find, they would start their rather agitated recitation of the week’s news as they remembered it: who died, who had a baby, who got married, any scandals being rumored, and whatever else was on their minds. As soon as one aunt was about to wind up her thought and come up for air, the other would take over and chatter full speed ahead until she had to take a breather, too. Then the other would once again chime in. Between them, they totally dominated the conversation, if it could be called that. My mom and dad and the rest of us would find ourselves looking from Aunt Anne, back to Aunt Mag, and then back to Aunt Anne, and on it went. My folks barely had a chance to nod or shake their heads or perhaps squeeze in a quick yes or no when they were prompted.
After they had gotten a certain level of relief from getting at least part of their story out, one of them, usually Aunt Mag, would jump up and fetch graham crackers and milk for us kids. Sometimes I would follow her to the kitchen and admire her colorful crocheted Aunt Jemima hotpads hanging on the wall and fancy cloth covers on the toaster and mixer. We didn’t have fancy things like that at our house. I suppose the toaster and mixer kept so busy at our house that covers wouldn’t have made sense.
Aunt Mag would perch back on her chair and wait for her window of opportunity to introduce a new item or corroborate what Aunt Anne had said. They were never, ever at a loss for words. And it was obvious that both Aunt Anne and Aunt Mag doted on Mike, their brother’s eldest child, and looked to him for advice about the management of their acreage, which they had someone farm for them. In the falls, especially, since it was harvest time, that was a constant topic of conversation—getting the best price for the crops was uppermost on their minds.
They also adored Alice, my mother, but it wasn’t always so. The story goes that they had handpicked a proper Catholic girl for thirty-year-old Mike to marry. But to their chagrin, he up and fell in love with a young Missouri Methodist girl who came to Ames where Mike worked to spend the summer with her big sis who was married with little children. Very soon after her arrival, they were introduced and for my dad, it was love at first sight. Barely six months later they married and even though Alice had converted to Catholicism, it was a big adjustment for Aunt Anne and Aunt Mag. Things had not gone as they had planned for their Mike.
However, adjust they did and through the years they grew to love this sweet-natured woman Mike had chosen. But Mom loved to tell us the story of how she had upset the apple cart on Aunt Mag and Aunt Anne’s marriage plans for their favorite nephew.
Copyright 2005, Barbara E. Foley. All rights reserved.