People have been calling me Peaches for many years, but Aunt Peaches is new. When my niece Abigail was born last December, it felt like I had been waiting for her since I was a child. Isn’t that strange?
Being an Aunt is a big deal for me. I’m sure a lot of you are Aunts and Sisters and Mothers and Grandmothers and Caregivers and Brothers and Daughters and Sons and Spouses…the list goes on as long as you like, but the point I make is that everyone is special to somebody. You are special to somebody. I am special to someone else. That 19-year-old guy who cut me off in his Ford Bronco yesterday afternoon, that Buttmunch with Attitude, is somebody’s baby. Somebody’s brother. Somebody’s friend. To somebody, he is special.
In the world of somebodies and specialness, the relationship between Aunt and niece is particularly sacred to me. In my life, Aunts have always been a source of comfort, guidance, encouragement, and, sometimes, a swift kick to the rump when I needed it most. And Aunts certainly don’t need to be related either. As soon as title is issued, the relationship is sealed: Y’all are family.
They say it takes a village to raise a child…truer words have never been spoken. My Mom died when I was pretty young and it was a village of Aunts who picked up the pieces. Some of them were my parent’s sisters, but most where good friends and neighbors who became as close as family, if not closer. These women would swoop into my life one afternoon at a time and teach me life’s most important lessons; everything from driving instructions, to cooking lessons, to sewing projects, to embarrassing visits to the doctor and the ladies underwear department.
Most of these women were busy with lives and families of their own. I rarely saw any one of them more than once every few weeks, but, whatever time we spent together, they packed in as much love and learning as possible. They knew I didn’t have a mother and wanted to pack their motherly wisdom into every minute we shared. In this regard, I consider myself extremely fortunate. Don’t get me wrong, losing your Mom sucks, but the way I see it, my life lessons came to me like one of those Church fundraiser cookbooks…you know, where every member of the congregation contributes two or three of their very best lessons….Mr. Johnson’s Famous Crab Dip and Sheriff Trotters House Seasoning and Amy Caldwell’s Banana Bread…a diverse collection of the very best formulas for success. There’s no back-of-the-box recipes in those cookbooks, just thoughtful, time-tested, quality stuff. Yes, those books are always scattered, and sloppy, and sometimes the spelling is laughable, but I tell you one thing; the food is Damn Good.
But I digress. One day I’ll write a post on Why People are Like Cookbooks …another time…back to the Aunts….
Some of the Aunts never had time, or maybe they felt too awkward to hang out one-on-one. Instead they would drop stuff off on our doorstep, usually with a lovely note.
I was baking nut bread and thought you might enjoy some. Call anytime.
Random gifts of food are a pretty normal thing when someone dies, especially when it comes to a new widower/single father…but after months passed, the gifts turned from food to more random items; jumbo packs of socks, hand soap, school supplies, etc..
There was a double coupon in the paper on plastic forks this morning so I picked up extra. We won’t use them, I’ll just save you the trip. Call anytime.
It’s not like my Dad couldn’t afford to buy us stuff, it just made them feel good. They slept better at night knowing our household paper towel supply was taken care of. As I got older, the Aunts started dropping stuff off specifically for me. Teenage years are awkward for all girls, and they wanted to be sure I didn’t end up confused and misguided. One time my dad opened the front door to find a small shopping bag on the stoop. It was tampons. Think that’s embarrassing? You should have seen the note Aunt Laura left on it.
Wanted to be sure you had some of these around the house. Let me know if you need any help with instructions. Call anytime.
FOLLOWED BY A HAND DRAWN DIAGRAM.
The way my dad dropped that bag you would think it contained a severed head. God Bless Aunt Laura.
My favorite doorstep gifts always came from Aunt Dooney, a generous and eccentric woman with a penchant for story book sweaters two sizes too small. Even in her 50s she could stop traffic with her good looks. The lines around her mouth and eyes indicated a history of happiness, struggle, and a fondness for tanning beds. She grew up dirt poor and married her high school sweetheart at age 15, Boon. They lived on a shoestring for many years, until one day in the late seventies when Boon found the shell of a Motel 6 Jacuzzi tub down at the dump. He strapped it in the back of a flatbed truck, filled it with water and his beautiful wife, then drove around town with a sign that read $5 WATER RIDES ON WHEELS.
Ten years later they owned a fleet of limousines and the biggest house on the block. The American Dream.
Aunt Dooney quit working 60+ hours a week as a waitress and stayed home as a lady of leisure. She took up tennis down at the country club and watched soap operas as if it were her job. As the World Turns was her favorite. She was never seen without lipstick and pastel pearls. Despite their new found wealth, Aunt Dooney still shopped like she was living hand-to-mouth. It was Aunt Dooney that taught me how to clip coupons and only buy on sale. She filled their massive home with second hand furniture and thrift store finds. She didn’t have any kids of her own and was quick to spoil me and the many other children lucky enough to know her. Because she knew how much I loved playing dress up, she started buying me $5 bridal gowns in kindergarten. As I got older the thrift store dresses kept coming. Even when I was way-too-mature for Halloween costumes. She’d find a stained quilt or a tattered leather coat and drop it off with a note…
This was too good of a deal to pass up! Tear it apart and put it back together. Now go make something pretty!
When I was 17, Aunt Dooney left a package on our door that looked a little different. Her gifts came from the thrift store and usually came delivered in a paper bag, clean but rumpled with little ceremony or expectation. This one was in a handled shopping bag with lavender tissue peeping up. It was unusually large. I recognized the handwriting as soon as I opened the note;
I know you are used to secondhand, but prom is coming up and I wanted you to have the very best. I saw it in the store and knew it was made for you. It will look so beautiful. I can’t wait to see you in it!
It was a dress. A giant, peach, ruffled prom dress. We are talking Melanie Hamilton-Wilkes Style Big Ass Dress.
Now, Peaches is my family nickname, and plenty of people, even those who don’t call me Peaches directly somehow associate me with the color peach. Today I love it, but then, I hated it. Passionately. And even if that dress had been a different color, there is no way in hell I was going to be seen wearing it to my prom. I would like to tell you that if I had to do it over again, I would be mature enough to suck it up and wear it, but no. I don’t think I could do it. Some things are just never going to change.
Aunt Dooney was such a sweetheart and I knew it would break her heart if I didn’t wear it. I told my Dad and cried and pretended it was eating me up inside, when really, I just wanted to make sure I got the dress I wanted. You know what he did? He made the ultimate sacrifice. He lied for me. He called Aunt Dooney and told her he had already bought me a dress a long time ago, and as lovely as this dress is, he could see it cost a pretty penny and should probably go back to the store.
I guess he just assumed she would drop by and pick it up, but she didn’t. A week went by, that dress stood in the hall. Made me sick with guilt every time I saw it. I hid it in the closet. When nearly a month had passed, my Dad started pestering me to take it over before it could no longer be returned. I ignored him. One day he picked me up at the mall and I saw that shopping bag with the lavender tissue sitting in the back seat. I knew we were making a stop on the way home.
This was a big deal. My dad never told me to do anything I didn’t want to do. Prior to that moment, I can only think of two occasions when he said no to me and both involved dessert. And he wondered where my crazy sweet tooth came from?
But today wasn’t about dessert. It was about doing the right thing. This woman had been looking out for me for years and I was not going to be rotten towards her, not if he could help it. He couldn’t force me to wear the dress, but he was going to make sure I didn’t sweep the dress under the rug, my relationship with Aunt Dooney going with it.
Aunt Dooney’s house was old colonial. Very traditional, except for two cement bunny statues on either side of the door. Like long eared foo dogs with teeth. She named them, and I can’t remember what, but it had something to do with evil twins on As the World Turns.
My Dad pulled up in the driveway and turned off the motor, reached across to my door to pull the handle. I knew that move. This was his way of saying, Sorry kiddo, you are doing this one your own.
Of course, my plans to leave it on the doorstep was dashed when she saw me on the steps. She greeted me with the same, warm, loving hug she had always given me. One of those hugs where you squeeze the other person like a teddy bear and sway from side to side for a minute and say when did you get so big?! Ooooooo you smell so good, I just want to bottle it up!
While bottling one’s smell was creepy, the hug helped. The pit in my stomach dissipated. All was good.
We talked for a minute or two and then I said I had to run, Dad was in the driveway, I just wanted to drop off the dress. It was so generous of you to do that, and I’m so sorry I’m not going to get a chance to wear it.
I’ll never forget the look on her face. It deflated like a punctured pool toy. Her voice changed as she looked down on the ground and muttered something about Don’t worry, I’m just glad you got it covered, it’ll get used another time, no big deal.
Have you ever talked to someone when the words in their mouth don’t match the look on their face? It’s awkward. It’s especially awkward when you know someone is doing that to appease you. Yes you, the 17-year-old Buttmunch with Attitude. I puttered around for a minute then excused myself and walked to the car, my tail between my legs.
Prom came and went and I don’t even remember what I wore. I think it was black with feathers. Does it matter? No.
I recently got wind that Aunt Dooney past away following a lengthy battle with cancer. Apparently she had been teetering on the edge for months, but was determined to hang in long enough to watch the final episode of As the World Turns. You know, I hadn’t seen her in ten years, maybe more…but in the back of my mind, I think of her every time I go into a thrift store. I think of her every time I see a soap opera or clip coupons. I think of her when I see ladies wearing sweaters two sizes too small and when someone gives me a good long bear hug. I think of her when a young, exhausted waitress takes the time to look me in the eye and smile. I think of her and I smile too.
Now she is gone and I will never get a chance to show her that peachy prom dress. This necklace isn’t going to make up for what has past, but it’s a lovely, happy reminder of a lovely, happy lady.
Whoooooooweeeeeeee…for such a simple necklace this sure was a long post. Thanks for letting me ramble. Sometimes, when someone leaves us, it’s a small comfort to channel our sadness into something creative. It also feels good to take a minute to sing their praises from the mountain tops. Guess this blog is my new mountain top. Thanks again
Now go make something pretty!