I have a few memories of when I was a little girl, but this is one of my earilest memories.
There is this picture of me and my sister, Suzann, sitting on the front steps of my Aunt Esther’s house. My face is serious, not smiling, neither is Sue. Suzann loved smiling for the camera. Today she is at the end of her patience. So, am I.
Aunt Esther’s steps are spotless and her house is “spic ‘n span” clean. Her house smells fresh like a sun shiny day with an under note of lemon furniture polish. The furniture gleams with a high dark polish. A collection of shepardess statuettes and various mint green bricabrac sit on blinding white crochet edged dollies accentuating the cornor shelves, the sideboeard in the dining room and the lamp tables in the living room.
The kitchen is a classic with white cabinets and appliances. Black and white alternating squares tile the floor. The atmosphere is a mixture of wonderful smells, but there is no sign of food anywhere – not a bubbling pot on the stove or something being mixed up on the counter. It is as if the cupboard is bare, except for the scents of food in the air.
My aunt sets a fine table. copious amounts of food on platters seem to magically appear on the dining table when the silver dinner bell rings for us to gather. Ice cubes tinkle musically in the frosty, sweating, cut crystal pitchers. This is Easter Sunday. Dinner features Virgina ham and cherry pie. Cherry pie is my favorite.
Women socialize with women in the South. I know the women in my family by heart. My Aunt Esther is one of the sweetest women alive. It seems like her arms are always wide open in welcome. Aunt Esther always scoops me up and gives me warm comfortable hugs. Her cheeks are so soft. She smells like sweet face powder and lipstick. Aunt Esther likes to have me sit in her lap as she talks to me and seems really interested in what I have to say. There is always a flowered apron over Aunt Esther’s dress. I don’t think that I have ever seen her without the apron. Esther is one of those southern women who calls me “sweetheart” and sugerpie, instead of calling me by my real name.
Where Esther is warm and homey, ruffles and soft edges, her sister-in-law, Aunt Lillian is sharp-nosed, hard-edged and sharp-worded. Lillian wears tastefully tailored suits, no ruffles, frills or aprons for her. Moma says that Aunt Lillian is too straight-forward, blunt and not very tackful.
As far as I can tell, Aunt Lillian always tells the truth without embellishment. It’s exactly what I like about her. She won’t say one thing to your face and another behind your back. Aunt Lillian’s voice and face soften and her eyes sparkle when she speaks to me. I know she likes me. She told me so. When Aunt Lillian and I are alone, in a very dignified manner, she calls me, “Barbara, dear”, but she doesn’t embarress me and call me that in front of company.
I once overheard that Aunt Lillian wanted more than anything to have a daughter of her own. Her only son, my cousin, Robert, was a very nice, polite, gentle boy in my memory. He’s already in high school. It occurred to me that one of the reasons Aunt Lillian was so nice to me was because I am a girl. Particulaily, a girl who doesn’t like ruffles!
The men in the family, my uncles, are confusing people. All of them have big stomachs, deep vioces and laughs. These men wear suspenders over starched white dress shirts, that hold up their dark wool pants and all of them have whiskers that scratch. It’s hard to tell my uncles apart – they all look so much alike. Everyone of them smokes something – a cigarette, cigar or pipe. They all congregate in the living room behind clouds of hazy smoke, which makes my eyes water. I can’t help coughing a lot if I am around them too long. On top of that, there are two uncles each named John, Herman and Henry. Some of them are actually brothers, brothers-in-law and some aren’t related at all. I can never remember which is which.
One Uncle John wants pictures of everyone in the family today. He’s another huge man with a very big stomach in front and no bottom in back. He has a bald spot on the crown of his head over which he combs over single strands of hair. Curly chest hair peeks out the top of his white shirt in front. Uncle John is taking so many pictures. He is brusk and kind of half orders people around waving a nasty smelling cigar to puncuate his directions. I don’t like him as well as the other Uncle John. Over and over he has family members pose,”to take advantage of the best light”, Uncle John insists.
Finally, Uncle John gets to my sister, Suzann and me. It is cold out in the mornings. This morning is no exception. Usually, Suzann and I wear brown corduroy, long-legged overalls, but Moma has us in dresses today. My dress is lavender with bottons down the front and ties at the waist. I like it. Suzann’s dress is pink. Pink is for babies. Moma says that I’m not a baby anymore. Suzann and I are wearing high top shoes. I don’t like mine because they are brown. Suzann’s shoes are white. I wanted white.
This is Easter Sunday and Suzann and I have spring coats over dresses as we sit on Aunt Esther’s front steps. We are the youngest grandchildren and adorable. My sister and I have been waiting a long time, but know better than to figet. Over the lavender dress, I am wearing a fawn colored spring coat with wide chocolate velevet trim that makes the upper part of me too hot. My legs are cold. Even out in the sun, the concrete step is chilly on my bottom. I am five years old.