Monday, June 18, 2007

Memory Lane: Aunt Mae's House

One of the most precious people in all of my life was my Granny Hill. Her name was Fleeter Ann Hill (Robinson) and she was a spit-fire if ever the term existed. My Granny was born in the late 1800's and lived a share croppers life with her huge family. Her Father was a Methodist minister and very, very strict. I remember hearing stories about my Granny's family that would curl my hair.

Granny got married when she was 12 and had her first baby (Mae) by the time she was 13. In all she raised10 children of her own (Mae, Raymond, Brownie, Edith, Robbie, Robert, Pauline, Alvin, Claudine (died at two months and Billie) basically as a single Mom. Pauline gave birth to Raymond Paul and Dorothy Jean. Pauline couldn't or wouldn't, you know how family protects the skeleton closet, care for either and sent them to live with her brother (Raymond raised my Uncle Paul) and Mother (Granny raised my Mom, Dorothy).

As a result of my Granny raising my Mom I always associated my "greats" as just aunt and uncle not knowing the whole story of how Mom was raised by her grandmother. I never once met my Grandma Pauline, I know she died of cancer but didn't really know her. I did meet my Grandfather once, Clarence, but can't remember anything other than he gave me a rifle when I was five, which I had no idea why on earth a man would give a baby a rifle. I guess there are some parts of the U.S. where children are equipped with weapons and then go out and slaughter innocent things as some kind of rite of passage to manhood. I don't really get hunting. Holy Cow!

Robba and Granny were my jewels, I loved them so much. I really got a kick out of my Aunt Mae, but didn't really know her well as we only saw her once a year unless the year contained a funeral. My family has funeral relatives that only come together to commemorate a death and then disappear until the next death. Aunt Mae was a mean Chicken Fryer--I can still smell her house and taste the chicken. I swear it squirted juice! The last time I saw my Aunt Mae was in the Springfield, MO hospital about four days before she died. She has a ferocious cancer of the stomach and throat and was very, very weak. She loved my Dad as her own and called him honey. "Honey, I's sorry I cainst get up outs dis bed an cook you a mess o' chicken, but my ol' body is just plum tuckered out." That was the last thing I remember about her. Aunt Mae wore very sheer cotton sleeveless shirts, capri jeans, white socks, and Keds--that was her uniform. She wasn't afraid to cuss, smoke, or tell nasty jokes. I think she thought I was red because I spent my entire time around her completely blushed from head to toe. She had bottle cap thick glasses and not front teeth. Her skin was as smooth as silk. I can still smell the scent of Ivory on her skin, it's the only thing that she ever used.

This post for some reason has been directed toward my Aunt Mae, it was not intentional, but my heart is totally pouring out memories of her so here we go.

Aunt Mae lived in Marshfield, Missouri in a retirement community. the kind with duplexes all built the same way, aluminum screen doors and white wooden doors with those three skinny windows stair stepped. Her house was immaculate and always clean as a whistle. We went every summer to see her and spent the day just, "chewing the fat." Fried Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy with the scrumptious bits of chicken crust mixed in, Fresh Corn, Chow Chow (passed on that duke), and Cream Pie. That was just standard Aunt Mae dinner. I never had anything else but that. I always wanted to sit at the table and soak up the stories but I would get shooed out to play. Let me just say that there really isn't a lot that a law abiding, God and Father fearing boy can do in a senior village other than walk around and kick stones. Any noise caused the neighbors to come peepin out the window in pursed disapproval of the "children." Any wave toward the direction was met with a swoosh of the curtain.

The best story of my Aunt Mae comes from my Dad, the first time he met her. Dad and Mom were just dating (Dad dated my Mom's best friend, Glendal, and dumped her to date my Mom that's a good post for another day.) when she wanted him to come meet her Mom and Aunt. It was summer and summer's meant sitting outside listen to the the outdoor orchestra sing their sunset songs. We only went in after about the fifth mosquito bite. At any rate, Dad pulled up to the house and Aunt Mae and Granny were sitting in the yard. Aunt Mae had on her uniform and was sweating up a storm. She never wore a bra (forgot to mention that). As my Dad walked up to her to say hello he noticed that her shirt was unbuttoned revealing her breast. He was mortified (I get mortification from my Dad, it's almost a spiritual gift in our family) and immediately stunned into utter silence and turned beet red. "What's the matter honey? Ain't you ever seen no titties before?" That did it for my Dad...he could have died right there on the spot. Aunt Mae laughed harder that she ever laughed before, Granny laughed harder than ever before, my Mom wanted to crawl under a rock and die and my Dad was just standing there jaw-dropped and awkward. From then on he and Aunt Mae were friends.

Aunt Mae had a wild bunch of kids, Billamae and Bud were the only two I remember. My uncle Bud (Again, if they were male they were uncle regardless, no cousin. Kid's were cousins, adults were aunt or uncle) had a lazy eye and looked like the love child of the guy from Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Penguin from Batman. He drove a huge Honda Goldwing and never said a word.

Aunt Mae love me and my sister. "Come over here and give you Aunt Mae some sugar honey, you sure got some good sugar." That was the last thing she said to me before she died.

Her funeral was held in a tiny country church on the hill in the country. It was a fitting end to a person who lived such a tumultuous life. I remember seeing her casket being carried out the door of the church and watching every man in the room weep openly and loudly. The memory of my Dad sobbing with his face buried in his hands still haunts me. It just shouldn't be right for one to grieve that much. We all knew that the world had lost many, many things and would not be the same world ever again.

Granny buried all but one of her children (Uncle Raymond lasted four years past Granny's death) and had to be carried to the casket. She would lay on the casket, pet her baby's hair, kiss their cheeks, and wail. I can't say that I've ever seen someone grieve like that. She wore the same black dress to each and everyone of her baby's funerals. Looking back on those childhood moments I'm thankful that I witnessed such intense agony over the death of a loved one. It helped prepare me for being a minister and remaining composed when the family is in such mourning. I've conducted about fifty funerals in my career and have yet to see anyone come close to the level of sorrow my sweet, Granny expressed over the death one of her babies.


Tracy said...

wow. your stories are just something will. i have to say i got tears in my eyes readin about mae - one minute i'm laughin (the story about your dad meeting her) and the next minute i'm misting over. and grandma... she sounded wondeful. thanks.. more please.. i just love these stories! (i could practically smell that chicken!)

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