Tag Archives: Aunt Katie

The House on Hunt Road

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Cindy and Brenda, 1952

Though the property was a wedding gift to my parents from my mother’s parents, and my father started work on it right away, the house was not ready a year later, when Brenda was born. She lived, for a while, with my parents in an apartment not far away. By the time I was born a year after Brenda, the family was in their home. My father built it, and continued building it for all of his life.

First, it was square, with a pitch to the roof so steep “it could split a raindrop,” according to my Aunt Katie. From the driveway to the front door, the sidewalk ran parallel to the house, then made a right turn and went straight to the large pink block of cement that was our front step. The blade of a hoe was embedded in that step, beside the door, to use as a boot scraper. I don’t remember a single injury involving that boot scraper, though we were accident prone children and managed to hurt ourselves on things that appeared much less dangerous!

In the bit of lawn that the sidewalk enclosed between driveway and house, there was a welded metal planter. It was a simple rectangular box, with corners of L-shaped steel that extended down to form legs. The box was white with red trim, and bold red numbers were painted on the front, with our address: 3678. I don’t know who made it, or where it came from, or even who first painted it. In later years, when Patsy “Doney” came to stay with us for weeks every year, to give our rooms a fresh coat of paint, he’d carefully repaint the planter and renew the numbers in bright red. It has been planted with petunias, marigolds, vines and tomatoes over the years. It has sometimes grown up in weeds. Colors changed from red and white to black and white, but it has endured. I think it is still sitting in the front of that house, all these years later.

The original house, as I said, was a square. The front door was in the center, with windows evenly spaced on either side. The living room spanned the entire front of the house.

On the back wall, a doorway on the right led to a little hall with doors leading to a bathroom and bedroom. A linen closet fit in the space under the stairs. A trap door in the floor of the hallway led to the crawlspace underneath the house. It was dark and damp and scary; we didn’t want to go down there, ever, not even during a tornado. Dad would occasionally have to go down there, to check on something drainage or plumbing related, but I don’t think we children ever ventured down that hole. None of the girls, anyway!

A doorway on the left side of the back wall of the living room led to the kitchen, which also housed a large fuel oil furnace. A door led out to the back yard. There was a stairway in that space, too, but it was closed off, not yet in use.

I don’t remember that kitchen, though I have seen photos taken in it. Before long, Dad had a new kitchen underway…but that will have to wait for tomorrow!

 

Crazy Lady

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My friend, Red, refers to his wife as “Crazy Lady,” though she’s as sharp as a tack, and he knows it. It sounds like a compliment when he says it.

I’ve been called crazy more than a few times in my life; it wasn’t meant as flattery.

It doesn’t matter; I take it as a positive assessment.

A woman can be labelled crazy for showing strength, determination, stubbornness…or humor.

I’ll accept it.

Most times, I work a little too hard at being in agreement…or at least not flouting my contrary point of view.

I used to be more argumentative. I think we all go through that stage, when we are forming opinions based on our own knowledge and experience, rather than simply what we were taught or told.

It felt powerful, at the time, to challenge ideas that were comfortably in place, in order to assert my own.

It started in Catholic school, questioning  the nuns about rules of dress that determined the length of skirt or the type of sweater allowed. It continued into public high school, where my class staged a successful protest to allow girls to wear slacks. Into young adulthood, I took on bigger issues.

I marched for peace. I joined the National Organization for Women and marched for the Equal Rights Amendment. I wrote dozens of letters to Congressmen with grievances large and small. I boycotted sugar, then meat, then all Nestle products. I quit buying aerosol sprays. I stopped using herbicides.

My actions weren’t outrageous, but my bent toward convincing everyone else was. I was haughty in my righteousness, judgmental, argumentative and crazy in my pursuit of changing minds. Not enough that I choose my own way, it seemed important that I convince others that any other way was wrong.

I shudder to think of that self-righteous loud-mouth now.

It was my wise Aunt Katie that showed me a different way.

My Dad was here on Beaver Island for a visit, and we were arguing. There was no end in sight. I was sure I was being as generous as possible, allowing for his age, and different life experience while holding to my principles. He was sure that I was wrong, and putting on airs to boot. We’d sit down to dinner; something would be said – maybe just a comment on the news from the little TV – and Dad would say, in his most conciliatory voice, inviting my agreement, “See, and you think you’re so gol-damned smart…” and we’d be off again, on our never-ending debate over whatever nonsensical, minor issue seemed so important at the time.

“I know he’s stubborn,” Aunt Katie said, “I grew up with him…and three other brothers.”

“Do you want to know how to win an argument?” she asked.

Did I?! “Yes!”

This is what she told me:

Let him talk. Let him put out his entire argument. Don’t interrupt. Don’t shake your head or even so much as raise an eyebrow. Listen. Let him finish. Lift your arms and let them fall. Bow your head slightly. Look him in the eye. Without a hint of sarcasm, say, “You are absolutely right.”

“But, Aunt Katie, he’s not!”

You will never get him to admit he’s not right. You could argue with him for the rest of your life, he’s not going to be wrong. Even if you express doubt, even if you say “You might have a point,” or “You could be right,” he’ll keep right on arguing. Do what I said, and the argument is over. Then go on and think how you want to anyway. He doesn’t need to know. That’s how I got along with four brothers!

Well, it worked! And it stands to this day as some of the best advice I’ve ever received.

Crazy smart!

On My Birthday…

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This year, on my birthday, a cool breeze freshened the air.

Birthday greetings were waiting for me when I turned on the computer.

I wonder about social media, announcing birthdays to all who look, so you have no idea if anyone actually remembered, or just checked their Facebook notices. I puzzle over it whenever I check those notices and am spurred to send someone a birthday greeting.

I didn’t wonder about it one bit today, though. I enjoyed every single good wish!

I worked at the hardware store today. Busy enough, but not crazy, and everyone was good-natured and friendly.

After work, I stopped at the farmhouse to see the “Aunts”. Aunt Katie, who lives there, has not been feeling her best lately. Her sister, my Aunt Margaret, is here for a weekend visit along with her daughter, son-in-law and great-granddaughter. I knew the young people had gone to the beach, so I brought ice cream cones for just myself and the Aunts. Aunt Margaret was dozing, so we saved hers in the freezer. Aunt Katie and I enjoyed ours on the spot, while watching the baseball game.

“This is brunch, for me,” I told her, which made her laugh.

A message from my daughter on the telephone answering machine when I got home was another happy note.

A long walk with the dogs made us all feel good.

Two years ago, when I turned sixty, I made a list of the sixty most influential women in my life.

Last year, I counted sixty-one blessings.

What to do this year, to mark my age, and the day?

I compiled a list, last night, of the sixty-two books that made the biggest impression on me so far in my life.

It’s a long and varied list. Many books – that revolutionized my thinking when I read them – would not impress me today. So much depends on the surrounding circumstances, when you pick up a book. There are a few that make me blush for the dated message or obvious risque’ material, but most stand up to the test of time. I’m not going to type them up today (it is my birthday, after all), but will in the next couple days, for anyone that is interested.

I’m thinking, too, of a list of aspirations.

Not a “Bucket List,” for I think – like my mother – I will be satisfied with the life I have lived, at whatever point death takes me.

Aspirations, because I think, whatever the age, we should always have goals, dreams and things to aspire to.

I may share that later, too, but not today.

I’m going out to dinner with friends this evening. I think before that I’m going to take a good book and soak in a hot, perfumed bath, ignoring all “should”s, “could”s and “ought-to”s.

It is my birthday, after all.

A Day on the Mainland

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The day before yesterday, I traveled with my aunt to the mainland.

Aunt Katie had medical tests scheduled, an appointment with her lawyer, and plans to do some visiting and shopping. She can still drive, but prefers not to when off the island. She invited me along to be her driver.

She mentioned it first a few weeks ago.

“I’ll bet you’d like a trip to the mainland!” was how she worded it.

It’s not easy for her to ask for help.

“I’d love it!” was my reply.

The “mainland” is thirty-two miles away by ferry boat or small plane, to Charlevoix (the Beautiful), in the northwest corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Two hours by boat, twenty minutes by plane. When I came to Beaver Island on vacation, I always took the boat; since I’ve lived here, the plane is the most practical means of transportation. From Charlevoix, it is a half-hour drive north to Petoskey, to the clinic where Aunt’s medical tests were taking place. Her friend, Rose, is in Petoskey, too; the lawyer, in Charlevoix. She had a list to fill at the grocery store, and another for the pharmacy, based on sales she had found advertised in the paper.

I made arrangements to have the day off work.

I started thinking of all the things I’d love to do, with a little spare time on the mainland.

Maybe, since our flight was early, we could drive through McDonald’s for breakfast.

I know it’s not healthy, but it’s a rare treat. When I’m on the mainland, I allow myself the indulgence of a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich. If I’m traveling downstate to see my family, I also allow myself a large bag of Mesquite Barbecue “Krunchers” Potato Chips…but that’s another story.

A quick run into the second-hand store would be fun.

I’ve been watching for clothes suitable for work. We have a nice re-sale shop here on the island, but the one in Charlevoix is good, too. My daughters (who would have scorned the idea back when I was buying their clothing) discovered second-hand shopping when they realized their children grew faster than the cost-of-living, and they’ve turned it into an art! “Look at the labels first,” they tell me. There is no sense spending two dollars on something you could buy brand new for ten. The goal is to find good labels that speak of excellent quality and high prices…then you know you have a “steal” at two dollars. There are rules about checking for working zippers, missing buttons, split seams and stains. Of course, things like size and style come into play, too, and the best things won’t last, which makes the last rule very important: “Go often!”

What a treat to find time to visit a bookstore!

We used to have a nice bookstore here on Beaver Island, run by my friend, Mary Blocksma. She offered wonderful books and art, yoga classes, writing groups and great conversation in a room attached to her little home (where she often fed me lovely meals based on her knowledge of Indian cuisine or local mushrooms). She found self-publishing and book tours too costly to run from the island, and moved to a city down-state. I was broken-hearted when she left. We have an excellent library, but I love a good bookstore. When I get to the mainland, I like to stop at Book World in Charlevoix, Horizon Books or – my favorite – McLean & Eakin in Petoskey.

A quick run into Cherry Republic for their (absolutely wonderful) Cherry Scone Mix, and a dash into American Spoon Foods for a couple jars of salsa and their Cherry-Berry Conserve would be fantastic. If time allowed for a trip to The Grain Train in Petoskey, I could replenish my supply of rice, barley and beans for winter.

I’d check the grocery store for sales while Aunt Katie shopped. There were a couple personal care items I needed from the pharmacy, too.

I arrived at Aunt’s house at 8:25, with my first cup of coffee in hand. It is suggested that passengers be at the airport a half hour before the flight. Ours was scheduled for 9AM, so we were already rushing.

A few big raindrops started coming down as we drove to the airport, but the winds were calm.

The plane left on time and the ride was smooth.

I picked up the key at the desk, and wandered through the parking lot to get Aunt’s car. We – those of us that use her “mainland vehicle” – are always instructed to park as close to the terminal building as possible, in the long-term parking. For some reason, this day it was parked in the farthest space, in the most distant lot. By the time I found it, and drove around to the terminal to pick up my aunt, she was more than anxious to get underway.

Scratch McDonald’s, on to Petoskey.

First stop, the clinic. We were almost an hour early for Aunt’s appointment, but she checked in at the desk, and the receptionist said she might be able to get in early.

“This will take at least two hours,” Aunt Katie said, “Don’t you have some running around you’d like to do?”

She’d said that same thing to me the last time I brought her to this clinic. I’d headed for the gas-light district, went to my favorite bookstore, brought my purchases next door to the “Roast ‘n Toast” for a cafe mocha and a croissant, and got back to the clinic in a little over an hour. My 83 year old aunt was standing outside on her poor, wobbly legs waiting for me. “You’re late!” was the greeting I got.

Aunt Katie was the one that taught me how to handle disagreements with “stubborn Germans” like my father. “Don’t argue,” was her advice, “You’ll never win. Lower your eyes, bow your head, say ‘you are absolutely right’, then go on and think however you want to.”

Turns out, it was great advice.

Recognizing Aunt Katie as another “stubborn German”, I just said, “Sorry, Aunt Katie, I missed the turn.”

Not wanting to find myself in the same position this time, I said, “Thanks, Aunt Katie, but I think I’m just going to catch up on my magazine reading.”

This time, her tests took over two and a half hours.

Probably especially true in an election year, but Time and Newsweek magazines are pretty worthless if they’re more than two months old. People magazine is not much better.

By the time we got out of there, we had directions to Rose’s new home, but no time to go there. Aunt Katie was hungry. So was I, but I’d have happily settled for just another cup of coffee. No time for any of that, we had to get back to Charlevoix for the appointment with the lawyer.

Paperwork reviewed, signed and notarized, copies made, instructions given, pleasantries exchanged and we were off to get some lunch.

One bowl of soup, each: navy bean with ham. A beer for Aunt Katie; coffee for the driver.

Back to Petoskey, then, to see Rose. We found the place without incident, and had a good visit.

Aunt Katie’s legs were bothering her quite a bit by the time we left, so it was decided I’d do the shopping and she’d wait in the car. The pharmacy first, as it was right on the corner. I managed to work through her – very specific – list, in that – totally unfamiliar to me – store in what I thought was record time. “We’re running out of time!” was the greeting I received as she opened the back door for me to deposit the armload of boxes and bags. “We’re doing okay,” I told her. “A half hour to get back to Charlevoix will leave twenty minutes for me to run through the grocery store, and we can still get to the airport by five o’clock, with plenty of time to park before our 5:30 flight.”

“But you had stops you wanted to make!”

“No, Aunt Katie, nothing specific. I’m good.”

“The re-sale shop!”

“I think they closed at four o’clock. That was only if we had extra time.”

“You wanted to go to the bookstore. Well, you have too many books already.”

“You’re right, there!”

So, on to the grocery store with another list, and on to the airport (where I found a nice, close-to-the-terminal parking spot) and on to the small plane for a nice flight home.

A LOVELY day on the mainland!