Sunday, March 27, 2005


Every year, the "Aunts" would come to visit us at The Farm. Their names were Stella, Della and Nell, which of course, in Southern Illinois twang, became "Ain't Stellie; Ain't Dellie; and Ain't Nellie. They were my father's sisters-in-law. But the Aunt I remember most is Ain't Dorie, who was my father's sister and always visited alone. Ain't Dorie was somewhat of a family pariah because she had become pregnant by a male friend, refused to marry him, and raised her baby son by outrageous thing to do back in those days.

Ain't Dorie only liked children who resembled my father's side of the family. If you were "a Hicks", you were a superb human being with no faults and sparkling good looks. However, if you looked like my mother's side of the family, Ain't Dorie considered you unfit to walk the earth. Since my sister resembled my mother, Ain't Dorie ignored her existence. But, with my pudgy frame and huge eyes, Ain't Dorie deemed me a "true Hicks" and doted upon me.

Ain't Dorie herself was a short, plump woman with her big eyes hidden behind thick glasses. She only tolerated my mother, but considered my father, whom she called "Johnny", to be the salt of the earth. And even though my mother worked from dawn to dusk with her chores and her garden, Ain't Dorie considered her a bit lazy on the parenting side of things and made remarks like "Daisy, them kids are completely out of control!"

That we were, a great group of youngsters, many of them my neices and nephews, as well as my brothers and sisters. We were rowdy and noisy and did not fall asleep at nine o'clock at night, as Ain't Dorie thought we should. She retired early and Mom gave her mine and Helma's bedroom, forcing us to sleep on a pallet in the hall. My brother, Deed, was a teenager at that time, a gawky, lanky kid who wore corduroy pants that whistled when he walked, his thighs rubbing together in a rythmnic way. Because he was male, and males were considered far more important than females in those days, simply because they could work in the fields while females performed lowly tasks, Deed got a bed of his own.

Because a woman of Ain't Dorie's stature could not be expected to walk downstairs at night to answer the call of nature in the grass alongside the porch, as the rest of us did; and because there was no way she could walk down that weed-lined path to the outhouse, Mom provided her with a huge, white pot. Every morning, Mom emptied this pot, as Ain't Dorie sipped her morning tea.

Deed had a girlfriend down the road and used to go to visit her until midnight or so, when Mom insisted he come home. But, during one of Ain't Dorie's visits, Mom told him he could not go out, because his late homecoming would disturb Ain't Dorie, who had just that morning told her that "them caterwallin' kids are a disgrace!".

We conspired on a way to smuggle Deed out of the house away from my mother's gaze. Pop was no problem because he spent his evenings in his easy chair, smoking his pipe and reading Westbrook Pegler. But Mom always rustled around in the kitchen, clearing up the dishes and mopping the floor. So, Deed was forced to tiptoe through the storeroom and down into the dark and cobweb-infested cellar. The rest of us, this huge group of giggling children, opened the double doors of the cellar, and allowed Deed to escape for a rendezvous with his true love. It was so romantic that we mooned about it dreamily, casting Deed as Sir Launcelot bowing on bended knee before his lady love.

Deed was going to reenter the house through his bedroom window, so we dutifully placed a wooden ladder up against the house to await his homecoming. And finally, still giggling over our innovative rescue of youthful romance, we all fell asleep.

In the middle of the night, we were all awakened by a sudden loud clanking noise and a shattering scream. The screams and clanking continued, and we all clambered out of bed, trembling and frightened, clutching each other for support. Mom came running up the stairs brandishing her broom, shouting "What is it? What happened?" And Pop, always calm in a crisis, stood at the bottom of the stairs, awaiting developments.

Evidently Deed had not been able to pry his window open, so he had moved the ladder to another window, unwittingly selecting the window leading to the room where Ain't Dorie was sleeping. She had jumped up and immediately began beating the intruder on the head with her pillow. Deed, off balance, had stumbled into Aunt Dorie's pot, his foot sticking into the container while the lid clanged against the wall. Aunt Dorie, screaming for help, had continued to flail at Deed until my mother came to her rescue. Angry with Deed, Mom led Ain't Dorie downstairs for a comforting cup of tea and sent the rest of us off to our beds. As we lay there awaiting sleep, we could hear Pop chortling with laughter downstairs, while Mom indignantly tried to hush him up. Deed extricated himself from the pot, and had to go wash up, gagging and spitting from the fumes. Feathers from the pillow were stuck in his hair. It was hours before the household was settled down again.

The next morning, Ain't Dorie was still pale and shaken. She referred to Deed as "that young hooligan", and cut her visit short. Pop thought the whole thing was funny and sat chuckling while he ate breakfast. Ain't Dorie declared herself too breathless to eat and said she'd pick up a bite at the bus station, where people knew how to control their children.

The next year, Ain't Dorie arrived again for her yearly visit and never again alluded to her midnight visitor. She evidently forgave Deed because he was a "Hicks man", with his lanky frame and tousled hair, and while Hicks' men may be misguided, they are never truly wrong.