Friday, December 05, 2008


Mom always scrubbed the farmhouse from top to bottom before the aunts came marching in. She wasn't about to let a speck of dust give them an excuse to call her a terrible housekeeper, so she scrubbed and dusted and polished until the design on the old linoleum floor gave way to even more brown undercolor and until the old victrola gleamed with a patina of yellowed varnish. Even the woodstoves were cleaned until they looked like big black behemoths sitting in the center of the kitchen and living room, snorting fire and smoke like the dragons of storybooks.

There were a bevy of aunts. It was pronounced "Aint," in the lower Illinois twang that we teased my parents about constantly. I was very young and so their names confused me. There was Aint Stellie, Aint Nellie, Aint Dellie, and Aint Zellie. Now, Helma has told me I have mangled those names, but I swear, that's what I remember. There was also Aint Dorrie, and it was Aint Dorrie's opinion that Mom worried about, because Aint Dorrie was quite opinionated and didn't hesitate to speak her mind.

I don't remember how they made it from Illinois to Michigan, but their arrival was a momentous occasion for us. Mom changed the sheets on the bed and made us young ones pile up together to make room for our guests. She put "pallets" on the floor and we slept there in a tangle of quilts until our visitors has departed for home. Helma and I were no more congenial on a pallet than we were in our bed. Each night, the pallet became a battleground as we kicked each other, each complaining that the other was taking all the blankets as well as all the territory on the pallet. This commotion led Aunt Dorrie to declare that she didn't get a wink of sleep all night and could Daisy control those noisy girls?

Aint Dorrie liked me the best, because she said I looked just like our family should look. This led to my brothers and sisters claiming that I looked just like Aint Dorrie, a fact that worried me through my teenaged years, since Aint Dorrie was rather plump, very short, and much older than me. I had already decided I looked more like Hedy Lamar than anyone else, but no one else seemed to agree with me.

Aint Dorrie was grandmother to Cookie, a little cousin who visited us often and who was so little and cute and so much like a mouth-watering cookie that it was difficult to even imagine looking like Aint Dorrie when I was faced with Cookie's charms. What's more, Cookie was well-behaved and ladylike and Aint Dorrie pronounced her to be exactly what an obedient girl should be, as compared to two hoydens battling like combat soldiers in their bed at night.

Deed had already reached his teenage and the Aint's visit really threw a monkey wrench into his plans. There was a girl living on a neighboring farm that Deed was really interested in seeing, but Mom wouldn't let him go out at night since his return might awaken the Aints. Mom had already solved the problem of Helma and I having a major battle every night by placing me back in the room where I always slept and moving Helma in with Donna. They always got along well, both of them constantly combing their hair into ringlets and practicing different coiffures, readying themselves for the boy crazy years ahead.

So Deed came to me with a well-planned scheme, one he had worked out in his mind. He would venture out to see his girlfriend that night and he would come home as early as he could and make his entrance into the house through my bedroom window. Pop had placed the homemade ladder at my window long before, worried about my being trapped upstairs should the farmhouse catch on fire. Years before, he had had to slide down a bannister to save himself, Deed and Homer, carrying the infant Deed in his arms and holding Homer on the bannister, as the home they rented in Illinois burned to a crisp. Pop remembered this, so he nailed the ladder together out of old slats of wood and it was a permanent fixture at my upstairs bedroom window.

After Deed had slipped away and Mom had finished the evening chores, she decided that it would be better if I slept on the couch in the living room. Aint Dorrie had bladder problems and couldn't make it through the night without the proximity of a chamberpot. It would be better to give her privacy by allowing her to sleep in my bedroom.

I was frightened. Deed was out visiting his girlfriend and would be coming through my bedroom window. There was no way I could tell Mom about this, no way I could avoid the inevitable problem, so I silently went to bed and lay there worrying about it all.

Sure enough, in the dark of the night, there was a loud noise from upstairs, a few curses, and a bloodcurdling scream that was loud enough to wake the dead. This was followed by the sound of thumping and Aint Dorrie saying, "Don't touch me! I'll make you sorry you're alive!" followed by more loud thumps. Then came the clanging rattle of metal! I knew that Deed had ran into the chamberpot, while Aunt Dorrie was fighting for her life after being awakened from sleep by Deed's entrance through the window.

The whole household was awake. Mom, startled by the noise, ran upstairs with her broom in hand. She always used a broom against all intruders, be it a rapist or an angry rooster or a rattlesnake. The whole family rushed upstairs, with the frightened Aints standing in the hallway and an angry Aint Dorrie still whacking Deed over the head with her pillow. Deed's size 12 boot-clad foot was still stuck in the chamberpot, while dribbles of urine made a path through the hall.

It was some time before the commotion died down and Mom had managed to get the Aints back in their beds. Aint Dorrie spent some time mumbling threats to that out-of-control boy who had staged a midnight raid of her bed. The Chamberpot was emptied, cleaned, and the hallway floor mopped, while Helma and Donna giggled on their pallet. Deed kept glaring in my direction. I knew from the look on his face that he planned a terrible revenge for what he considered my treachery. I could only throw up my hands and try to convey by my expression that I was innocent of wishing him harm.

The Aints didn't stay long after that episode, and Aint Dorrie made no bones about informing Mom that she considered her children in need of discipline. "Spare the rod and spoil the child!" she kept repeating, as Mom's face grew red and flustered, even though she nodded and said nothing in reply.

Later, Helma summed up the whole affair by surveying Deed's boots and saying, "Well, at least they don't smell like perfume any more!"

When we traipsed down the road toward school the next morning, we were faced with that fact. Deed's boots definitely didn't smell like perfume any more! However, it sure wasn't an improvement at all!