Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hats Off to the Aunt

I had a hat.
It was not all a hat,
Part of the brim was gone:
Yet still I wore it on.

-Rhine Song of the German Soldiers,1834

Every family has an Aunt with a formidable 'A' and we had ours. I use the past tense only because the character that was my mother's Aunt has vanished. She now lives in a nursing home and when she saw me last mistakenly addressed me as Anthony from England. So far as any of us know she is not acquainted with such a person and considering that if anything, I would be Anthonia, one can see that things are no longer as they were.
In her day, though, she made us all groan inwardly when news of her impending visit dawned. She was stern and exacted particular manners from young people, she did not jest a whit and while very generous was inordinately stubborn and never took no for an answer.
As a result of our relative's determination my mother underwent a hair-colouring experiment some years ago that her Aunt promised would be successful and would make my grey-haired mother's life better. It was not and it did not.
One of my first memories is of her taking my mother and I out to lunch. I had a burger and she caught me picking out the detested onions. She was furious with my mother for letting me do so and predicted terrible things for my future if I did not eat what was good for me.
I got the better of her once and once only. She visited our home unexpectedly and I, at about the age of fifteen, was caught unawares.
We had a small dog at the time who, while decent and amiable, did not like to be surprised by strangers. As she entered our gate he lunged at the Aunt. I held him back as well as I could, and indicated through my struggles that she hurry indoors quickly. She did not, preferring instead to lecture me on something insignificant while standing near to me. My energy depleted, I was forced to let go of the wriggling animal, and he bounced toward her. She was furious and dashed indoors. She herself savaged me verbally regarding the matter and insisted that I should have held him for longer.
I was livid with her. For the first time in my life I chose not to sit down and listen to it. I told her, the Upright Aunt, that I had held the dog for as long as I could; that I had warned her, and that, lastly, if she wished to go and stand outside our gate where there were no canines I would be happy to bring her a cup of tea. In other words, I told her to get out.
Oh, dear.
We had short words but she was rather muted by the whole thing, and made light of it. It was soon forgotten but I like to think she respected me a little more after that. I wrote a short story about her that very evening which was shown to most of the family with the exception, of course, of the Aunt, who had gone back home by then.
Not surprisingly, it was a delightfully wicked story about an Aunt who got her comeuppance.
Our Aunt liked expensive things such as make-up, coats and hats. Ah, she liked hats. Somebody once sat heavily on a very expensive and fancy red hat of hers. She left it at our home to be mended and it stayed in our house for months until we had forgotten all about it.
During the interim I had a moment of mischief and thought that I would briefly don the hat for amusement. It had a gigantic wide brim and was truly obnoxious and ostentatious which made the situation one to laugh at. I then decided that for once I would add some make-up to my face. I slathered lipstick, blusher and eyeshadow by the bucket-load. I thought that I might as well look the part of the sort of person who might wear such an accessory.
Fully adorned, I considered the effect complete. My mother, bless her, thought I looked a sight, which I was, and she produced a camera. I still have the photograph of myself in that hideous, scarlet contraption.
The Aunt came one day to take away the hat, and to have a cup of tea indoors.
We bore her visit with strength and gritted teeth. She was a very goodhearted and well-meaning person but utterly difficult to sit with for she would calmly and methodically pick away at the nuances of one's life until there was scant little left.
At some point in the evening my mother dragged out the most recent collection of photographs of a trip or other we had taken, or of a birthday- I do not now recall what it was precisely that drove her to commit the most dreadful blunder. For it was not until the Aunt had vanished, gone back to her home and we all breathed a sight of relief, that we belatedly understood she must have seen The Hat photograph: she could hardly have missed the picture, for it was right in the middle of the pile.
A most awful mistake, for which there were no adequate words, no salve or panacea to undo the damage.
At that time I wished fervently to be anybody else in the world except the one who had made a mock of her hat: I would have settled, even then I think, to be Anthony from England.
I adore onions now and eat them, chopped, raw, on a regular basis. The curious thing is that I believe my future is looking rather bright: she would be most pleased.


Beth said...

Oh my goodness. I definitely have an Aunt, too. She lives in Dallas and I've grown into her, but when I was young she always made me feel so inadequate, poorly groomed and coiffed. I understand completely.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Yes, oh most definitely mine made me feel inadequate- that's a perfect word. Nothing was ever good enough...

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