Tiny grim-faced Aunt Lo never grew to be pretty, as were some of her sisters---she’d have been what was known as a “handsome woman,”---her face shadowed and given a stern cast by those expressive shocks of black eyebrows. She wore lovely clothes, always smelled of good perfume and her husband’s cigars and some other scent indefinable until I had a dry-clean-only dress which came home with the same chemical smell trapped in that quarter-mill plastic bag.
We WASHED our clothes, and I still do---even Chris’ suits---I handwash in cold what won’t go into the delicate cycle. And I can Fowler an Ironing as well as anybody. As our neighbor Mrs. Fowler told Mother once, deadpan and in earnest, as she spoke of her long morning at the ironing board as “I’m Arnin’ the shit out of ‘em.” We henceforth referred to a big ironing as “Fowlering” them. I digress.
Lo also applied her lipstick the funniest way of anyone I’d ever seen. Holding her mouth with top lip way down over teeth, she did two teensy downstrokes side-by-side in the middle, higher than her own lipline, then did a horrifying rictus which stretched her bottom one TIGHT while she did a corner-to-corner Revlon swoop. That lip totally covered, she bit them tight together, transferring a coat to the top lip. The original two little pointy places right in the middle stood brightly high like the tops of angel-wings, their line of demarcation flowing into the flat dryness of a sifty layer of Coty powder which clung to the downy hairs of her upper lip.
I always found it a tacky/funny effect, echoed strangely by Joel Grey in Cabaret, but it was as much as part of her as the two glaring Raggedy-Ann circles of rouge on the cheeks of Miss Florrie, who ran the little corner caffay in the next town over, tottering around like Mrs. Wiggins in Mr. Tudball’s office---peeptoe stilettos and tight skirts, peplum tops swelled over her generous hips, bossing those sweaty cooks into action, turning out those mustard/dill pickle/onion burgers right and left. That caffay had the first sectioned plates I’d ever seen---heavy divided crockery stuff, and I wished for us to have some of those.
Miss F. was rumored to have had a lively business of her own, with that little attached “hotel” which catered to the railroad men and salesmen passing through. She smoked in front of people, and thus was probably trashy in more ways than one. But she wasn’t kin to us. (And you ARE wondering what section of Gomorrah I’m FROM!! Admit it).
Aunt Lo lived way out in the country and had Pekingese dogs; every Christmas she special-ordered lavish boxes holding jewelly folds of ribbon candy and a box of kumquats (I loved that little toy fruit, though it mostly tasted just bitter). Winter in her house was marked by scent of bitter citrus, the waft of years-ago cigars, and the pervading scent of dogpee, especially when Hobo lifted a leg into the living room heater.
Her big old china cabinet held an enchanting set of little cut-glass saltcellars with the tee-nineciest silver spoons in the world. How I coveted those!!! I've found the small cut-glass dishes, but the little spoons seem to have all fallen victim to salt-erosion, and withered away. The dining room “suit” was bought by Mammaw when Aunt Lo re-remarried after Unca Fancy's death and moved into Mr. Redd’s house.
Then Mammaw bequeathed it to me, via her Walk-and-Pat Will, in which she took each visit as a time to reiterate her wishes for distribution of her Worldly Goods. I had it for YEARS, then lent the china cabinet to a friend’s daughter who was trying to regroup in a little apartment after a disastrous marriage. She told me once that just walking by that pretty piece of furniture and looking in at her wedding china would brighten her day.
One of the hardest things in the world I ever did was to go in with her parents and my sons and take it home several weeks after she drove out to the lake, parked in a beautiful place, and ended her pain courtesy of Smith and Wesson. We set the china carefully on the kitchen counter, stacked neatly and respectfully, handling each piece with the care due fragile things, fragile lives.
Even having buried a husband gone too soon, I still count cleaning up after two suicides (not hers---two men) my darkest hours, and somehow some of the most shining. And seeing my huge strong sons, their work-hardened hands holding each delicate piece of china---the pretty of which had made Emily’s life easier---it gave me the small inside glow that was echoed later in one small moment on the day before my Mother’s death.
My boys entered her hospital room together, removing their caps from their lighter-than-cheeks brows, and went without a word to each side of her bed. Mother was no longer really there, but was breathing small breaths; each took one of her hands, and in an almost-choreographed moment, they knelt and bent their heads over that last grasp of her. That sweet vignette is forever etched in my Mama-memories of my children.
And of those, moiré non.