Monday, September 20, 2010


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My Aunt Billie was a tee-ninecy woman, really short and compact, with the tiniest feet of any grown-up I’d ever seen. I haven’t til yet figured out where she got those darling little platforms, with the ankle straps and spike heels, because I reckoned she’d have to shop in the children’s section at Penney.

And even those little three-inch-heels hardly brought her as tall as me. She was the Mother of my four Memphis cousins, and she and Uncle Early had the most loving relationship I’ve ever seen between husband and wife. He absolutely adored her, and said so often---he looked at her with the most wonderful looks on his face, and would pull her small self onto his knee as she passed by his chair, hugging her tight as she giggled and hugged back.
She “wasn’t much of a cook,” according to my House-Proud Mother, whose cooking was praised far and wide, plain and Southern though it was, and whose standards of life encompassed morals, cooking and cleanliness---the only three REAL virtues.

Aunt Billie was possibly the most frugal person I’d met until my Sister’s college roommate, but that’s another story. She kept very careful household accounts in a little book---if she opened anything from the pantry, she wrote it down in the book, as in :Tues., 20th: opened new Ajax; Supper: 1 can Green beans, 3 chicken quarters, cup rice, can Fruit Cocktail, 1 tea, qt. milk.

Those were the supper quantities for her family of six, and I can personally remember a Sunday Dinner---probably the only meal I ever ate at her house---in which she stood in the kitchen swing-door, counting heads in the living room and front yard, in order to know how many little potatoes to put into the boiling pot. One each, exactly, and a great source of critical remarks by my Mother on the way home---“stingy ways” were just above “trashy” in her Book of Ills, and she’d so labeled Aunt Billie years before. The carefully-rationed food and the “weak as water” coffee were her only view of that kind, loving and beloved woman.

And I dearly loved her---she was such fun, leaving the “grown folks” to talk in the living room, whilst she sat cross-legged on her daughter’s bed, and joined in as the two girl cousins and I discussed Elvis and movies and did each others’ hair.

I remember that once we went in and out through the living room numerous times, gathering the bright yellow mums from her border-beds, and making these enormous doughnut-shaped “buns” atop each others’ heads, and garnishing them all round with the stuck-in flowers like crowns of birthday cake. Imagine THIS with flowers stuck all around like Elizabeth I’s ruff:

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She didn’t care---we were having fun, and she dragged three silky kimono robes out of her closet to make our pictures in.

They had a patio---the only one I knew of then. We had a back porch and a set of wide brick front steps, but a PATIO!! It was brick-floored, as well, with a little wishing-well fountain in one end and several hanging baskets of ferns swaying in the breeze beneath the ceiling. And all around, the bright, lush hedge of the most gorgeous rosy orange and purple and yellow and red flowers I’d ever seen.

My Mammaw was famous for her roses and dahlias and all the rest of her garden, but these city flowers eclipsed them all by a mile. They were these huge velvety trumpet-things, with little waving fluffy-tipped tongues sticking out from their throats like magic wands. The sheer size of them, towering over our heads, and all those brilliant flowers studded amongst the big leaves---they were absolutely awesome. She told me where she’d bought the plants, and what kind of care they needed, even the special little grains of fertilizer she put on once a year, speaking of her high biscuits in the fond tone she used for husband and children.

The flowers completely surrounded the three sides of the patio, except for a little gap for the stone path which led out to the big barbecue pit in the far end of the back yard, and it was my greatest wish on every visit to have JUST ONE to take home. I imagined shaking down my ponytail, parting my hair on the left, and cascading it down over my shoulders with one of those coveted blooms snugged in behind my ear like Dorothy Lamour in her best sarong.

And I would have, too---but I was to timid to ask, and she never thought to offer. She sat out there and drank coffee and smoked for a while first thing every morning, and that was just the most enticing thing I could think of for someone to do---wielding that long Kool between polished nails, sipping the Folgers from a real china cup, soaking in the beautiful of that Hibiscus Hedge.

The closest I’ve come up here is my good old Rose of Sharon bushes, and they’re almost the same, but not quite.

I didn’t get to go back for her funeral---we were living far, far away, and in process of moving into our house, and so there was no realization, no finality of her leaving. And now, I still envision her in the just-light of a cool morning, with the glow of day bringing out the colors in that magical hedge as she sits out there with her steaming cup, rocking peacefully amongst those glorious high biscuits.


bennie and patsy said...

That was so sweet!

Linda J. said...

Your Aunt Billie story reminds me a bit of my Aunt Beulah's limit of 2 slices of bacon per person at breakfast.

Kim Shook said...

She sounds like the perfect person for contrast, Rachel! Everyone needs an Aunt Billie in their life.

Love your Rose of Sharon - we had one when we moved in an it just up and died a couple of years ago. I was so sad and I don't even know if nurseries even stock them anymore. They are such an old fashioned plant.

Tonja said...

What a sweet tribute! She knew that being a friend to the young girls was much more important than listening to the grown-ups talk! Good for her! Bet she never talked down to you because you were a child either!
Those High Biscuits reminded me of my Granny's High Geraniums !

Pear tree cottage! said...

I adore this post Racheld, like others they remind me of my grandmother and her ways but I am guessing the years of war and depression made many of our relatives from the past like this as a part of their every day...........I still have a cushion of my grans made from her old (clean) stockings nothing was ever tossed in the rubbish was it.......I do adore your aunties Hibiscus what beautiful colours........good wishes always from Australia Lee-ann

Chesapeake said...

Oh, Kim, yes, indeedy, nurseries do sell Rose of Sharon plants now! The hybrids don't set seeds like the old-fashioned ones.

Kat said...

Sweet sweet memories!


racheld said...

AWWWW, Y'all! These are such sweet comments! I love finding kindred memories with folks who read these little reminiscences.

Tonja---she didn't have High Geraniums, but our next-door neighbor did. And in Winter, when cold season came around, she was prone to have Broncactus.

Linda---we had one of those "Aunt Beulahs" as well, but she was just MEAN about it.

And a special Welcome Back to Lee-Ann---one of our Australia members. She's been taking a leave from blogging at Pear Tree Cottage! in order to be with her husband through his illness.

They're both up and going again, and we're very happy for his successful recovery and their return. (See Tomorrow's Post)

And Kim, Darlin'---Next Spring I'll dig up and SEND you a dozen two-footers, before they leaf out, so they'll travel well and be ready to plant immediately. Lemme no.

Caro said...

To Kim,

You should come in the spring and harvest some of our Rose of Sharon.

They are self seeding and we have a patch of about 40 or so plants right now that are so crowded they aren't living up to their full potential. ;-)

Every year for the last 3 or 4 I have said I am going to ruthlessly thin them out, and yet never do.

Caro said...

Didn't read the full post ahead of me!!!

Southern Lady said...

Loved this, Rachel ... and I know I would have loved your sweet Aunt Billie, too. I can relate to tiny feet (I wear a size 4 or 4-1/2, and have bought many pairs of "tennis shoes" in the children's department of Dillards!).

Beverly said...

High Biscuits! Rachel you outdo yourself with every post. I love this - and I love high biscuits.

I spent most of my life in south Florida, and always remember and loved hibiscus. We had three hibiscus trees lining our driveway, and the pale pink blooms made me smile every day.

Kim Shook said...

Oh, goodness, y'all! Next spring I'll be in England touring gardens that will be beautiful, but won't hold all the peace and hospitality that y'all's little arbor does!

Jeanne said...

Hello dear Rachel, Forgive me for missing my visits to your delightful posts. I have been out of town with my sister.
I love your 'high biscuits' post. My name sake, Aunt Jeanne, was an aunt like this. How fortunate for us to have wonderful memories we can share via our Blogs. This story is the best!!!
Hugs, Jeanne