Friday, June 16, 2017

FAMILY FOREST---AINT BESSIE




The five sisters:  Aunt Eddie, Mammaw, Aunt Lu, Aint Bessie, and Aint Lo


A little more about Mammaw’s Sister, Aint Bessie (she of the Ole Fly fame).   She was a fun, lively woman, when we would be all gathered for talk and meals, but she became mysteriously stricken with a great weakness and pain of limb upon every rising from the dining table.   I think that most of my opinions and views in those days were formed and shaped by Mammaw---the greatest caretaker and influence in my life.   Probably Aunt B's being a younger sister gave her some leeway that Mammaw didn't get, for growing up, the younger girls were mostly exempted from the field work and cooking and washing for all that big family of young-uns.  Since all I really knew of Aint B. came from her maybe-twice-yearly visits, I sorta leant toward Mammaw's view that she could help out, if she'd just get up off the couch.

Aint B. had a plump little figure and some beautiful clothes.   She took a morning bath which required bringing in the big old #2 tub from the back porch (not by her) and filling from the kitchen faucet, and then everybody out of the house while she bathed (usually Mammaw and I were out in the garden, hoeing or picking something to cook or to can).   And she had lovely skin---she carried a bag with lotions and her perfume and hair stuff in it, and she slept in a big hairnet to keep her permanent pretty.   We could come back in when she got into her housecoat, and I'd empty the tub, pitcher by pitcher, into the sink, then take the tub out, while I watched her lotion arms and legs and put cream on her face, and later a little puff of powder and tiny dab of lipstick.  


Image result for Vintage Coty powder box

Then she sat down to wrap her legs.   She had roll after roll of gauze or cotton strips or some white fabric that she rolled round and round her legs from knee to ankle before she pulled on her stockings and rolled her garters on.   She took all that off to sleep, re-rolling the little rounds and sticking in a pin.

She kept repeating like a mantra about her Milk Leg she'd contracted, and how sore they were all the time (I wonder now if it was something like phlebitis, and that kept clots from forming like surgical stockings).  And her legs were just really pretty underneath all that wrapping, so I, too, thought she might be exaggerating her malady a bit more to account for her not being able to clear away or wash dishes or cook, and that she had to get right up from the table after every meal and go lie down and elevate her feet on a pillow.


Image result for 1940s coca cola case

And I envied the HECK out of the fact that she had a "standing order" for a case of Co-Colas to be delivered and set on her back porch in Mobile every morning.   She drank twenty-four six-ounce cokes in a day's time.  And guess what lucky person got to run over to Aunt Lu's with the wheelbarrow every day to get that case of cokes?   And back for three or four more trips, for bananas or Bromo or the Pinkham's that she forgot to bring.  I even had to go get ice a time or two, because we ran out so often, filling up those big tea glasses with Co-Cola, and all.

(Looking back, I wonder if the reason she stayed with Mammaw all the time, despite the impossibly-tiny house, might have been ME).  



Image result for black vintage round dining table


The three rooms were Kitchen at the back, with a good sized rectangular wooden dinner table and six chairs, the Middle Room, which held Mammaw and Grandpa's double bed on one wall, with a BIG round black pedestal Dining Table under that saggy-screen window and the beehive in the wall that you could hear humming.   There was a big pump organ on the third wall, and the fourth, of course, was taken up with the head of the bed and kitchen door, with a space somewhere in there for a good-sized wood stove---a really pretty, curvy one, like an immense black vase with pipes in the middle of the floor, all taken down for Summer, and creating a marvelously-open space.    The belly of the stove had a garland of raised-up rose buds, one of which had tattooed a permanent "rose" on Uncle Samalee's beeehind when he was about four, and had just gotten out of the tub and bent over to get his drawers on.  

The front room had another double bed on the north wall, a couch where I slept on the opposite, covering a never-used closed up fireplace with a doilied-and-what-notted mantel, which would take you unawares; if you sat up wrong in bed, it would conk you in the noggin.  The bed was Aint B's, and there was also an across-the-corner dresser to the "suit" along with a chest of drawers, and a pretty maroon-brocade platform rocker with a chunky metal smoking stand.   I just cannot imagine. 

Aint B. had her own little built-in maid-servant every Summer trip, for I fetched and carried cokes and cake-on-a-saucer and a funeral parlor fan and her purse and her hair-scarf and her magazines---she was the first person I'd ever seen who bought those Romance and Screen and True Story magazines, and I was fascinated. 
 
   She told fabulous stories of the city, of the streetcars and the train station and all the big stores and the parades.   And they went right down to the water and bought their shrimp right off a boat.   Not quite the enchantment of Aunt Eddie's Indianapolis (I was fated to be here), but I was rapt, all the same.  

People from all over town would drop by and sit on the porch with Aint Bessie, and she held court every day til the sun got too hot out there, or she'd get her "parasol" ---Mammaw and all the Aunts had a big black umbrella for shade, and they all called them parasols--and venture around the block to Aunt Lu's store or up or down the street to people's houses.  She'd go to whatever doings any one of the three churches was putting on---luncheons and teas and watermelon-cuttings---all functions that Mammaw wouldn't have even come in out of the hot garden to attend. 


Image result for old woman with black umbrella
from the internet---her silhouette, size, white hair, and certainly looks like Mobile to me

I know that the bit about The Fly painted her in less-than-her-best light.  I think it's just my memory of that one particular day---I was maybe eight, and I can STILL hear her say, "Look at that OLE FLY!" and the sound of the flappy old worn-out swatter hitting the equally fragile screen, right before the immense cloud settled on that good dinner.

She and Uncle Les adopted their nephew when his mother died shortly after childbirth.  They lived in Mobile, and I think I remember Uncle Les had something to do with shipyards.   Ron never came with Aint Bessie, but would ride the bus by himself later to come for a couple of weeks with Mammaw, Aunt Lu, and Aint Lo---who all lived that small Delta town.   What an adventure that must have been, and him not yet ten years old.  I envied that freedom, and still to this day LOVE the sight, sound and scent of a GREYHOUND.




6 comments:

Miss Merry said...

Neat story! Thanks for sharing. And I love the term - Family Forest

donna baker said...

I had to laugh at the family forest too. I have cousins I never met or even knew their names. Those were the days.... (and maybe they still put cocaine in those cokes back then.)

Linda said...

Oh, what a wonderful time I had reading this! Great writing!
At the end I had to laugh! I have often said love to travel and even love the exhaust from a Greyhound bus!,

GSL said...

You have a great gift dear Rachel! I remember from long ago hearing those Southern girls giggling about some woman's big ol' beeehind!

Chronica Domus said...

Once again, you take us, your fortunate readers, on an adventure full of wonderful characters that just happen to be your family. Adore the photo of the five gals at top. They all look like sturdy gals to me. They don't make 'em like that anymore sadly.

bj said...

Just the mention of GREYHOUND BUS brought childhood memories flooding back.
My mama and daddy divorced when I was a little tiny girl and Mama and I moved far away from Dallas...all the way to Plainview, Texas.... I started going to see my daddy in summers, by my little tiny self, when I was 8. Mama would put me on the train, talk with the conductor (and slip a few $'s in his hand) to have him watch over me until I met my daddy at the Dallas train station.
Then, the Greyhound bus came into my life...after about 2 or 3 years of riding the train, we switched to the bus..probably 'cause it was cheaper. Oh, the stories I can tell about those bus rides...such fun for a little girl.....thanks for the memories.