Three of my father’s sisters, all by now in their seventies or eighties, live within twenty-five miles of my mother, and when I visit my mother, I call on these aunts. When I was in Texas in the summer of 1985, I telephoned the eldest, who lives in a small town seven miles from my mother’s, to see if she would be receiving. When she agreed that that afternoon would be good, I called her sister who lives about a block from her and set a time a couple of hours later. Then I called the third aunt, who lives about fifteen miles farther away, and set a later time.
When I arrived at Aunt Lillian’s house, she welcomed me warmly and proceeded to make coffee. While doing so, she mentioned that she wanted to give my sister Becky a magnificent cut glass bowl that had been residing in state on her dinner table all my life. Flabbergasted, I managed to mumble something to the effect that perhaps one of her daughters, granddaughters, or great-granddaughters might like it, but she responded that they wouldn’t appreciate it. Not wanting to argue with her, I allowed I was sure my sister would, and changed the subject, hoping she would forget about it. She then asked if I were going to visit her sisters, and when I told her I’d scheduled them all for the afternoon, she suggested that she invite Lucille to join us for coffee. I was pleased because this indicated that they were on speaking terms that week, they having fought like only siblings can fight for seventy-odd years. So she invited Lucille over and we had a pleasant little afternoon tea.
When I mentioned to them that it was near time to depart for my visit to the third sister, Aunt Lillian stepped into the pantry and produced a box just the right size for the bowl, complete with the necessary packing materials all ready to go. She emptied the fruit out of the bowl and packed it while we stood there, the three of us said our goodbyes, and I went to Aunt Sara’s for yet more coffee.
When I returned to my mother’s, I brought out the bowl for my sister and learned the rest of the story. The bowl had been given to Lillian as a wedding present in 1924 by her brother, shortly before he was shot in a dispute over territorial rights to a local belle. No charges were ever filed because my uncle had asked on his deathbed that none be since he was, after all, poaching. In Texas, especially in those days, district attorneys did not normally interfere in family matters unless it was requested. The assailant, by the way, made good some years later by getting my father a job with the oil company during the depression. But back to the bowl.
The bowl, as I said, had been sitting on Aunt Lillian’s dining table for over half a century, gathering accolades. My mother was especially fond of it and was unable to pass it without giving it a thump. One day last spring, Lillian had offered it to my mother, who had immediately refused it on the grounds that it ought to go to one of my aunt’s sisters. Lillian had told her what she told me, that they wouldn’t appreciate it, but she had also told my mother a bit more. She mentioned that her sister Lucille, who had been standing right there when she had wrapped up the bowl for me to take to Becky and who was on an extremely limited budget, had asked for the bowl, saying that she could get a thousand dollars for it. Now my mother has to live around both of these women, and she quickly realized that she didn’t dare take the bowl, however much she wanted it. So she suggested as possible recipients either of my aunt’s daughters, who live in other parts of the state, or, deviously, her own daughter, safely a thousand miles away in Denver. And Lillian, crafty old soul that she is, must have plotted for the rest of the spring to stage the transfer to get the maximum pleasure from it, to not only give the bowl away in front of Lillian but also to give it to someone who patently did not deserve it.
The final twist, of course, is that, while I am not fond of cut glass, the damn thing is exquisite…and valuable, and what I got out of my role as inadvertent actor in my aunt’s little drama was several of cups of perked Maxwell House.
Late note: It turns out that there was more to this story than I knew. (See “Auntie Revisited – 20 April 2002” in Journal 2002.