Back in Time

When I was 8 I first remember going to my Aunt’s to stay for a few nights. I don’t remember exactly why, but I think it was because my parents had had a fight and needed time alone together.  My allergies precluded me from going to Grandma’s, which would have been more fun since she always was doing things, so away I went (I forget if my sister did too) to the poor side of town to stay at my Aunt’s.

When we arrived, I remember sitting in the small living room of the house built in about 1900 and seeing my Aunt, then about 60, talking to my mother, dressed in clothes that were out of date by decades. It was the 1970s but she seemed stuck in the 1940s. She seemed very sweet and kind and wanted me to feel welcome. She had trouble walking but that did not keep her from living her life. Everything about her and the house seemed out of time. She wore a long green pleated skirt that hit mid calf, had special black shoes that enabled her to walk a bit (remember the old time orthopedic shoes that old ladies wore?) put her hair up in a twist instead of having a “haircut” and style, and wore old time style makeup that would have looked good in the 1940s. Even her face seemed preserved from that time. She had relatively few wrinkles in her fair skin that was set off by black hair. Her voice was deep and even sounded from another time as if the voice had been allowed to wear out with time and almost creaked on its hinges, which is strange since she never smoked. Her voice was just that deep. I later found out she had trained as a contralto (female tenor) singer.  I caught her singing once when she was cleaning up the kitchen and she acted like I caught her in something shameful.  How had that woman been hurt?

My voice is deep but not even near to hers nor my other Aunt’s. I don’t smoke either. It’s hereditary.

Pictures hung on the wall of my Aunt and my Father and my Aunt and Uncles.  All were very old from the 1930s and 1940s.  They were the kind they took in Black and White and colored in later.

The house was fascinating to a kid who lived in a newer (at the time) subdivision with the modern conveniences. The house was on a tiny parcel of land and the tiny front yard was on a hill. The former Jewish neighborhood had become Hispanic over time. There was an old fashioned swing on the porch. The tiny backyard was overgrown and sported a grapevine which bore grapes that my Aunt gave away every year.  There was some crime there and even a dirty picture house on the corner.  If you sat on the swing, the leches would check you out.  Ewww.  If you went down the street to the 7/11 or another errand men would pull over to pick you up. The dirty picture house still stands there today.  This neighborhood isn’t falling fast to gentrification like the other older neighborhoods are here.

The house was built as a bungalow with living and dining rooms right behind each other.  The three tiny bedrooms were on the side.  I got the one where my deceased grandmother had slept in. Some of her old things were still in the bureau and bedside tables. The “middle” bedroom was for guests, usually family, and her bedroom was the smallest but had a window unit for air conditioning.  She had a high single bed.  Her old bureau had old earrings and perfume.  She wore Youth Dew as did my Mother when she wore perfume.  Also the smell of Pond’s Cold Cream was everywhere.

There was a long kitchen complete with a stove that hardly worked, an old fashioned sink that had a “back”, as in the ceramic went up the wall behind the sink (I’ve seen another one since and Laura Ingalls Wilder had one in Missouri), and a tiny old washer that did not work.  The elderly maid had to go to the laundromat. The fridge was old and smaller than ours was.  It was full of food that was forbidden at home. The floor was old linoleum in a yellow pattern, very worn in places.  There was a huge walk in closet that stayed locked on one side of the kitchen that held my grandmother’s old clothes from the past.  Behind the kitchen, out back was a “summer kitchen” where my Aunt cooked on very hot days in order to not heat up the house.  She barely made it out there and back but did it anyway.  It was dusty and had an older stove than the one inside.

There was an unfinished basement full of spiders (said my Aunt) and where strange old things were found after my Aunt’s death. Apparently there were Victorian area things left from the previous occupants.  I would have loved to see the antiques and old clothes that were taken from the house.  Many old clothes worth money were stolen by “nurses” she had to hire in her last years when she could not do the transfer to the toilet anymore.  Back when I was a kid she still walked and had a cane for going out–well, it was a black umbrella actually.

I have a rather narrow view of people who do home health care.  The mostly untrained “nurses”  also did not treat her well and would stay out all night when she needed someone there all the time.  I wonder if my Aunt was a target.  She worked for the government as a clerk stenographer but had had a bright future that was strangely derailed.  She never married and never left home after something “happened” away at college in Chicago.  She was living on a small pension and Social Security when I knew her.  She was skilled as a writer and a singer and could play piano.  She was also considered good looking.  Apparently a few men asked but she always said “no”.

The bathroom had a huge clawed tub that my Aunt managed to get into to bathe.  No shower.  The faucets had separate Hot and Cold spouts so you had to create the happy medium yourself for bathing and even hand washing.  the old fashioned sink sat alone and had rust stains.  The toilet was more modern but it was odd shaped as I recall as old toilets were.

An elderly maid came once a week.  She had been coming for years.  My Aunt would cook, wash dishes make her bed and even sweep, but the heavy housework was too much.  The maid had a push broom instead of a vacuum.  Have you ever seen one of those?  They don’t clean much.  They used one on a PBS special where a family was supposed to live like the old days.

My Aunt’s house was fascinating for an 8 year old.  Later, as I went there for dinner, weekly, in college, I found the whole setup creepy and wished my Aunt had a modern apartment with setups for disabled people and an electric wheelchair.  There was a huge B/W TV in a console when I first started going there for visits and a huge record player that had a 3 foot high speaker.  It played in “mono” I think.  The old dark green carpet was thin in places.  Later on she had a color TV where my Aunt, me, my cousin and my Uncle would watch 80s shows like Family Ties, the Cosby Show and Night Court.  We would watch the news until the Weather was over then it was bed for my Aunt and we had to leave.  Later, my older cousin lived there and did not have to leave after the weather was over.

After my Aunt died I continued to have dreams and nightmares of going over there.  A few years ago, I took a walk and saw the house from the outside.  It looked fixed up and repainted.  Central A/C had been added.  I did not knock or ask for a tour.  As a ti I am persona non grata.  I think my Aunt knew I was going to be a target and she did not like it.  I think she distanced herself from me when she saw it coming.  My grandmother did not distance herself though.  She did not act ashamed of me.

I told my Aunt not to get her final surgery that proved to be her demise but she did it anyway.  The Dr. promised her paradise and she came home a total invalid and lived one more year after a hellish 5 month hospital stay.  I hope he’s flipping burgers, but I bet not.  I really needed convincing to get my surgery.  I had no complications but I think I got some implants.  I waited at least 5 years longer than I should have to have it thanks to my Aunt’s experience.

I was already a target in the beginning stages and starting to get paranoid of people and their intentions.  I did not think my Aunt looked healthy enough or young enough for the surgery but she insisted and called me “foolish” for trying to talk her out of it.  She’d get angry at me in later years.  I was crushed since I remembered my sweet Aunt from childhood.

I would go visit her after the hospital.  She lay in her hospital bed at home and the inevitable “nurse” would be there listening to all conversations and poking herself in when not needed but withdrawing when real work was needed.  There was a triangle over my Aunt’s bed since now she even had trouble pulling herself up to sit up.  She had a bedpan and needed the nurse to get her into her chair.  All the weight she had lost thru her mistreatment in the hospital had been regained.  She was hooked on benzos.  A color TV was rigged over her bed so she could watch all day long.  Her love of books seemed over.  I could barely stand to visit.

LIttle did I know Death would visit my grandmother only months later and then my mother would go a few years later leaving me no real supportive family members.  My cousin’s apartment has that sort of out of time feel but not so extreme when I visited.  There is a sense of creepiness that seemed familiar.  Old ghosts hanging around.  (Even though there are no ghosts, my religion forbids it)

My apartment is way too old but has had some work done to it.  It reminds me of my Aunt’s house the way the rooms go from front to back.  I have no TV, no maid, and one furperson–a few of the differences but the creepy feeling is there.  I wish I could move far away out of the city and get fresh air and a big yard but wishes are like horses for ti’s.


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