The blog entry below was posted on Nov. 5, 2005, on a diary blog long deleted. It’s sentimental but I really loved my aunt.
One summer I took a road trip with my aunt. She picked me up and we drove to Washington, D.C., where she had a conference to attend and I had two job interviews. I was reluctant to leave the lovely university town where I’d spent an extra year teaching and waiting for my boyfriend to graduate. I would have liked to stay, work part-time, and drink coffee every day at the Runcible Spoon, but was inculcated with some crazy idea of my aunt’s that it was my duty to pass on my learning. Did I want a real job? I wasn’t sure. Armed with a suit from Pappagallo and a padded resume, I had no doubt I would find work.
My aunt was the chair of a department at a midwestern university. Before that she worked in Washington for the Department of Agriculture for 10 years. The only member of my family with a Ph.D., she was a refined, articulate woman who, like a Roman matriarch, devoted herself to work and family. She spent thousands of dollars on the education of a couple of her poorer nieces, feeling they needed a boost in a male-dominated world.
On the trip she regaled me with family history. She told me that Gramma had insisted on sending her daughters to college.
“They’re not pretty, so they need all the education they can get.”
The boys were expected to find jobs without the benefit of a college education. My dad was supposed to get the farm -a poor, run-down place – but he married up instead.
My aunt said, “He didn’t get as much education as he deserved.”
There are two classes on my dad’s side of my family: the women all have college educations, and none of the men do. Hence the women are middle- to upper- middle (?), and the men lower-middle (?) class. Yet I rather think the men make more money.
On the trip, we discussed our reading, but it was obvious we fell down on music. She liked the easy-listening station. It drove me crazy.
“What do you call this?” I asked.
“I call it beautiful music,” she said, smiling. Growing up poor on a farm (she wore dresses made of feed sacks during the Depression), she was well-read but had received no musical education.
Perhaps of all my relatives I resembled my aunt most closely physically. Both my aunt and I when young had reddish-blond hair, heart-shaped faces, and green eyes.
We both read enormous amounts.
And Charlotte Bronte’s Villette was our favorite book!
She was always very dignified. I, alas, am not. She waited till she retired to go gray though my own thought has always been that growing older gracefully means not dyeing hair.
It was horrifying when she got sick. We drove 100 miles to see her in the hospital some weekends when there was no one else around to do it. For a couple of weekends when she was in intensive care everyone bailed. As soon as she was better she sat up in bed and tried to organize schedules for other sick relatives. Like the women in Little Women, my aunt spent a lot of time doing good works.
Well, her birthday was in November and I’m thinking of her. She was a good role model, and she certainly kept the family together. We don’t have a matriarch anymore.