Crinkled brows, eyes shifting from side to side, estimating, evaluating; finally a bark of laughter erupts and a lead card is thrown onto the table.
“We have you now,” shrieks a female voice.
“Maybe,” replies a male opponent as a second card meets the first.
A third card, higher ranked, joins the small pile, and a fourth. The trick is taken by the opponent.
“Always expect a holdout,” the man’s voice advises.
The aroma of strong coffee and one of Mom’s baked wonders tantalizes nostrils and stomachs of those present. It’s always the same group; couple vs. couple or men vs. women. The game might change from Euchre to rummy or to Pitch, but the night would leave everyone relaxed and satisfied.
Mom’s sister had a great deal to do with that feeling of hilarity. She loved playing the fool during card nights and did it very well. Some nights she was more boisterous than on others, but she seldom turned serious when games were in play.
My younger brother and his counterpart cousin generally watched TV during card night and then settled down to sleep. My older cousin and I watched the game in the kitchen as interested by-standers. We didn’t play. If Euchre was being played, we definitely were not allowed to play. In our part of the country, that game was a gambling game, even when not played for stakes. No children need apply.
None would ever consider the two women as not being family. My mom resembled my aunt in coloring and hair style. Their builds were nearly identical. Both were natural artists and could turn almost anything into a piece of art.
My mother worked in paint and clay or metal and findings from the forest. Her sister worked in paint and fabric, for the most part. Both loved antiques, but my aunt could have been a dealer. The knowledge she had was gleaned from years of scouring antique shops, auctions, and estate sales.
Most of all, both women loved the outdoors and nature. They’d grown up in the country. Their mother had taught them a deep love and respect for what grew wild or by design. They each enjoyed growing food for their tables as much as gathering from the wild.
With all of these commonalities, they managed to remain individuals who stood apart from each other.
Auntie was more playful than Mom. Mom had better rapport with children and animals. Auntie desired a house full of antiques and a spotless home. Mom liked things tidy, but she preferred a sense of home and comfort to fill rooms meant for living.
Aunt and Uncle often took Grandma and my cousins on trips away for a weekend to see other relatives. Mom didn’t bother. Her sister took great pleasure in that part of mother-daughter time; leaving Mom to do the Sunday home visits for family time.
Sisters, friends, companions, champions, confidantes; each filled those roles for the other. They talked in person or on the phone every day, without fail. Close didn’t begin to describe their relationship. They could have been twins for all the difference there was between them.
Except, of course, at the card table. Auntie bantered nonsense, trying to throw off the opponents. She’d accuse her husband of stacking the deck if he wasn’t her partner, and encourage him to throw better cards her way during the deal if he was her partner. The poor man couldn’t win an engagement with her either way.
Mom would go along with the gags, kidding, nonsense, and laughter, all the while keeping herself unaffected by it. I figure that for her it was like being at one of the old carnivals. A person heard the barker calling out to those passing by, but that didn’t mean that the person had to pay the quarter to see the Freak Show.
It was the night’s total atmosphere and camaraderie that Mom enjoyed, and much of that atmosphere was created by her sister. Auntie was a one-woman show and didn’t need much encouragement. That was how she liked it, I think.
There are times when I think back to those nights just to listen to that laughter and to see again the absolute joy on my aunt’s face when she’d pulled off a really good card play. It’s been a nearly thirty years since she left us, but I can still smile at her antics, knowing that she entertained us as much for her own sake as for any other reason.
Taking a look at each of my father’s sisters as a subject has been an interesting process. I began yesterday with the middle sister. Today I’ll look at the eldest sister, taking those memories of my own, as faulty as those might be.
First of three beautiful daughters, and small of physical stature, her birth brought much joy to her parents in the middle of the roaring 20’s. Soulful eyes gazed out onto the world, looking for her place in it. Like all children, she had to wait for the answers to her future.
My aunt helped her parents work the small farm that surrounded them. The culture and the times demanded that all hands keep busy and help tend to the family crops, chores, and everyone’s general welfare. By the time she was ready to enter adulthood, fear and pain would be a constant companion.
This was the woman who, many years later, during my teen years, listened to her daughter and me talk into the night, as we giggled about secrets in the next bedroom. Long evenings passed while the peacocks called from their sentry stations around the horse farm. Summer’s warm, lazy breezes at night fluttered bedroom curtains as we slept in the house she cared for.
And this was the woman who’d lived through what would crush many others.
When my aunt was a teen, polio still crippled individuals and families’ spirits. It was said that she became ill with something that acted suspiciously like that disease. Recovery was long and halting.
Nevertheless, her salvation arrived on the heels of fear and pain. The love of her life came to champion her, to take her in his arms and carry her through life. What could she do but allow this strong, gentle suitor to take her hand, as protector and husband?
With his help and love, she overcame the effects of her illness. It wasn’t easy, but she did it. They started their family and lived as everyone else did on a farm.
Years later, when her son and daughter were in their early teens, a shocking and terrifying event changed the course of her days. Tending the family vegetable garden was challenging in the southern summer heat, yet picking veggies for the dinner table wasn’t considered debilitating.
Within that space between heartbeats terror struck. With the suddenness of an adder’s bite, her vision disappeared in one eye. Her eyes had never been good, but now she was challenged as never before.
When she finally got to the eye doctor, the verdict wasn’t good. The retina was badly torn. She had to face the probability of never regaining her sight in that eye and the other retina wasn’t too stable, either. The doctor’s diagnosis was heart-wrenching.
Instead of flailing around in a soup of depression and self-flagellation, lamenting forever what she’d lost and how unfair life was, she fought to regain as much independence as possible. She learned Braille, retrained herself so that she could continue doing all of those tasks she’d done before the accident. Her family helped as much as possible, which proved sorely needed.
Not long after her trial by blindness began and she’d made significant progress, my uncle was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died a few weeks later, leaving her without her champion of so many years.
She went without escort to her daughter’s wedding. She sat in church each week without the tall, quiet man who’d carried her as a bride. She endured.
For all these long years, she’s kept a home together for herself and her son, who followed in his father’s footsteps as a specialist with thoroughbreds. She never lost her sense of humor, though it was tested many times. Also, her culinary skills could rival many a restaurant.
The years have moved forward, unfolding the future and my aunt’s life. Elderly now, she continues to fight the good fight. Strong faith has lifted her up and sustained her throughout life’s trials.
All I’ve ever needed as an example to help me overcome adversity were the memories I hold of this lady of endurance, hospitality, and appreciation.