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Monday, July 17, 2017

(2) AUNT RUTH SAID SHE ATE TO LIVE, NOT VICE VERSA.

(2)  Twenty four years later, it's possible I had acquired a tad more patience and tolerance, but Ruth was still Ruth, her talent for dispersing such qualities undiminished.  On April 15, 1959, while vacationing in Fort Lauderdale, I wrote to Kathie about one of my aunt's visits when Ed was back in Boston:

AUNT RUTH WITH TIMMY SANDY COVE 1947
     Before Mother and Aunt Ruth arrived from Winter Park, I hid all Dad's paperback mysteries, emptied an ashtray (filled by one of our friends), and put a liquor bottle under cover.  The one thing I couldn't do much about was my tan.  I do believe Aunt Ruth considers a tan pretty much on the sinful side—slothful, at any rate.  Sure enough, the first thing she said in a tone of dismay was:  `Oh, Barbara, what makes you so brown!'
     I said I couldn't help it. If one plays tennis and swims under the Florida sun, a certain chemical reaction takes place that darkens the skin.  Aunt Ruth is vain about two things:  her wavy snow-white hair and her snow-white skin.   Do you know what her skin looks like to me?  The underside of a snake.   Excuse me, but it really does. We had a reasonably pleasant dinner, since Aunt Ruth was on her best behavior and voiced few direct criticisms.  We dined at Creighton's, and Mother and I enjoyed our imported lobsters, although Aunt Ruth let it be known that she, for one, ate to live and not vice versa.
     On the trip back to Winter Park, Aunt Ruth began proposing all sorts of plans for me, such as having lunch with her the next day and looking over some things she wanted to show me.  I knew what “things” meant:  bushels of old letters from long dead friends and relatives, pictures, mementos like the picture made with her dead sister's hair, the family Bible, its pages saliva stained by generations of pious finger-wetting page turners. She's pushing 90 (doesn't look a day over 75), so I guess she’s anxious to find a home for her treasures before she dies.
     Mother said firmly that she had plans for me, too.  Ruth had had a chance to visit with me for several hours now, and “remember you wanted to have your Wyman all to yourself; I understood that, Ruth, even though I would have loved to see more of him than I did.”
     “But you see Barbara every summer.  I hadn't seen Wyman for two or three years.”
      Well, they argued back and forth until I broke in to say I felt like a worm being stretched between two hungry birds.  Aunt Ruth subsided, and thereafter anything she had to say was uttered in a heart‑broken quaver, accompanied by a tremulous sigh. Mother, still trying to spare me the Family History ordeal, suggested we might meet at some place like Howard Johnson's for lunch.
     Yesterday afternoon Mother's friend Mrs. Kirk called to remind her that she and I were to have lunch at her house today.  Five minutes later Aunt Ruth called and said she'd definitely like to meet us at Howard Johnson's.  Mother explained about her forgotten date with Mrs. Kirk.
     Ever since, Aunt Ruth has bombarded me with woeful telephone calls, attempts to pin me down (now I feel like an anesthetized butterfly), and sad little allusions to the fact that Mabel Kirk is Ruth's oldest and dearest friend.  Why, Ernestine wouldn't even know Mabel Kirk if it weren't for Aunt Ruth.
     Mother pointed out again that Aunt Ruth had budgeted her time with Wyman, and Aunt Ruth broke in to say that no one could understand how close she felt to me, I was her own flesh-and-blood niece, Mother couldn't possibly feel the same way about Wyman.
     Oh well . . . perhaps I'll give her some time tomorrow.  Mother warns that I will have to listen to her read to me eight- and ten-page letters from defunct friends—boring and poorly written letters at that.
     This last paragraph makes me feel uncomfortable.  I think I'll sign off right now. . . .

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