Friday, August 28, 2009

Mean Aunt Jean

Grandpa Harry's sister, Aunt Jean, was ... a terror, a bully, a battle ax. She had red hair, a deep, gravelly voice and carried a pocketbook as big as she was. She was barely 5' but in my memory. she was definitely "larger than life." Aunt Jean always drove a Mercedes and wore big, clanky gold jewelry. I think she bullied Grandma Flo, who never had a lot of self-confidence.

She and Uncle Bill never had children, and they often made the trip from Miami for visits, holidays, and birthdays. We were her grandchildren- by-proxy. Here's a typical Aunt Jean memory: whenever we went to a restaurant, the hostess would say, "I'll have a table for you in just a minute." And Aunt Jean would say, "Don''t be ridiculous, there's an empty table right there," and she'd grab our hands and march us right past the hostess, to the table she'd selected.

Uncle Bill came down with Parkinson's Disease in his 50s. He'd already made a fortune, and Aunt Jean burned through it taking care of him. I'm amazed when I see him in old home movies, laughing and talking, waving a drink and a big cigar. All my memories of him are in a wheelchair, staring vacantly into space, unable to talk. But Aunt Jean never even considered putting him in a nursing home.

We visited her in Miami once with the whole family, and a few years later, Bro 2 and I flew down to visit her. I was 13 at the time and the visit was agony. There was nothing for us to do during the day; Aunt Jean lived in an adults-only condo and we were constantly admonished to be quiet. It wasn't all bad; I insisted that I could wear a petite size, and for the first time, she took me shopping in a ladies' dress store instead of a children's department. Even though it was way too big, she bought me a super cool courderoy jumper and poor-boy turtleneck - something very hip that my mother would never have bought for me. Aunt Jean was capable of kindness and generosity, but she'd just wave off your thanks as if you were making a big fuss over nothing.

Aunt Jean had also taken in Uncle Bill's sister, Aunt Sarah, who was completely senile. The last straw was when Aunt Sarah went off the deep end and accused me of trying to steal her boyfriend. Of course, there was no boyfriend, but the depth of her rage terrified me, even though Aunt Jean was able to calm her down right away. Bro 2 and I went to a movie, and I somehow figured out how to call Mom & Dad collect from a payphone. "We want to come hoooooommme!" I don't remember what Mom said, but somehow she got us out of there in a day or two.

When Aunt Jean was near the end of her life, frail and in failing health, some distant cousin appeared and "helped" her spend whatever funds she still had. That probably happens a lot, especially in Miami. What's really sad, though, is that we don't have any of her stuff: photos, mementos, jewelry. I'm sure Aunt Jean had a softer side; I think she just viewed vulnerability as a character flaw.
Top - Aunt Jean with a birthday cake for Bro 1. Bottom - When I was 13, I looked 9 or 10 years old. I wore white knee socks with white sneakers, imagining that they looked like GoGo Boots.

1 comment:

Karen said...

I thought those were go-go boots! You did a good job. :)