A friend of mine recently learned of my life story which I always considered to be “”G” rated; you know a Disney movie, suitable for all ages. She couldn’t believe in light of reading about my delusional mother how normal I turned out.
“Me? Normal? No way. I’m a writer.” As everyone knows writers are not even permitted to have the word normal as part of their vocabulary much less be it.
“Someone or something must have been the catalyst to keep your life centered especially during your child development years,” she persisted.
I responded, “Well, I was told when I was two years old we had a dog and I ate his bowl of food once. Could that have been the pivotal point in my life?”
“Not really. Although it does explain your occasional penchant to drag your butt on your living room carpet.”
After making her smart ass response to my smart ass response, a “get the hell off my planet” stare followed.
Actually I did recall someone in my youth which led to the formation of my internal GPS guiding me through a tempestuous life with my mother. The someone or rather someones, to be precise, turned out to be my having three additional moms, my dad’s three unmarried sisters, my aunties: Auntie Claire, Auntie Lennie and Auntie Ida.
In 1955, my parents divorced when I was five. (Put away your calculators, I’m now 63.) And with the court ordered shared custody I would spend weekends with my dad who post-divorce also
More accurately, I would spend weekends with my aunts rather than with my dad since most of his time was occupied by Andy’s Spa: a small variety store and diner with six stools. (My dad used to joke that if my cousin Johnny and I had money we would go to Rosie’s Market on Langdon Street to buy our candy but if we didn’t have money we would walk up the steep Hagan Street hill to go to his store to get our candy for free.) Dad’s spa required his 6AM – 5PM attention Monday through Saturday and half his day Sunday. Friday and Saturday nights were dad’s going out with the guys nights.
While my weekend days were spent playing with my cousins, my nights were spent with the aunties. Whether it was playing cards, keno or simply watching television in their cramped living room, what we did didn’t matter. The fact that I was in a safe haven away from a turbulent weekday existence did.
On some Saturdays, the aunties would get all dressed-up and we, along with my cousins Johnny and Sidra, would go with them for a day downtown. We would have to take the bus as none of them ever learned to drive. First on our agenda would always be lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Here was where Auntie Lennie met the love of her life, Phil. Although he eventually proposed to Auntie Lennie, my grandfather would not permit a non-Italian to marry into his familia. And the fact that he was Filipino…forgetaboutit. To my grandmother this would be scandaloso.
After our Chinese meal, we would break off into two groups. One aunt would bring us to the movies while the other two headed for their favorite clothing stores: Gladding’s, Shepard’s and Jean’s.
One time my cousin Sidra and I enjoyed a movie with Auntie Claire before enjoying throwing snowballs at her from the bus stop all the way up Langdon Street. Not only was she not amused perhaps this was the cause of her remaining single. Get married and have brats like them? I don’t think so.
When Sunday morning would arrive they would give me an option
regarding church attendance: not whether or not I would go to church but whether I would go to 7:30AM mass with Auntie Ida, 9:30AM mass with Auntie Lennie or 11AM mass with Auntie Claire. I would accompany Auntie Ida desiring to get mass over with to enjoy the rest of the day with the cousins.
Sadly my grandmother died when I was 12 and my grandfather when I was 19. Though this removed our family’s matriarch and patriarch, it did provide Auntie Ida with invaluable information as to who “cared for ma and pa and how much they cared” for them in the form of two lists she would frequently consult. Auntie’s first list contained the names of those in attendance at the wakes and/or funerals. The second list was vastly more important than the first, it was the la busta (the envelope) list which contained the names of those who gave an envelope and how much cash they gave to help defray the cost of ma and pa’s funerals…an old Italian tradition…and an indicator to Auntie Ida how much they cared for Maggie or John, my grandparents.
I never checked the obituaries for the death of any relative or friend of the family as I would rely on an early morning telephone call from Auntie Ida, “Andy your third cousin Bob from Johnston died. He came to ma and pa’s wake. You go but only to the wake; he didn’t come to any funerals. And only put two dollars in la busta, that’s all he gave grandma, he gave no la busta to your grandfather.” Not wanting to burst her bubble by telling her $2 in 1962 was worth a heck of a lot more than it is today or more importantly no one gives la busta anymore, I would tell her I would be sure to go and thanked her for letting me know.
My birthday was never forgotten. As a matter of fact, their cards would arrive a week before the actual date to be sure I would have them on my special day. (Most years my own mother would forget my birthday and not even call me. Not the aunties.) Later in my life – and theirs – when I operated a bus company approximately two miles from their house, each September 24th sometime in the afternoon I – and the entire office building and bus maintenance facility –would hear “Andy, the aunties are here” over the intercom. They would walk from Langdon Street to my bus facility on Veazie Street with a made from scratch large birthday sheet cake and candles.
Change comes slowly to some and never welcomed by the aunties. It took me forever to convince them to have cable television installed, “We already have more channels than we need. We have channel 10, 12 and 6. We can only watch one station at a time. Why have all the confusion with so many of those cable stations?”
After they consented to a cable hook-up, they were hooked.
Auntie Claire would tune in to The Weather Channel like it was her job, “Andy, did you send any of your buses out today?”
I would think the object of this bus game was to keep my 21 buses rolling 24/7/365. My response, “Yes, Auntie, I have a couple out right now.”
“You’d better call your drivers and tell them to get back right away. They’re having blizzard conditions in Utah.”
“Okay, I’ll try to reach them. Thanks.” Damn Weather Channel. Damn me for insisting they get cable.
After a telephone call from any one of the aunties, like clockwork I would get another call from one of the other aunts. Followed by a third call from the aunt left out of the telephone conversation loop. Usually Auntie Lennie would be last and tell me, “They never let me talk. It’s because I’m the baby of the family, that’s why.” No kidding, the baby of the family, huh? At eighty-eight she still refers to herself as the baby of the family.
Although infrequent, there were times when our young children’s babysitter, Eleanor, a retired nurse, would be sick. On those days the aunties would insist I drop the kids off on the way to my business and then pick them up en route home. The dropping off process was never a problem as our children would be excited to go to the aunties. It was the picking up that was problematic as they would want to remain with the fun aunts. What, mommy and daddy aren’t fun? (To be honest, I would also feel this way when I was young when I would hear my mother repeatedly blast her horn to inform me – and the neighborhood – that the court ordered weekend visitation had ended.)
While my mother would claim that she was too busy to attend any special school or after school events for our children, the aunties, my surrogate moms, would be eager to participate. At one of our daughter’s dance recitals, as the 4 and 5 year old little girls costumed as bumble bees unevenly took the stage, I looked over at Auntie Claire and I could see her attempting to stifle a laugh. I leaned over to Kathy, my wife, and nodded to look at Auntie Claire and whispered, “Get ready.”
The piano music started. Their dance began and Auntie Claire erupted as all of the tiny tots danced into each other; apparently there was a disconnect between the music and their ballerina slippered feet. At least that was the case with all of the swarm of bees with the exception of one little girl who stood there, frozen in place except for her arms which were flapping along with the music. Please, God, don’t let Auntie Claire see her. At this point, Auntie Claire’s shoulders were bobbing faster and faster as though she was in the throes of a spasmodic rapture. Next came her uncontrollable laughter – damn, she saw the flapper – causing the other two aunties – and anyone within a fifty foot radius of our seats – to join in Auntie’s laughfest.
Perhaps one of their greatest qualities which made them so relatable to me as a child as well as to our own children was their innocence. This made them easy prey in their later years. While I was having a late morning breakfast meeting someone mentioned a news story he had just heard while driving to the restaurant about three Providence elderly sisters who lived together and were robbed early that morning by two men who gained entry into their house pretending they were from the Providence Water Department. It had to be the aunties. I went outside to make a quick call.
I called their house. No answer. I dashed back into the restaurant, to grab my briefcase and explained the reason for my abrupt departure. This was one time when 95 was the route I was on as well as on my speedometer.
As I suspected, my aunties were the victims.
They were pretty well shaken up but explained to me that the two “gentlemen” (thieving degenerate bastards…my words) claimed that the water department suspected one of their water pipes was leaking and in order to test the system, all three would have to man a water entry point into the house. One of the “gentlemen” having already been in their basement to “check out their meter”, sent all three of the aunties downstairs: one to keep opening and closing the spout to the utility sink another to keep flushing the toilet and finally, the third to fill and then drain the washing machine. In their innocence, they would never think anything was amiss; the aunties did as they were instructed while the bastards (my word) robbed them of any cash or jewelry they could find throughout the house before they took off.
Not too long after that, Auntie Claire died. A few years later we moved Auntie Lennie and Auntie Ida – and her lists – into senior housing while my cousin Johnny and I took care of emptying and remodeling the house, where they resided since 1928, in order that it be sold.
An upset Auntie Ida called me one night wondering why I hadn’t returned her telephone call from the previous day. She was crying because she assumed something happened to us and we didn’t let them know in order that they not worry.
After assuring her that we were all fine, I told her we never received a message on our answering machine. She said, “But I even left a message with that girl.” I told her, “Auntie, there were no messages from you on our answering machine from yesterday. Besides, our answering machine has a man’s voice on it, maybe you misdialed.”
“No, I dialed the correct number. Maybe the man went to the bathroom and had the girl answer the phone for him.”
Auntie Lennie, the baby, is the only one left of Team Aunties. She is currently deeply recessed in her private world of Alzheimer’s and resides in a dementia care facility.
In response to the question at hand as to who or what was the catalyst – the tipping point if you will – to keep my life centered during my early years, I would say without equivocation the aunties, my 3 “moms”. I would live in the delusional Miss Lynn World weekdays and run to my personal Walton Mountain located at 179 Langdon Street, the home of my aunties on weekends.
Thanks for allowing me to share my aunties with you.
To sneak a peek at my new at times humorous book about what it was like living with my delusional mother, read sample pages on Amazon here.