Aunt Mary lived in Virginia. I never knew where she lived in Virginia, and I never knew when she would arrive at Maw and Paw’s house, except that it always seemed to be when we were out of school. She just showed up, and when she did, she didn’t just visit us, she visited all of Maw and Paw’s closest neighbors. I would walk with her up and down the road, stopping at each house where I introduced her as my Aunt Mary from Virginia who had come to visit. Everyone loved Aunt Mary and welcomed her with open arms. We would sit on the porch at each home and enjoy a good long visit.
Unfortunately, I have no pictures of Aunt Mary, so I hope you can get a picture of her in your mind. Aunt Mary was a small little woman with an arthritically bent back, though she walked rather spryly with the help of her cane. She always wore her best. Her dress, stockings, shoes, and hat all gave her the look of a grandmotherly lady from the 1940s. She always wore a light shell and cotton gloves, even in the heat of the summer, and she always carried a little black patent purse that closed with a snap on top. She wore her hair in a bun, and her voice was a little shaky, just as you would expect for someone of her advanced years. But underneath the hat and behind the wire-rimmed glasses, her face looked deceivingly young.
Aunt Mary always wanted to go out visiting in the early morning. If we didn’t get started by 9:00, she became quite agitated. “Come on, child!” she would say. “You’re slower than Christmas! I’ll never get around to everyone.” And out the door we would shuffle, me towering over Aunt Mary and her holding onto my arm with one hand and maneuvering her cane with the other, the little black purse dangling from her arm.
We always stopped at Mr. Lester’s house first. Mr. and Mrs. Lester had lived in the big white house next to Maw and Paw’s house for years on top of years. They owned a large farm that would later be divided among their children, except for a very special tract that Daddy would eventually buy to become our own farm. Mr. Lester made a good match to Aunt Mary in that he, too, had never quite made it out of the 1940s. He owned a 1949 Ford car that looked like he had just driven it off the lot, and even though he owned a large farm, I never saw him in overalls. Mrs. Lester was a sickly lady and seldom came outside, yet she never failed to offer a glass of lemonade anytime Aunt Mary and I came to visit.
Even though Mrs. Lester didn’t come out to visit on the porch that day, true to her nature, she made sure Mr. Lester brought out the pitcher of lemonade and poured both Aunt Mary and me a glass. We sat with Mr. Lester for a while, talking about the weather, the crops, how I was doing in school, and lots of other unmemorable topics. We said our goodbyes and moved on to the next neighbor, this time one across the creek. We repeated much of the same routine at the next neighbor’s home and the one after that. Each time, as we shuffled on, Aunt Mary would turn around with a twinkle in her eye and say, “I’ll be back for another visit, I promise.”
Eventually Aunt Mary from Virginia and I made our way back to Maw and Paw’s house, and Aunt Mary disappeared into the house not to be seen again until her next visit rolled around. Shortly after Aunt Mary went inside, Libby bounced out, sat down on the porch next to me, and with that same twinkle in her eye, said, “What do you want to do next?”
Libby and I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina and way out in the country in those mountains. We were by no means underprivileged, but it was at a time when entertainment was not at your fingertips. Our electronic technology consisted of a console TV set with an antenna on the roof that “brought in” three channels and a stereo with a turntable that played up to seven LP records one after the other. We thought we were hot stuff. Beyond that, we pretty much had to make our own entertainment, and make it we did. Aunt Mary became one of our inventions.
After Grandma Eller died, Maw did not dispose of her clothes for several years , so we couldn’t help but answer their call to us from her closet. It turned out that her clothing fit Libby almost perfectly, and so, Aunt Mary was born and began to make regular visits to Maw and Paw and their closest neighbors. Of the two of us, Libby had all the personality, and she put herself completely into the role of Aunt Mary. It was enough for me to accompany her and enjoy the ruze. As I recall, we really thought the folks we visited fell for Aunt Mary, but I have a feeling that maybe they “had us going” just as much as we thought we did them.
Over time, Aunt Mary’s visits grew further and further apart until they finally stopped. We sisters found other projects to occupy us, but for that time, Aunt Mary brought much joy to several dear people in our little community. I’m the last left to remember her good soul, but perhaps her spirit will swirl through your minds and stir up memories of someone who might fit the description of your own Aunt Mary.