Aunt Lucy was my step-grandfather’s sister and if she intended to leave a mark on me, she certainly did. I don’t know all about her but what I do know is that she had been married and it didn’t work out. Aunt Lucy was one of five children who were born into a prosperous family: All of them had been educated at excellent schools. The youngest, Mae, had died at an early age. Besides her brother [ my step-grandfather] she had three brothers who all took different paths in life. She had taught music at Lincoln Grade School and it must have been in the early 1900’s. And she spent her time living with first one relative and then another for who knows how many years. My grandmother never knew when Aunt Lucy was coming for she never called: She just showed up at the front door carrying a paper bag and her purse. And she would stay for months upon end.
Since I lived with my grandparents till I was five and stayed at their house endlessly, I was usually there when Aunt Lucy showed up.
She resembled “Mrs. Doubtfire” but only in her dressing, hose and lace-up black shoes. Tall and a big woman with a haunting disposition it was her hearing aid, false teeth and a big ruby ring that she wore that mystified me. She wore her hair parted in the middle and pulled back in a bun. And I guess I could say that I was afraid of her for I had never met anyone like her in my young life.
Aunt Lucy would pretend that she couldn’t hear but she could hear what she wanted to hear. Worse was that she would play my grandmother’s piano so loud that my step-grandfather [and her brother] would go out and sit on the front porch even in the winter. Heaven only knows the hours he spent out there off and on during her visits. When she played the piano, she also sang at the top of her lungs and her teeth clacked and that big ruby ring hit the keys so hard it could be heard all over the house. My grandmother cringed, I went to another room and well you know what my step-grandfather did.
I asked her about that ruby ring for I had never seen one and it was a huge solitaire. She told me that she found it in a Cracker Jack box and it wasn’t the prize: Some woman had lost that ring and Aunt Lucy was the lucky recipient.
When nighttime came, Aunt Lucy would retreat to the upstairs front bedroom. I would walk in to see her and she would pull out kid curlers that resembled long green beans that had turned dark brown and her nightgown out of the paper bag. Those kid curlers scared the wits out of me for I really didn’t know what they were—dead or alive things. Every night she would take out her false teeth and set them on the bathroom sink—never in a glass of water. They fascinated me and infuriated my grandmother for she said that false teeth belong in a glass of water. I just liked to look at them for I had never seen false teeth in my life.
The other strange thing was that Aunt Lucy never washed her hair the entire time she visited. Maybe she wanted complete privacy and there was only a bathtub in the upstairs bathroom. Who knows the answer as to why she didn’t wash her hair?
I couldn’t begin to count the hours that Aunt Lucy spent playing the piano and singing and those spent by my step-grandfather outside on the front porch: If added up, it would have been months upon months. And yet he never criticized his sister. Retreating was his way of getting out of a confrontation.
This is my memory of Aunt Lucy. I was eight when she died and I remember going to her funeral and her burial: She was buried with that huge ruby ring and rightly so. In retrospect, she had to have been a very lonely woman but knew that her family members would take her in and let her stay as long as she wanted. She had no permanent home and therein lies the sadness of it all.
The things I wrote about that made her distinct were not made fun of but rather strange to me as a little girl.
Whenever I see paper bags at the grocery store, I immediately think of her. As for that ruby ring, well I have my own but the stone is no way as big as that one. And never did I find anything as exciting in a box of Cracker Jacks as she did. Over the years I have seen lots of false teeth but never any more kid curlers, thankfully. I inherited my grandmother’s piano and had it for years and years. And yes, I played it but never sang while doing so. Two years ago, I gave that loved piano away to a dear friend of mine for her daughter.
She will now know the story of Aunt Lucy and that her ruby ring clacked on the keys, her false teeth clacked while she sang loudly and that my step-grandfather spent months at intervals on his front porch out of sheer desperation. If I had been him, I would have lost it; I don’t know how he kept from blowing up.
And I don’t know how my grandmother kept her cool either.
But only my relatives and I know that when we saw Aunt Lucy at the front door carrying a paper bag that she was intending to stay for a long time—like months upon months. And it was never dull to say the least!