Aunt-Blanche-Uncle-Ernie-and-Carla by (4 Stories)

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In my mind, Aunt-Blanche-Uncle-Ernie-and-Carla are almost one person, because I rarely think of one without the others.

I know this house by heart. It’s actually more of a bungalow, with whitish exterior stucco walls and a brick-red tile roof. It sits at the front of a small courtyard, and I am often brought onto the little front porch where I sit in my wooden high chair and watch the world go by.

It’s 1948. I’m being bathed in a kitchen sink, and I’m kicking up a mighty splash. My Aunt Blanche’s soapy hands hold me, slippery but secure. I’m babbling and chortling, and I’m twisting because I don’t want to take my eyes off the brightly painted cuckoo clock on the wall above the stove. I know at any moment that funny bird will pop out of its little door and cluck “Cuckoo, cuckoo.”

Aunt Blanche lifts me up and points out the window to direct my attention to a real bird fluttering in the backyard birdbath. My focus is solidly on her fingertip, so she wraps a towel around me and, holding me snugly in her arms, steps outside, the screen door slapping—a loud slap followed by a shorter softer slap—behind us. We sit down on the worn red-piped cushion atop the squeaky metal glider, swinging back and forth a few times until my aunt brushes her feet on the grass and we come to a gradual stop. The sun is warm, there’s a soft breeze, and we sit quietly and watch as butterflies, dragonflies, and hummingbirds waft, flit, and beat their wings in the small garden. A calico cat trots over and weaves its way in and out of Aunt Blanche’s legs and she bends down to pet it, scratching under its neck.

Aunt Blanche is heavyset and florid, her face an intricate pattern of red spider veins. She wears a patterned head scarf and a short-sleeved housedress made of a silky flowered fabric. I quietly play with the skin under her arm, wiggling my fingers to make it waggle back and forth. I love her sweet scent of roses and beer.

The screen door slaps double again, and Uncle Ernie joins us, frosty beer can in hand. He lowers himself onto a padded metal chaise and takes a long gulp. Uncle Ernie is a house painter and almost always wears either white coveralls or light-colored pleated pants and a clean white T-shirt. He’s tall and lanky, almost bald, and has a friendly yet serious face with a quick, shy smile. He’s soft-spoken and gentle, and in time he will teach me how to stand on my head.

Another slap-slap and here comes my cousin, Carla, a cocktail glass with ice cubes clinking in one hand, a cigarette burning in the other, my seersucker sun-suit tucked under one arm. Carla, a petite beauty with curling dark hair and a wide smile, was a dancer until she lost an eye. Towards the end of the Second World War, during a blackout, she was a passenger in a car that careened under the truck in front of it and the top of the car was sheered off. Most days Carla wears trim black slacks with a wide belt, a colorful top tucked in, and color-coordinated Capezio slippers. She’s rarely without lipstick, or a cocktail, and she flirts and (as I would years later hear) even more with the delivery boys, offering at least one of them a drink, then inviting him in, and then disappearing with him into her bedroom at the end of the dimly lit hallway. Now she kneels down in front of me, takes me into her lap, and helps me into my sun-suit.

All attention is focused on me. I am clearly loved and adored.

I know this house by heart. It’s actually more of a bungalow, with whitish exterior stucco walls and a brick-red tile roof. It sits at the front of a small courtyard, and I am often brought onto the little front porch where I sit in my wooden high chair and watch the world go by.

Inside, my favorite room is in the back of the house…a sewing room with two dress forms, a big table, and all the tools of the trade…patterns, pinking shears, pins, needles, and threads in a rainbow of colors. Aunt Blanche is a seamstress. She has made a dolly for me. Dolly is tightly stuffed, with yellow fuzz for hair and a simple painted face, and she wears a soft white eyelet pinafore. Sometimes my aunt sits me down on the floor, removes the lid from a large round cookie tin filled almost to the brim with buttons, and places it in front of me. Mesmerized by the cool feel of hundreds of buttons of different colors and sizes streaming through my fingers, I run my hands through them endlessly.

Tucked away deep, deep inside me is the quiet, unconditional love that flowed between me, my aunt, my uncle, and my cousin. It has been there for as long as I can remember, and it’s still there, even though I have no idea what happened to them. They were there, and the next time I thought about them, which may have been decades later, they were gone. Poof.

Profile photo of Barbara Buckles Barbara Buckles
Artist, writer, storyteller, spy. Okay, not a spy…I was just going for the rhythm.

I call myself “an inveterate dabbler.” (And my husband calls me “an invertebrate babbler.”) I just love to create one way or another. My latest passion is telling true stories live, on stage. Because it scares the hell out of me.

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Tags: aunt, uncle, kin
Characterizations: well written

Comments

  1. Laurie Levy says:

    This is a wonderful story, Barbara. Through your amazing details, I can picture your aunt, uncle, and cousin so clearly. Love the kitchen sink bath and playing with buttons (my grandfather was a tailor), both of which I remember from childhood and neither of which would be allowed for today’s kids.

    • Thanks so much, Laurie! Amazing we survived Mr. Potato Head with those sharp, pointy pieces, right? I think the “new and improved” version with a perfect plastic “potato” took away about 90% of the creative fun. And don’t tell anyone, but I let my daughter, and then my granddaughters, play with my own tin of buttons. The older one would always parrot, “We’re not allowed to eat them.” But I’m not sure why a sink bath wouldn’t be allowed today…I gave my own daughter one, and she did the same for both her daughters. I’m thinking germs?

  2. Suzy says:

    Barbara, I love this story! Such a vivid description of three unforgettable characters. And a little mysterious too. Why were you staying with them? Where were your own parents? And why did you not think of them again for decades? I’m looking forward to future stories that will tell us more about you.

    • I’m so pleased my story drew you in enough to make you wonder about all that! It was a mystery to me, too…I had vivid memories that I couldn’t explain until I was finally told the truth about my early years…when I was in my 40s! I’ll undoubtedly be posting more stories that will fill in the blanks…it’s dawning on me that I’ve stumbled into a rabbit hole here, and I see the glimmer of a new obsession reading as many stories as I can, commenting, and writing my own. I simply need more hours in the day!

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Accidentally turn on hot water, I think. So many more rules these days. And I agree the old potato sets that used a real potato were much better. Probably afraid a kid will eat a rotten, uncooked potato?

  4. Marian says:

    Really enjoyed this story, Barbara, and I too recall playing with buttons in a colorful tin box and being bathed in the kitchen sink. It’s a pity you don’t know what happened to these people whom you remember with such wonderful images. I had an aunt Rachel who loved children and the water, and we would have lots of fun splashing in the waves in Cape Cod.

    • Thank you, Marian. One by one my aunt, uncle, and cousin passed away, years after I lived with them and before I was old enough to realize I missed them. I might have to take a stab at writing about that. You mentioned Cape Cod…I’m going there for the first time come mid October and staying in a house on the water. I have so many fantasies about the feel of the place…can’t wait to see how they compare to reality.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    You are a wonderful story teller, Barbara. Your eye for detail, the way you shape your story, the smells, the sounds. I can picture your relatives perfectly and feel the love and protection they offered you. A wonderful addition to this prompt. Thank you.

  6. I’ll echo what Betsy said about your storytelling. Absolutely first rate. Absolutely loved the description of the double-bang screen door. I do remember them well!

    • Hi Tom, and thanks so much!! I love hearing how different details resonate…just looking at your phrase “double-bang screen door” makes the sound reverberate in my memory. I gotta tell you, I’ve come to the right place…I had no idea getting these kinds of responses would make me feel the way I do. I’m choked up! Looking forward to reading some of your stories over the weekend…unfortunately (or fortunately), I still have a day job which includes a long freeway commute. If only this were a podcast…hey, now there’s an idea, someone!! 🙂

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