Archive for March 2, 2014

MY BIG SISTER’S VINTAGE STORY   12 comments

In a half hour I’ll be heading off for the last performance of “The Sound of Music,” promising to post some photos in the next few days. But today I want you to enjoy the fun talent of Thelma, my MFA sister. (i.e., she has a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing.) I love what she writes, and I hope you will also enjoy this little bit of reality-based fiction from a Connecticut suburb in 1926.

I hope for comments I can share with her (which she can see when she reads my blog.) I’m not generally too good at getting reactions to what I post, but I know she would love some feedback on this little gem. Maybe I’ll be more successful this time.

(Some of you may feel echoes of Garrison Keillor in this visit to “Aunt Ellen’s.”)

Off to Aunt Ellen’s

The adventures began in the year 1926 when their father unexpectedly brought home their first automobile, a brand new four-door Overland sedan.  Resplendently gray, the square box-like coach rode high above the narrow wheels.  The running boards, flat roof and narrow protective metal awning over the perpendicular windshield were in accenting black, an elegant au-courant vehicle.  Inside, a braided silk rope hung across the back of the front seat for a snuggling blanket to warm legs in cooler weather.  Like others of its generation, it was a fair weather car.  When frost threatened, up it went on blocks, drained of oil and gasoline, and the family went back to walking again, until spring.  They drove this car for eleven years, while four-year-old Megan went from a little girl to a teen, her brother Ralph from a little boy who insisted on his window to a young man, the family grew from four to five, and the country slid from The Roaring twenties into the Great Depression of the thirties—until it became “the old Overland,” too decrepit to drive.

All but one of Megan’s mother’s five sisters had settled in the small Connecticut town where they had grown up.  Only Aunt Ellen had moved away –to Wolcott and become an unreal fairy tale aunt to Megan.  (She and her father were up-to-date on fairy tales, some of which he made up just for her.) Aunt Ellen lived on a farm, like the ones in her picture books.  She was the only person in Megan’s life who lived far away.  The day her father brought home the car, while they were still in the driveway admiring the new machine, she began to wheedle and beg for a trip to Aunt Ellen’s.  That made her father smile and wink at her mother.  “That settles it, Caroline.”  He knew how badly she wanted to visit her oldest sister, enough older to be her mother.  “Let me have this week to get used to the car.  This is new to me, too, little girl.  And the next Sunday afternoon, we’ll surprise Aunt Ellen and Uncle Henry.”  When Daddy called her “little girl,” Megan knew she had to stop fussing and be content.

Her mother knew how impossible it would be to ask her little girl to wait eleven days for this red-letter day.  It would match the tension of waiting for Christmas.  She riffled through the papers on her desk until she found an extra calendar, marked the special Sunday with a star, and showed Megan how to follow the number each day by putting an X in its box.  Then Caroline settled at the kitchen table to do her own thinking about this extraordinary Sunday with the new Overland.

Over time it had become a tradition among Caroline’s relatives to drop in on each other Sunday afternoons for a visit that always ended in an invitation to stay for supper.  The choreography for this dance was as confusing as a Grand March.  But somehow, it worked, and it was part of each Saturday morning to prepare a light meal “just in case.” Aunt Ellen being so far away, was not part of this ballet.  She might not spend Saturday morning preparing for them.  Caroline made notes that would metamorphose into a chicken casserole and a peach pie (if the peaches were good) to carry to Ellen’s.

Megan had finished her X’s.  Daddy had wrapped the casserole in heavy layers of  newspaper to insulate it as well as the pie to keep it from spilling.  Ralph, who considered himself too old to admit he was thrilled, carried them to the car, and settled them on the floor of the back seat between him and Megan, whose short legs stuck straight out on the seat.  Their parents in a flurry of worry, each checked twice to be sure the house was locked before stepping gingerly on the running boards and getting into the car.  “No fighting back there.  I have to concentrate on driving.  This car goes twenty-five miles an hour.”  And they were off to Aunt Ellen’s.

When they reached the turn off to Wolcott, the muddy stretch through the woods looked more like a cow path than a street.  The Overland’s narrow wheels found their purchase in two parallel, dug in ruts, and with Daddy grasping the wheel tightly to keep the car steady, they flew along at this amazing new speed.  Until Mother cried, “Charles, there’s another car coming right at us.  There’s only room for one.  The children!  What are you going to do?”  When the oncoming car kept moving, Daddy rolled down his window, stuck his head out so he could see, and backed inch by inch the way they had come, forcing the wheels to stay in their narrow lanes until he found an open field, where he pulled the car off “the street.”

“That was pretty chancey. Caroline, I’ll admit.”  Charles leaned over with a quick kiss to restore her confidence.  The man who was driving tipped his hat as he passed.  They had their first adventure before they even reached Aunt Ellen’s.

When they did arrive, they brought chatter, all around. From the kitchen, Aunt Ellen saw them drive up.  Rushing out to greet them, she pulled her little sister into a warm embrace.  “Land sakes, I’m glad to see you, Caroline.”   She hugged Megan, who moved closer to her mother.  Ellen shook hands with Daddy.  “And a new car, Charles?

What a special day!  Do come in.  Henry’s in the barn, but he’ll be in soon.”

Once inside, Megan was a little braver.  She looked around at this “fairy tale” house.  She whispered to her mother, “What is that big thing in the sink?”

“It’s a hand pump.”  Aunt Ellen heard and answered her.  “The hired man made it for me so I wouldn’t have to go outside to the well to carry in water.”

“We don’t have one of those,” Megan marveled. “We don’t have a well either.”

“We live in the country.” Aunt Ellen explained.  “We don’t get city water.  You have shiny faucets you can turn on to wash you hands.  Would you like to try it?”

“Yes, please,”

Aunt Ellen hoisted her up, but though she tried and tried, she couldn’t make the heavy handle move.

Just then, Henry came in, wearing overalls with suspenders, like the farmer in Megan’s book, to say hello and to shake hands with Charles.   Her eyes bright, she told him, “You look like my farmer.  Can we go see the cows?   Where is the barn?  Do you have chickens?  My farmer book has chickens.”

“Whoa, Megan.  Uncle Henry isn’t used to curious little girls,” her father interrupted.

Uncle Henry chuckled.  “Let’s you and I show Megan around the property and leave the girls to catch up.”

When the boys had returned to the house, Ralph talking non-stop about driving, the men and Megan, too, who was excited and tired after seeing and petting real animals, Aunt Ellen made the first move in the familiar ballet.  “Won’t you stay for supper?”

It was Caroline’s turn to say, “Thank you.  It it’s not too much trouble?”  But the finale belonged to Charles when he went to the car to bring in the casserole and pie Mother had prepared in expectation of this invitation.

When supper was over, the grown-ups relaxed and the children sleepy, Daddy said, ‘We need to go while it is still light.  Or the path through the woods will be too dark for our headlights.

Mother and Aunt Ellen washed the casserole dish and pie plate to use for the next adventure.  Megan and Ralph settled in the back seat of the Overland, their parents in the front.

“So good of you, Charles, to bring them to see us.  Caroline, come again soon.” Aunt Ellen waved them goodbye.

Daddy eased into the by-now-familiar two tracks for the car, drove through the woods without meeting another car all the way home.  As they reached their street, a happy Caroline mused, “Isn’t this car amazing, Charles.  All the places we can go.  What an unbelievable world we’re passing on to our children.”

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