I have a great family and I had a wonderful childhood, shared with lots of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. But, sometimes you get lucky enough, like I did, to have an extra family member or two, who are not blood-related that influence your growing up. Mine was Aunt Maudie. She lived behind us, on the next street over from the house I grew up in, in a tiny town in southern Indiana.
Aunt Maudie was petite in size, reserved and soft-spoken. Her hair was the color of sunshine, pin-curled and sprayed just so, and her skin was always tanned even in the wintertime in Indiana. I thought she looked like Doris Day. Aunt Maudie's clothes were Laura Petrie classic, and she had this pair of sandals with plastic fruit on them that must've come from Blocks or L.S. Ayres in Indianapolis.
Aunt Maudie had two sons who were older than me. One son wanted to be a hairdresser, and he was always cutting my dolls' hair for practice. The other son, for real, I think joined the circus or the carnival. Aunt Maudie's husband was a professional photographer, which I thought was pretty cool, so artsy (I had no idea back then you could actually get paid to take pictures). Every church directory, high school graduation, and wedding picture in our entire town was taken by Aunt Maudie's husband.
All day long during the summers, my dog, JoJo, and I would run, like Dorothy and Toto, back and forth between Aunt Maudie's house and ours. There was a field between the houses, probably only the size of a subdivision lot, but to me it was this expansive green horizon, covered in clover and bumblebees that would sting my bare feet when I stepped on them.
Aunt Maudie's house was plain, but in a sleek and sophisticated way like the one on the Dick Van Dyke Show. It was classic Mid-Mod with everything in nice, predictable 90-degree angles, from the shape of the understuffed sofa to the cut quarry stone on the fireplace. Everything was orderly and simple, and that felt good to me. I figured Aunt Maudie's family must be rich. They had 2 bathrooms (one with the coolest foil wallpaper I'd ever seen), a console TV and, in the basement, a pool table and extra refrigerator with pop and beer in it. There were always Rodgers and Hammerstein soundtrack LPs playing on the living room stereo.
Aunt Maudie knew I loved LaChoy Chicken Chow Mein - the kind in the double-decker can, with the little can of meat on top and the bottom one had the Chinese vegetables. She made it for me every time I came over. She would serve me at a white wrought iron table in her breakfast room (I didn't know people had rooms just for breakfast) on glass dishes, with real silverware and cloth napkins. I felt so cultured and "international".
I got to stay with Aunt Maudie a whole week once when I had the chicken pox and my mom had to work. The best thing I remember about that week was creating a play kitchen out of empty boxes in the middle of Aunt Maudie's living room.
I held a yard sale pretty much every week in the summertime when I was growing up. I would carry all my stuff out of my bedroom and set it up for sale out in front of my house. Aunt Maudie always came to my yard sale and bought something she had no earthly use for.
On May Day, I left flowers (pulled from Aunt Maudie's garden) at her front door, rang the doorbell, and ran away. She acted so surprised and pretended she didn't know they were from me (and from her garden).
You know, here's the thing. Aunt Maudie never lavished me with expensive gifts, or gave me any profound advice, that I can recall. She just made me feel "interesting". Valuable. Worth her time. She seemed to just enjoy watching me being me. How cool is that?
Did you have an Aunt Maudie in your life? Better yet, are you an Aunt Maudie to some kid right now?
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