Monday, April 23, 2007

My Best Birthday Present

This picture is of my grandparents, Lillian and Percy Herndon, and Mama and Aunt Flo. Aunt Flo is 16 months younger than Mama, and they are inseparable and always have been. I've told you a number of stories about their childhood: Doll Buggy, Ginny & Flo Go Out Catching Birds, and Papa Bear which give you a flavor of those days. Mama was the bolder sister, Aunt Flo the shyer. Mama was always very fast and slapdash, Aunt Flo a slow perfectionist. My grandfather used to say that she would be late for her own wedding and completely miss her funeral, and although we don't know about her funeral yet (and are willing to wait a good, long time to find out) she was, indeed, late for her wedding. When she was supposed to be walking down the aisle, she was sitting in front of the heater trying to get her hair to dry. And, my Uncle Wes wasn't in the least concerned about it, either. That's just Aunt Flo.

Aunt Flo and Mama were best pals and each other's support as they were growing up and ever since as well. When they were children, Mama always had to hold the rabbits while Grandpa skinned them, because Aunt Flo would pass out. But, when they got candy Mama always ate all of hers and then looked sad and Aunt Flo would feel sorry for her and split what she had left and then Mama would do it again and get half of what was left and then do it again and then . . . Mama says she thinks she got a good 85 percent of the candy Aunt Flo was given. So, being soft hearted worked both ways.

When Mama eloped with my father, Aunt Flo was the only one who knew. There was a horrible storm in the mountains that day and Aunt Flo was terrified that the plane would crash and it would be her fault for not telling my grandparents what Mama was doing. And, 11 months later, on her 18th birthday, I was born. I've been told that when she heard, she jumped up and down and her pig tails flew in the air she was so excited. And, I would have been just as excited if I had known, because she is the best birthday present I ever got.

After my father died, Aunt Flo came to live with us and help my mother support us. And I was the flower girl in her wedding. After Mama married Daddy, and we would go to Aunt Flo and Uncle Wes's for dinner, Daddy would always make sure we had a sandwich just before we left, because we would get there and she would still be in the tub, with dinner not even started. (Which I thought of when I heard that Julie and Ted and Maya had gone to visit Mama and Aunt Flo and Aunt Flo had gone to the kitchen for ice cream and Maya had almost starved to death in the half hour it took her to scoop it up.)

When I went to college the first time, Great-aunt Julie sent me; she died before I dropped out. So, when I went back to college, it was Aunt Flo who sent me. By that time she was a widow -- actually Uncle Wes died the week before Auntie did. Both times it was Aunt Flo who called me; both times it was Aunt Flo who was taking care of me as she told me.

When I went into business for myself, it was Aunt Flo who helped me. It was Aunt Flo who helped Forrest and Colleen's husband, Shafiq, when they needed it. Aunt Flo is always there for us. With love. With money. With comfort.

She has been a widow since 1961. After Uncle Wes died, she went back and finished college. She sent me to Montessori training after I graduated from Berkeley. She helped me to move to Alaska the first time. And she was always there, at her own speed, but always there.

For years I heard Mama and Aunt Flo talk about how they would live together when they were little old ladies. I think it comforted Daddy, who was 20 years older than Mama, to know that she wouldn't be alone after he died. And, she isn't. They do live together, still best pals and support for each other, all these 83 years after Aunt Flo was born.

Their most recent sisterly adventure has been taking care of four of my mother's great-grandchildren while their mother went to college. Here is Aunt Flo with Adrien and Mama. Aunt Flo had three step-daughters but no children of her own. She was in her 80s the first time she changed a diaper. Learning how to take care of such little ones has been a challenge. It isn't just that she helped care for them. She and Mama supported them because their mother had used up all of her lifetime entitlement to welfare. I would go visit and find these two elderly women living on toast for breakfast, popcorn for lunch, and scrambled eggs for dinner (and my mother hates eggs) so that they could support Kristie and her four children. In all that time, Aunt Flo never went to visit her own girls, because if she did she couldn't help Mama.

Aunt Flo is a blessing to our family. No one ever had a more generous and loving aunt or sister than we do. And she is always cheerful. Laughs easily and smiles often. And, if she is a little ungodly slow, so what.


joared said...

B I R T H D A Y !

Can you hear me singing? That's a great family story.

Deja Pseu said...

Happy Birthday, J!

J at said...

Aunt Flo loaned me the money for my first semester's tuition when I moved to San Francisco without a dime to my name, and I was ungodly slow about paying it back...she never reminded me...and when I did, she was so pleased and had forgotten all about it.

And now that Grandma's arthritis hurts her back so, I honestly don't know how she would manage if she had to live alone. Thank God for Aunt Flo, not just for that, but for that and a million other things, including how she never complains, just does what must be done with a smile on her face and a song on her lips.

Happy Birthday, Aunt Flo!

ML said...

A VERY Happy Birthday to you!

Ms. Mamma said...

Happy Birthday Wishes! Hope you have a pleasant day!

CG said...



Joy Des Jardins said...

Happy Birthday J. You are forever young at heart dear friend. This was a wonderful post...and your Aunt Flo truly is a blessing. We all should be so fortunate as to have an Aunt Flo in our lives...

Uncivil said...

Today is a Birthday I wonder for who?
It must be someone who's right in your room?

So look all around and find somebody Whooooooooooooooo!.........Is laughing and goodness it's you!

It would be better if I sang it to you!

Happy Birthday

Betty said...

Happy Birthday! And, many more. I love your stories. Your mother and aunt sound devoted to each other, which is very nice. My mother and her sister were estranged for many years - my mother refused to speak to her. They only made up a year or two before my mother died.

kenju said...

Happy Birthday to a very pretty woman!

Gina said...

Happy Birthday to you and Aunt Flo!