Alice in Wonderland
Oh, she was exciting…for sure. Her booming voice, hearty laugh, and expansive personality made for an unforgettable mix. Now, here was a relative a kid could have fun with. She never resorted to the standard adult conversation of “How’s school?”…or “What are you doing in math?” She had too much style.
And because she was unique, she fascinated us kids.
But we knew, too, that it wouldn’t be long before trouble erupted in the adult relationship, and we wouldn’t see her for years. A word taken the wrong way… a fight during a card game… a bad memory rekindled…all had potential to derail.
Aunt Evvy and Uncle Bob lived in the country, in an Alice-in-Wonderland house. A crooked upstairs window, built oblique to the roof, was its signature characteristic—the highlight of my room. Its odd placement mandated I kneel down (like tall Alice), to peer out. Dormers and gables held secrets, too, that stoked my young girl’s imagination.
That happened often, for I was a frequent overnight guest.
Her home was her artist’s palette. Once, she dressed her bath in black taffeta, with great swaths of bunting affixed to windows (when others considered black “funereal.”) She continued the theme onto her vanity, doubtless in response to Uncle’s “No girlie colors in our bath.” Earth tones were never an option.
But, for all her considerable talents, she lacked what she wanted most…a child.
To help fill that void, she picked me up, often, on Friday afternoons. Once on country roads, she bore down, hard, on the accelerator, taking corners on two wheels. “Wheee,” I thought, “This is fun!” I was only 8; I never realized the danger.
On evenings, in the summer, Uncle, she, and I lay out on plump lounge chairs on a screened back porch, watching TV and sipping drinks from frosted metal cups, against a backdrop of woodland noise—frogs at the nearby pond, cicadas, owls.
But, as much as I loved her, I feared her, too…
Her moods ran extreme. Riding the wave of “up” was fun, for she could delight like no other. One Christmas she created a snowy white cake of ascending tiers, resplendent with peach halves filled with brandy. Silver shots dotted the frosting. On that occasion, she gifted me with fur mittens made from the lining of a pilot’s cap (a memento Uncle brought from the war).
One Halloween she fashioned the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz (dressed in Uncle’s old clothes), cornstalk-stuffed, as ornament for our yard. And, in summer, she sewed beads on the native American costumes we wore for our church play.
Those were fun times.
But, periodically, she turned dark and menacing. On one occasion, she screamed at me: “You told your parents what we discussed at the dinner table…didn’t you?” I protested, while Uncle tried to intervene.
She accused me, on another occasion, of “killing her dog.” Gus followed me to the pond (as he had countless times), but this time, he didn’t return. When they found him, lying still, by the pond, she blamed me for his death.
Years later, my mother mentioned that Evvy always carried a flask, (as if it were the most normal thing in the world), while I thought: “How odd–she knew, but she just packed me in Aunt’s car and never worried.” In retrospect, I realize my mother did what many do–dismiss risk in benign form.
Biddy believes parents need acknowledge danger to their children….. in whatever form it takes.
A flask is an indication.
***Now, how about you? Have you got a crazy aunt, uncle, grandparent who fits the bill for questionable behavior? Does he/she have drinking problem but been tapped for babysitting? (Maybe you were the baby). Why is it so hard to see the risk in these folks? Share with buttons below.