I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead, but some things just are what they are. Truth is truth, and if it’s part of the story, then so be it.
My people are country folk. My grandmother, Gertrude, (I’ve written about her before here) had two sisters, Anis (yes, that’s right, “Anis,” and she’s another story…) and Dona (pronounced with a long “o,”) but always called “Donnie.” Gertie was the eldest girl; Donnie was the youngest. And you could tell.
Gertie was a “take charge” type of girl, being big sister and without a mother by age 12. Donnie, on the other hand was, as we used to say, “nervous” and “high-strung.”
Gertie was upright and moral—to a “t.” Donnie, on the other hand, took up with Fred, a previously-married man with children—remember, we’re talking the early 1920-s, here. Donnie and Fred eloped, eschewing the traditional church wedding, probably because they knew that folks were looking askance at them. Not the least of all, Gertie. It is said that when Donnie and Fred showed up at her door one night after their honeymoon, Gertie would not let them enter without first showing their marriage license.
All my life, Aunt Donnie (pronounced here in the Country South as “Ain’t Donnie”) and Uncle Fred were within the obligatory “family visiting rounds” that we made when I was a child. They lived near the family stomping grounds “out on the creek,” which is a rural area west of our town.
As children, we city-slickers wondered at their lifestyle. They had chickens and cows and such and maintained some of the old ways. It was Ain’t Donnie, for instance, who let me milk a cow and taste raw milk.
Recently RedHeadRiter talked about covering one’s furniture and floors with vinyl, and I thought back to Ain’t Donnie. She had clear vinyl runners across her living room and down the hallway. This was the only space where we were allowed to step. Her couches and upholstered chairs were also covered with clear vinyl. Not very comfortable, and the message to us kids was clear: “Don’t dare mess this up!” We obeyed unfailingly.
Ain’t Donnie’s house was clean and neat as a pin. Nothing—I mean NOTHING—was out of place. But, then, she had so much less to deal with than do I. She had absolutely no clutter—no magazines to stack. Heck, she had no time to read because she was scrubbing. Never any clothes to fold left piled anywhere. Her Knick-Knacks were artfully arranged on Knick-Knack shelves, and no dust was to be found on them. Nary a speck. Dust wouldn’t dare.
Uncle Fred was a bit more laid back. He always gave us each fifty-cents when we came to visit. We could fish around and get it ourselves (at his invitation, of course) from the plastic change purse he carried in his pocket. You know, the kind you squeeze to open it up? Like this picture, although the one I remember was red and had some kind of advertising on it.
I liked Uncle Fred, too, because I loved horses always. He had a mule named “Diamond” who I would sometimes ride— next best thing to a horse!
Going to visit Ain’t Donnie and Uncle Fred was like stepping back in time for us—gathering eggs and drinking well water. Who knew that I’d be drinking well water today, it was such a novelty to me then!
But Ain’t Donnie’s nervousness spilled over into more than just her housekeeping. She could be H—l on Wheels (this would be the “high-strung” part). I just would not call her “warm and fuzzy,” unlike my grandmother. Ain’t Donnie never had children of her own and, although she was good to my mother and to us as children, she did not have the rounded edges that mothering creates. She was sharp-tongued, opinionated and spoiled. She’d give you a piece of her mind at the drop of a hat.
Ain’t Donnie’s nervousness had her wringing her hands (probably at the thought of dirt tracked in), repetitively clearing her throat as she talked, and fidgeting as you talked to her. This woman was wound up tight as a drum, and it caused her to walk around with pretty much a perpetual frown. Really, she wasn’t pleasant to be around. One found oneself on guard at all times.
Here’s a picture of Ain’t Donnie—in the middle. Look at those tense hands. Gertie is on the left, Annis on the right.
My mother, although acknowledging Ain’t Donnie’s prickliness, would never say a word against her because she could remember kindnesses during her childhood and she was, after all, my grandmother’s sister.
As she aged, Ain’t Donnie had to go to a nursing home. She had no children to look after her so my mother and her sister dutifully took up that task. She and my aunt took all her clothes home and washed them so that they would smell and feel better than if the nursing home laundry did them.
And, like with all of us, as her mind began to fail, her “traits” magnified. Her aging process heightened the unpleasantness of her personality. Ain’t Donnie was not gracious about any of the care her nieces gave her. She spent much of the time during their visits b--ching to high heaven. My mother would worry over her laments at staying in the nursing home, so she would take her home a couple days, during which Ain’t Donnie paced the floor, complaining that she needed to get right back to her room at the nursing home. You just could not win for losing with her. I know it was her dementia, but it also harkened back to the way Ain’t Donnie had always been.
I remember when my sister (who is twelve years younger than me) accompanied Mom one time to visit Ain’t Donnie, only to be chewed out royally and unmercifully the whole time she was there for not coming before. It was so bad that my sister never wanted to go again. The whole scene time had one on edge of seat, wondering if something would be thrown in a fit.
Ain’t Donnie was never one for church, so when she finally passed away, there was no preacher who actually had any connection with her. Our family traditionally is buried in a small country cemetery out in the area where Ain’t Donnie lived, and where my mother’s family all grew up. A preacher local to that area was procured for the funeral service, and he did a commendable job under the circumstances, exhorting us on the promises of God and the prospect of a better existence “on the other side.”
But then he came to the part where he felt compelled to say (and I loosely paraphrase, but this is close), “I know that those of you left here on earth will miss Dona. You will miss the way she lit up the room when she walked in; the sunshine she brought in to each of your lives.”
I could not look my cousin or my siblings in the face but sensed each of them containing the giggles rising up at this thought—just as I was. Obviously, this pastor did not know Ain’t Donnie.
So, my thanks to RedHeadRiter for calling forth these memories of vinyl protections for our home and of my Ain’t Donnie who, despite some surliness, was loved by her family and treasured as a “quirky” part of our family lore. C