Riding Life!

Riding Life!
Life is like a wild horse--Unless you ride it, it will ride you! (from the movie: "Princess of Thieves.")

Friday, May 7, 2010

C: “Ain’t Donnie”

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 marriage certificate 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. 

milking 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 Dovinylnnie.  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 wfurniture coveras 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 squsqueezechangeeeze 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 passefunerald 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


Noni at The Brick Street Bungalow said...

LOL! Reminds me of my own Ain't Annie Maude. (though she was not a wild kind and was a God fearin', Bible toten' woman... she was... well, surly is a nice way to say it). ;)

Pierced Heart Art said...

My wife and I are new to blogging, so I've been looking at various sites. I was absolutely captivated with your post and can't wait to share it with her. We are both Southerner's, alas Texans, and I know all about tornado's (been through 5 at last count), snakes (copperheads mostly), and hospitality. Your blogs are wonderfully written and engaging. Thank you for brightening my day.

Everyday Goddess said...

There is usually someone in the family who has the prickly side.

Those vinyl runways ~ I remember those! Of course they went under the legs of the vinyl covered sofa and chairs!

carla said...

My mother (who is now 95 and has Alzheimers) used to tell me: "When I was young, I thought all old people were nice. Then I learned that the sweet get sweeter and the others get worse."

alphawoman said...

I really enjoyed reading this. It made me think of my Mom's family and some of the prickly Ain'ts still around. lol .

Everyday Goddess said...

I'm back to say I gave you one of my Goddess Awards ~ come on down to collect it soon! :)

Vee said...

Well thank you for that character study. Hope that she may have had a few redeeming qualities buried however deep. It is sadly true that as we age we become more like ourselves than we've ever been before. Hope that you will look for E. Goudge books. They're a quality, vintage read.

Kathy's Klothesline said...

I recognize a lot of my relatives in this post....... or as the country preacher said as he began the service for one of the departed loved ones.... "friends and relifords"

jan said...

You know, I always thought that people became 'more like they always were' as they get older, but my mother was the exception to prove the rule. She was never surly, but never held back from 'giving something to think about'! As she got older and lost her short term memory, she become much more agreeable! Thank goodness!

I really enjoyed reading this story and your love for Aint Donnie shows through!

Zuzana said...

What a lovely tribute to your aunt.;) Very candid and touching. I guess we are all people with faults and funny traits, and we are not perfect.
The fact that you took your time to write about her is fantastic. I hope someone writes like this about me one day, immortalizing me life in the cyber space...
Have a lovely weekend,

Sandra said...

Well, this certainly reminds me of my Aunt Mary Jane -- also the youngest (of my father's siblings), also no children, also a house that scared me to death as a child for fear I would mess something up and also a prickly personality. But when she was diagnosed as having a brain tumor (widow of the sainted Uncle Marvin, and in her 70's) and only given weeks to live, she showed her very best and was a wonderful witness to those around her about how a Christian should face death. Very touching and a wonderful last memory of an otherwise high strung, sharp-tongued aunt!

And btw, the plastic on furniture isn't just a southern trait. Our daughter's MIL (Chicago, Italian) had plastic on her living room furniture and even on the seats of her dining room chairs!

Apparently "anal" knows no geographical or social boundaries!

Constance said...

Hi and thank you for visiting my blog and becoming a follower. I've sure enjoyed my visit here and look for to many more. Your posts certainly bring back the memories of my southern childhood.

Take care,

Jeri Landers said...

I so enjoy your writings. I think we have all known an Ain't Donnie. You portrayed her vividly.
I remember those little vinyl coin purses and neighbors with the ugly floor runners crisscrossing their rooms, yuck!

Joy said...

I had one of those coin purses as a kid, and my fingers got stuck in it and it hurt!

Robynn's Ravings said...

What a GREAT story and I feel like I've known her type a few times. I have a friend that might match her, though she had children. And that picture is priceless. Your family definitely did right by her and their patience is probably far greater than mine!

My ex-husband's grandmother had plastic and vinyl on everything. It was very welcoming looking! lol

Sumandebray said...

It was a very story. I liked particularly the way you narrated it.
We used to have a well in our house while we weer growing up and still have that taste of water in me and my taste buds are awake with anticipation every time I hold a gloss of water in my hands but have never got one which is distantly close match!
Very nice post

Ayak said...

Wonderful story C. There's always someone in a family like Donnie...I had an aunt very similar. I also remember people using the vinyl runners and furniture covers, and as a child was really curious about why they would do this.

Jody Blue said...

With 5 kids I've at times been tempted to cover stuff with that vinyl stuff!!! My husband and his siblings just moved his Dad to a nursing home and he has always been a piece of work. Reading about your Donnie makes you just wonder if all that crabbiness was worth it for them. We just love them anyways...in spite of them selves.

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