Yesterday's Magazette

15 – Aunt Minnie Wasn’t Mini

Aunt Minnie Wasn’t Mini

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My dad with Aunt Martha (left) and Aunt Minnie (right) after losing weight.

By Carrillee Collins Burke

On a cold winer day in 1942, my mother took a letter from our mailbox addressed to Dad.

That letter opened up a whole new world of surprises for me and my siblings, but especially for me. My brothers and sister weren’t that concerned.     

I was eight years old and suddenly discovered I had eleven aunts and uncles my dad had never mentioned and now one of those sisters of his, an aunt, a complete stranger was coming for a visit. At that moment I supposed he had parents, too. Where were they?

The letter said she was coming on a Greyhound bus from Jacksonville, Florida and she wanted to meet us. Well, she had no idea how anxious I was to meet her. I l

oved when people visited. Some of Mother’s family had but I’d never met any of Dad’s family. It had never dawned on me that he had a family somewhere other than us. Dad told us that when he came home from France after serving in World War I he never went back to his parents’ home in South Dakota. Instead, he went to West Virginia to see his cousin, Nole, and never saw any of his siblings again.

In the next two days while my mother cleaned and cooked and baked bread I trailed her through the house asking questions. I discovered that Dad did indeed have parents but he didn’t know where they were or if in fact they were still alive. He also knew nothing about his siblings either. 

This sister’s name was Minnie. I thought that a funny name. The only Minnie I knew about was Minnie Mouse. Did she look like a mouse? Of course she could, I surmised. After all, our entire family were all small and skinny. 

Even before she arrived, I was obsessed with studying her features. I couldn’t think about anything else. Then, after I did see her, I went completely bonkers. My mother was flustered about this visit and my dad appeared worried. He whispered to my mother, “After all these years, why now?”

Friday at the proper time for the bus to arrive, Dad borrowed a pickup truck from a neighbor and went into town to get her.

When the truck finally parked in front of our house, Dad hopped out and hurried to open the door for his sister. First I saw a huge round leg and then a big foot enclosed in a black shoe laced up the front, then another and finally a big round figure lumbered from the seat. She had a large head topped with an abundance of white cotton-like hair on top. She looked to me like a female Santa Claus.

That evening, at dinner, Dad asked many questions about his family and she knew something about each of them. I learned she had worked in a bank and saved enough money to be able to travel the country to visit all her relatives. 

Dad’s mother had died several years earlier and was buried in Florida. Grandfather then moved to Missouri to live with a son. My dad knew nothing about any of this. The siblings were scattered all over the country. This was interesting, but my mind dwelled on Aunt Minnie’s gigantic size compared to the size of our family members. 

I had never seen anyone as big around as her. I couldn’t believe she was a blood relative to my skinny family.  

The chair she sat on moaned each time she moved. As she and my parents talked my mind was obsessed with her size. Suddenly everyone stopped talking and my mother said with a frown, “Carrillee, that isn’t nice. Say you’re sorry.” 

It was then I realized I had spoken my thoughts out loud. 

“Aunt Minnie, just how big are you around the middle?” 

“I don’t really know,” she said and chuckled. Her brown eyes smiled at me.

That’s when I did an unspeakable thing that embarrassed my poor mother to near death. 

I left the table and came back with a yardstick and proceeded to measure Aunt Minnie’s girth. The stick got stuck in the open part of the chair back and jabbed her in the ribs.

“Stop that nonsense right now,” my dad yelled.

Aunt Minnie just smiled and said, “I think you need a string. That stick is stiff and can’t bend around me.”

My mother was fuming and red-faced as she apologized. Aunt Minnie had just minutes earlier told a story of visiting another brother’s family and how unruly and impolite their children were. Even though my parents were sick with shame, Aunt Minnie, who never married or had children, was okay with my childish curiosity concerning her size and said to get some string.

I searched my mother’s junk drawer and found a ball of string and pulled loose a long piece and went back to the table. Aunt Minnie helped me wrap it around her stomach. It was short so I went back to the drawer and pulled out some more string from the ball. Aunt Minnie tied the pieces together and helped me complete the circle while my parents died a slow death of embarrassment and my oldest brother giggled at the sight. 

“Now you have to lay the length of string on your yardstick to get the measurement,” Aunt Minnie said.

I  don’t recall how big she was around the middle, but I do remember her soft full body smelled like the flowers on the lilac bush outside.

She left a couple days later for Chicago to visit her eldest sister. But she promised to keep in touch and she did. Also, through her, some of my dad’s other siblings found us. 

Aunt Minnie came to visit several more times after I had left home. The last time I saw her, I was a grownup young lady. But my mother, fretting another measurement perhaps, warned me to keep my manners. Actually, because of that previous experience, Aunt Minnie liked me. She told me that I was her favorite niece and because I was so concerned about her size she decided to go on a diet and over the years she lost over a hundred pounds. 

Even in her old age I thought Aunt Minnie was beautiful with her cloud of white hair and that mischievous grin that was always on her lips.   

When she died, my dad received her bible containing many family records. She had lived in an efficiency apartment in Jacksonville, Florida most of her adult life and had given the landlady directions when she died to dispose of everything in the apartment except her bible. 

She asked that it should be mailed to her brother Weaver, my dad, who, according to her, had the most loving family. 

Yes, Aunt Minnie wasn’t mini in size. But of all my aunts she had the biggest of hearts. 

I truly liked her. I only wish my arms were long enough back then to have given her a great big hug.

Vol. 38 No.4 – Copyright © Yesterday’s Magazette – Winter- 2011-12

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