Saturday, February 5, 2011

Aunt Ruth and Aunt Grace

I'm trying to grow clematis and perennial sweet peas together on the same trellis and I think the situation is starting to remind me of my two little old aunts.  Perennial sweet peas, appear lovely for a short season, but they choke out every thing in their path.  Clematis are slow to establish, hate competition and will usually succumb if you try to move or replant them.

Two of Mom's older sisters lived together all their adult lives in Toronto.  In the tough 1930's, two little country girls headed south to seek their fortune in the big city.  Equipped with a grade ten education from a one room country school-house, the girls first found employment as domestic help, probably for relatives or friends of relatives.


Fairly quickly, Ruth, the elder, found full-time, secure work on the assembly line for Bonnie Gray Tools.  Meek Grace, the younger sister drifted from one poor-paying, low-prospect job to another, a pattern she continued through to retirement.

My first recollection was of my two jolly aunts, who came to visit three times a year: Christmas, May 24th, and Thanksgiving, usually carrying some small gift for their youngest nephew.  A set pattern developed, Mom and Dad would drive to Parry Sound on the Friday evening, meet the Toronto bus and return the sisters to town on the holiday Monday, in time to catch the southbound bus.

I soon learned that the jolly exterior was just that, a thin veneer.  Both were very good at masking their true personalities in public.  A weekend with Mom was all it took to bring out the real girls. 

Aunt Ruth was dull.  Her life as a factory worker did not hold much excitement. She was bored and tired when she got to our place.  The sweet, forced gaiety, quickly faded into something, much less appealing.

Aunt Grace was pretty, a dreamer and poor as a church mouse.  She obviously very much looked forward to the holiday weekends, but her enthusiasm and anticipation quickly bubbled  and then it too dissipated.

Ruth became domineering, bossy and critical, not so much toward us, but toward her younger sister.  Grace suffered the consequences and sank into billows of depression which would often last the rest of the weekend.

Ruth didn't have a lot going for her, except her job and her stable income, but then I never saw any signs of further aspirations in life, either. Because Grace's jobs were fleeting, she was often at the mercy of her overbearing sister, to cover rent and basic living expenses.  I know Mom looked forward to her sisters' triannual visits, but I think they were a trial as well.  She had to become the sounding board to the litany of Aunt Grace's trials and tribulations.

As she aged, the theme of life-after-death loomed to the forefront of Grace's existence.  Her great personal insecurity, led her to believe she would be unworthy of heaven.  Of course if you are browbeaten and ridiculed day in, day out, faith and self-confidence can quickly erode. Poor Mom was often exasperated with the constant barrage of tears and sobbing tales of eternal insecurity. I think she felt horribly ill equipped to offer comfort to the poor self-condemned soul. No amount of assurance from family and clergy seemed to alleviate her sense of hopelessness.

Because not much ever really bothered Aunt Ruth, she enjoyed a healthy retirement, a good pension and died quickly and quietly in her sleep from a heart attack.  Not so poor Aunt Grace, who developed cancer, which like her spiritual ailments, ate away at her until it fully consumed her and she died miserably and utterly unfulfilled.

I look back with some regret on my relationship with these aunts.  Ostensibly they were kind to me.  They did bring gifts and kept me somewhat fashionably clothed. I was young and busy sorting out my own issues in life. They lived a fair distance away.  But I do wish I had phoned a bit more often or written some letters.  I think I was nervous though of being drawn into something that I too, was ill-equipped to handle.

I think if Aunt Grace had met the right soulmate, she would have been a wonderful wife and mother, but I think her potential was squashed, toadying to the bullying older sister.  Aunt Ruth, I think was quite happy to have someone beholden to her, someone to keep under her thumb, someone to boss and dictate to.

My sweet peas and clematis are just nicely establishing.  I have to wonder how they will bloom this summer.

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener

1 comment:

  1. Sad story. You're lucky they are all dead or the little gifts would stop coming. :-)


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