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Bits and bobs about my life in my lovely home, Thatchwick Cottage, Pretoria, South Africa.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday, 13 November : Aunty Helen


Aunty Helen was a perfect aunt. She never scolded or punished. She could make up bedtime stories which carried on for weeks in a comforting, never-ending saga. She believed in fairies just as I did and didn’t mind tiptoeing on a damp lawn peeking in foxgloves and snapdragons, all excellent hiding places for the wee folk. She rubbed legs aching from growing pains until the sufferer fell asleep. The smell of 4711 Eau de Cologne marked Aunty Helen’s ministrations when I was fevered with tonsillitis or exhausted from throwing up last night’s dinner. She would generously sprinkle the astringent perfume from her precious bottle into enamel basin of tepid water and bathe my sticky hands and flushed face. Wordlessly she exchanged soiled nightclothes for clean ones and tucked a clean towel over the top sheet in the case of any other mishaps. She took me to symphony concerts at the Cape Town City Hall before I was the proper age and ignored my squirming on a creaky chair. Afterwards riding on the top deck of the bus headed for her bedsitter in Green Point, we talked earnestly about how music made pictures in my head: galloping steeds, dancing girls in silk garments, crashing waterfalls and placid streams. She heard my brother and my bedtime prayers and was persuasively behind our enrolment in Sunday School at a time my parents were only occasional churchgoers. She allowed me to brush her thick brown hair, which never greyed, into exotic styles, pinning it with jewelled clips and tying it with scarves. Then she would go downstairs and eat dinner with the rest of family without altering a single outlandish strand. When I had my girls, I watched her, thinner, wirier and wrinkled, do exactly the same for them, weaving a childhood magic they have never forgotten.

Was Aunt Helen happy in her spinsterhood which, according to family legend, was the consequence of her weak heart? Why did she arrive at our doorstep for an extended stay in the 50’s wearing a pixie cap of pink flowers and a set of leather suitcases embossed with her name? Was she always so reserved and shy, sometimes hardly speaking a word to the adults and favouring the children’s company? Did she really spurn a wealthy Scotsman because she didn’t like his bald head? With the self-centeredness of childhood, I never bothered to really find out. Later when these things interested me, she had become more and more taciturn, a precursor to Alzheimer’s and her last years in an old age home watched over anxiously by my mother.

12 comments:

Gaelyn said...

Eleanor, this a a moving story. How delightful to have such wonderful memories of a special time with an exceptional woman, Aunty Helen. It is sad that we don't learn enough about our loved ones before they leave us. Yet what they leave us with is priceless.
Thanks for sharing this story. It is beautiful, and so was she.

Vicki Lane said...

What a wonderful post! I was blessed with several excellent aunts and this brings back memories of their loving kindness.

Judith said...

I do wish that I had asked those questions of my Aunt Gertrude.

Becky said...

Wonderful story! Thanks for sharing.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

What a beautiful and moving story. How wonderful that Aunty Helen wore the unusual hairstyles you had created for her down to dinner! These kind of memories are so special.

xomecha said...

She beautiful and she has left a beautiful legacy.... thank you for sharing this. I'm a nurse that works with Alz/Dementia elders...I wish everyone could write these stories down for me, for themselves, for a scrapbook of sorts.
I wear old fashioned scents at work like gardenia or lavender because that is what they are familiar with, and it calms them.
I always take a breath when someone is having a "behavior" (a word I loathe) and remind myself that they are having a "moment that no longer fits" with who they see, what's around them, and that nothing matches anything else...it helps me to be calm which helps them be calmer.

SmilingSally said...

What lovely memories you have of Aunty Helen. I'm sorry she wrestled with that horrible disease at her life's end; so did my mother and my mother-in-law. I do hope that she was able to remember touches of grateful nieces and nephews during her lucid moments.

Alina said...

I, too, had a very special aunt who was full of stories and an absolute devotion to save each and every animal in distress. Sadly, towards the end she became a recluse and despite our many efforts to bring her out, she flatly refused. Last April she died in her sleep. Neighbors were alerted by her dog's constant barking. She had been dead for 2 days...I refuse to remember her that way. The memories that fill my heart are happy ones, when she was full of life and love for me, and every other living creature that crossed her path.

hungeryjack said...

Nice post - Helen ..Keep Posting


Ron
Helen - 1024×768
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The Quintessential Magpie said...

Eleanor, this is wonderful! You had your very own Auntie Mame! That's what I aspire to be with my godchildren and what Mr. Magpie hopes to be in male form. Unfortunately, our nieces live too far away. But this is exactly the kind of "aunt" that all children need. If only we could all be a tenth of what she was to you! Thanks for sharing...

XO,

Sheila :-)

Mary said...

Every child should be fortunate enough to have an 'Aunt Helen'. I loved how she shared your hairstyling talents.........her childlike ways must have been such fun.

I had my Auntie Violet - not even a blood relative, but a dear friend of my mother's. She was a spinster and lived with her spinster sister Ivy - she came to Sunday dinner on the local bus, and always brought chocolate wafer biscuits for us! I loved that sweet little lady.

Nice memories recalled thanks to you. Hope all is well Eleanor, I miss hearing from you.

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