Swamp-moss . . . I don’t know the politically correct word for it, but if you have ever been near a pond, you would more than likely recognize it. At my grandparents’ home in DuPont, Georgia there was an average-sized pond on the back of their property with a small cabin. We went there often and fished or just sat on the porch and rocked. My Aunt Christine (my mother’s sister) came down from Atlanta to visit frequently. She was unmarried with no children, so she devoted a lot of time to me as a child.
My aunt was a wonderful, talented person whom everyone adored. She had a winning personality with a great wit. I vividly remember her bringing me a cat one year, and we named him Calico. My mom was not too pleased at first, but she later warmed up to Calico. She knew that I loved him because he was a gift from my favorite aunt.
As a young child I noticed that my aunt sometimes got angry at me (I admit to being a brat) and said unkind things or cursed at me. I started to notice that my mother would not let me go on rides with her unsupervised. “Why won’t you let me go with Aunt Christine, Mamma?” I asked.
“Because I said so, and you are too little to understand!” Well, of course I resented my mother for that.
One blistering summer day at my grandparents’ house, Aunt Christine asked me, “Would you like to go fishing today?”
I said, “Yes ma’am!” We loaded up and went fishing with her friend Imogene, who was a weirdo if you ask me. Anyway, as we fished, I noticed them both drinking something unfamiliar to me. Who knows what it was, but they were acting ridiculous. I had about all I could take of those two old women gabbing and joking around. As I recall, Imogene was ready to go home, so we paddled to the dock and dropped her off. I said to myself, “Thank goodness Imogene, the lima bean, is leaving.”
As my aunt and I paddled up to the dock just before sunset, I jumped out of the boat quickly and pushed it back in water as hard as I could. I had this planned for several minutes before we docked. She said, “Damn it, Ansley, don’t you do that again, you hear me?”
I responded, “I promise I won’t do it again. I’m sorry.” She paddled back to shore, and I pushed her back again! Obviously, I had no one else to play with my age. At that time I thought it would be even funnier to grab some lush green swamp-moss from the bank and throw it on her blouse, her light-colored pink silk blouse at that.
Oh boy, was she ever so livid! Let me point out that my aunt was extremely meticulous about her clothes being clean. “When I get out of this boat, I swear on my life you’re gonna get the switchin’ you’ve never had!” She was a rather frail woman with diabetes. I shouldn’t have put her through that torture, but it was pretty funny to a seven-year-old kid. I shoved the boat, with her in it still, back in the water one last time. I started to run as fast as I could. I knew I was not going to ride back in the big blue Cadillac. I remember vividly feeling petrified when the “horse playing” was over. I was a child, and she was my aunt for Heaven’s sake!
I ran as fast as I could across the bridge, through the cow pasture, back to Nanny and Poppy’s house. She tailed me in a big blue Caddy. I remember it as if she were trying to run me over. My heart was pounding out of my chest! “I’m almost there,” I muttered to myself. I jumped over the brick-red fence and franticly ran into the cool house. Sweat was dripping off my body. I told my grandparents what happened, and they were disturbed with her! Of course I failed to mention what I did on the little boating trip. Later, when my parents picked me up, they were told by my aunt the gruesome details of the day. I received the worst belt whipping that evening. I contemplated in my mind if Aunt Christine would ever speak to me again or, even worse, hate me forever.
When I was around eight, I remember plundering through my aunt’s suitcase on a weekend visit from Atlanta. I was a plunder box I guess you could say. I knew where everything was in my grandparents’ house. As I went through my aunt’s suitcase, I found a six pack of Budweiser . . . hot Budweiser at that! I knew what beer was. I immediately took it to Poppy and told on her like she was a child. “Here, Poppy, I found this in Aunt Christine’s suitcase, and you need to take a look.” He took it from me gently and shook his head in disappointment. Remember, this is a sixty-something-year-old woman I just told on. Boy, did I ever get a mouthful from her! She threw several cuss words my way that day. My mamma wisely decided I should not stay at my grandparents’ house for long periods of time, especially when my aunt was in town.
Around the age of ten, I remember my mamma finally telling me, “Ansley, I never want you to drink alcohol. It will ruin your life and control you if you let it, so just don’t touch the stuff.”
I looked at her and said, "What do you mean, Mama?”
She responded, “Your Aunt Christine, I don’t want you ending up like her . . . she’s an alcoholic. She’s been one for a long time, ever since she came home from Wesleyan. It has ruined her life and caused much heartache and embarrassment to our family.” It made me feel miserable all over to hear that about someone I loved so passionately.
I wasn’t quite the dumbest kid in the world, so I figured out she drank here and there before my mom ever told me, but I did not know she was a full-blown alcoholic. Those words cut me like a knife when my mom told me that. I later found out that my aunt had been sent to seven rehabs, and even the company she worked for sent her to one.
She humiliated my grandparents on several occasions because of her addiction. Once, she passed out in a local bar and was lying on the floor when the owner called Nanny and Poppy to please come pick her up. Her DUI record was pretty notorious also. Such incidents as these just mentioned made my aunt and grandparents’ relationship a little shaky
I also know many other things about this flawed, extraordinary lady. I know that she was intelligent, ambitious, and well-educated. She taught school, was a concert pianist, was fluent in Spanish, and was the best-dressed woman you had ever laid eyes on, even when she fished. She was beautiful, humorous, and exceptional in my eyes.
She unfortunately died when I was twelve from a diabetic coma, related to alcohol poisoning, ironically. She gave me her sapphire-diamond ring for my twelfth birthday that year. I still wear it. I remember her well: the good, the bad and the ugly. No matter what her downfalls were, she was a class act in my eyes.