CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)



When I moved down here, somebody told me the one thing all Southern families had in common was that each had at least one crazy relative.

Having lived here for a few years now, I can honestly say I believe that is true. Plus, it seems to me, that a real Southern family is proud of its one nut.

I would submit that all families – Southern or otherwise – also have another key role player: The old auntie caretaker.

Now, if you know me, or happen to know anything about the personalities of the petty little newsroom demagogues who carry the title “assistant news editor,” you might be surprised to learn that I once was an old auntie caretaker.

It’s really not too much of a stretch though, if you consider the fact I’ve always had a knack for charming older women … or maybe that would more accurately be stated, older women have always had a knack for charming me.

My days as designated auntie caretaker usually waft back to me about this time each year when that first poor schlemiel fires up his little Lawnboy to cut the clover, dandelions and still dormant bermuda that are overtaking his yard and the smell of gasoline and fresh-mown weeds fills the air.

You see, in my family, yard work made up the bulk of old auntie caretaking. Irene and Babe – talk about your old auntie names! – were two older ladies who had outlived their husbands and children but still lived in their own homes surrounded by grass that somebody had to cut.

When I got to be 13 or 14, I became that somebody. So about once a week through the spring and summer months, I hopped on my ratty blue 10-speed bike and rode off to cut some grass.

Just a short aside here: When’s the last time you actually saw a kid riding a bike or cutting grass?

Babe’s yard was my Saturday morning job. She was the smaller of the two ladies, made those frilly little doily things and afghans, wore metal-frame glasses and old-auntie print dresses and played the organ.

She’d watch patiently from a window as I mowed what had to be the largest yard of the toughest grass in all of Muskogee. The job took about an hour, or about an hour and 15 minutes after she sent my pop out to get that Weed-Eater to trim up around her house and detached garage.

Irene’s yard was a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon job. She was the opposite of Babe in most ways, but an old auntie just the same. Irene was a large woman, favored floral moo-moos, wore those same metal-framed glasses and had a house full of cats and tropical fish. She had a tiny little yard of sparse bermuda and a damnable electric mower with the orange extension cord. Anybody remember those?

The second half of the routine was the same at both houses – settle into an old couch in the front room and talk … well, actually they’d talk … about church, my family, their husbands, the Dallas Cowboys, and long-gone relatives I never knew and am sorry to say I can’t recall now from our conversations.

But I never complained. The pay was good – 5 or 10 bucks was a nice haul for a kid in those days. And there was a bonus: old auntie lemonade.

Lemonade your aunt made was far superior to that citrus nectar water your grandma mixed up. My grandmother started with that powdered lemonade in the envelope, put in the prescribed amount of sugar, then added a little more for good measure. My aunts, on the other hand, whipped up these wondrously sour concoctions that left you feeling like you’d been sucking on a Real Lemon bottle. I don’t know what the secret is, but old auntie lemonade is just the thirst-quencher for a 100-degree, 80 percent-humidity day of work in the sun.

Makes you kind of want to go suck on one of those plastic lemons in your fridge, doesn’t it? Hope my family’s proud.

Paul Tyrrell is Daily Journal assistant news editor.

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