Aunt Geraldine was actually my mother’s aunt which I suppose would make her my great aunt. She’s always been one of those relatives I was never clear exactly how she fit into the family tree.
I believe Aunt Geraldine’s older sister mother, Aunt Fay, raised my mother’s baby sister after their mother died. And somehow they are related through Aunt Fay’s husband, who was a blood relative. Or not. I’m not sure. I’m sure my mother the genealogist will send me an email shortly and straighten me out. For the 146th time.
I bring all this up because recently I was going through a box of old childhood treasures and I came across a fragile little antique book I have had since I was 9-years-old.
The book was a gift to a young girl named Julia from her Sunday school teacher, Addie F. Simpson and it is dated December 25th, 1875. It is inscribed in that delicate old-fashioned cursive handwriting in sepia colored ink. This little book is one of the very few things I own that I really care about, although I’m not certain why. One summer, I spent a few days with Aunt Geraldine and she took me to a farm house auction where I bid on a wooden mystery box of assorted things and I won. Inside that box was this little brown book.
Aunt Geraldine and her husband, Uncle Mario were of retirement age. They had no children of their own and therefore free to indulge their eccentricities. They lived a tiny town in central Illinois with a population of about 200, most of which was related to my mother in one way or another.
Aunt Geraldine was a small-framed woman with soft but exacting speech. She had long gray hair that she kept in a bun, not in a severe school marm bun, but one that was always coming loose in messy wispy tendrils. She wore wire-rimmed glasses and no make up and I don’t think I ever saw her in a pair of pants. She had sparkling brown eyes and an especially tender heart for animals.
Her home was unkempt and not especially clean, but she had a dazzling collection of small jewel colored cut glass Cinderella slippers that she kept in her picture window that sparkled in the sunlight and her bathroom was usually occupied by an injured bird of some sort that she was nursing back to health or a litter of motherless kittens. Her husband, Uncle Mario, was a tall and skinny Italian, also soft spoken and kindhearted and together they were a charming and delightful pair.
Aunt Geraldine had a deep and abiding love for antiques and Uncle Mario had a deep and abiding love for Aunt Geraldine. Her hobby was going to flea markets and auctions to buy antiques and his hobby was accommodating her every whim and desire.
They bought so many antiques over the years that they eventually had to start buying houses to store them in. They always imagined that they would refinish and restore them and maybe sell them, but they never did because they never got around to refinishing them and restoring them and moreover, because she could never bear to part with any of them.
When Aunt Geraldine died several years ago, she had a number of houses, sheds and barns that were stacked floor to ceiling with antiques, all at the mercy of the years and the mice and all waiting for a second chance that never came.
I remember quite clearly the summer day we went to the auction. I rode in the backseat of their car with the windows rolled down. My hair whipped me in the face as we bumped down dusty gravel farm roads that zigged and zagged through a maze of cornfields. The air smelled sweet of hot earth and scorched corn.
When we got to the auction, we parked in a sea of cars and trucks on the lawn of a big white farm house with a wrap around front porch. We went through the house and looked at all that was for sale. Even though the house was filled with furnishings and all the stuff of living, it felt empty. The farmhouse and all of its contents was to be disposed of that day, auctioned off to the highest bidder.
When the bidding started, the cadence of the auctioneer’s song was confusing to my ears. I wasn’t sure when to raise my hand. I was timid and afraid I would buy a chair or a sofa or a tractor by mistake. Aunt Geraldine stood behind me and nudged my elbow. I lost the first few things I bid on when they went for more than the $2 I had in my pocket. No one but me wanted the mystery box and with the help of Aunt Geraldine, I won.
The book is now 134 years old. I’ve had it for the past 40 years. I hope that long after I’m gone, Sean will treasure it as much as I do and keep it for his children.
But it could be that at some point, no one will care and all my stuff will be disposed of at auction and it will end up in a mystery box and in the hands of another little girl.
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Do you have a treasure with a story?