One of my childhood pleasures was visiting my Aunt Mae's house in the city. The ride there wasn't much fun squished in between my older siblings. My brother couldn't sit still and my sister buried her nose in a book.
The reward for spending a hot and tense ride into the city came upon arrival. I say tense because my dad always got lost. He was a terrible driver in the city and it created no end of stress and angry remarks trying to find the right address. Aunt Mae and Uncle Mike showered us with kisses, invited us to take something from her rose coloured ceramic candy dish and sent us off to play with our cousins.
The men always sat in the living room, the women cooked and did the dishes in the kitchen (hey this was the early 60s) and we played outside or downstairs. There was a little space underneath the stairs that felt like a clubhouse. We'd tip over the sauerkraut crock pots for chairs, put up blankets for walls and play house or school or doctor (that was innocent and before puberty).
Hanging on the wall near our fort, hung an oval black and white photo of my Aunt and her sister before they married. Their unsmiling faces and stern look made me think they could have been spinsters looking like that all the time. One was wearing a broach with ornate edging. I always coveted it because of its unusual shape and composition.
Dinner was a big deal and always made from scratch. We loved the placinta (strudel), cabbage rolls, roasted sausages and mamaliga (corn mush) and homemade pickles. This food set us apart. It was the delicious aspect of our otherness.
We played hide and seek and some of us often crawled underneath the big pine tree out front. We were never caught. We played tag too darting all over the yard and once in a while Aunt Mae would come out and remind us that her gladiolas didn't like all that noise.
When most of the cousins had gone home, Uncle Mike would suggest that my younger sister Holly and I go for a walk to the little grocery store at the end of their block.
He had to sneak the forbidden ice cream. He told our aunt he was going to buy us ice cream which he did but there was always an extra one for him. He was tall thin man with a head full of curly grey hair. In his thick accented and raspy voice he would say "Don't tell your Auntie Mae".
Sometimes we stayed overnight. My younger sister Holly and I slept in their bed. I don't ever remember where everyone else slept. We loved this because we'd find those clear strong peppermints Uncle Mike hid in the little sliding drawer of the headboard.
More memoir later.