I’ve been reading a lot.
Okay, full disclosure, I always read a lot, but lately, it’s been more than usual. I’m staying home and my yard still consists of ice and mud, so even though I have a long list of things to do, most of them aren’t getting done.
I’m not complaining. So far, no one I know is sick, we haven’t run out of food or money, and my wife and I are still on speaking terms. Wins all across the board.
But, lots of reading. Yesterday, I pulled a slim book with a tattered yellow cover from the shelves. I’ve had it since I was about nine. It has gold lettering inside a faded blue outline, and if you could read it, which you can’t, it would say, “Mama’s Bank Account.” It’s a novel about a Norwegian immigrant family who lived in San Francisco in the early 1900s and I last read it about forty years ago.
Inside the front cover, in beautiful handwriting, is the inscription, “Marilynn Olson, 2-46.”
Marilynn was my dad’s older sister. She’d gone west to Washington state during WWII to teach school. It was meant to be a little adventure, but when the war was over, she met a good-looking soldier who’d made his way back home and also made her west coast adventure permanent. My first clear memory of my aunt was a family vacation. We headed west from Minnesota, she and her family headed east, and we met in Yellowstone Park. Among others, one reason this trip is so memorable in our family was my father’s now-famous announcement that we needed to leave at 6:00 a.m. in order to beat the traffic in South Dakota. I was about six years old, so my memories are a little scattered but I vividly recall one Sunday morning with the two families gathered around a picnic table for breakfast. The bacon, pancakes, eggs, and all the other sustenance that two farm families could fit into coolers for a campfire meal was ready. But the whole meal was on hold, because Aunt Marilynn thought manners had slipped far enough, and she was drawing the etiquette line on Sunday morning. “We need to have a table prayer,” she said, and I, for one, wasn’t going to argue with the look in her eye.
My cousin Pete, a few years older and about twice my size, always had a firm appreciation of good food, and being this close to so much of it broke him. He blurted, “Good bread, good meat, good God let’s eat,” and grabbed a plate.
There were far too many witnesses for any type of concrete action, but the look Aunt Marilynn gave Pete was one of such…promise, that I felt scorched just from the spillover.
A few decades later, we opened the Christmas letter she sent to all friends and family. She announced that the coming summer would mark their Fiftieth wedding anniversary, and to celebrate they were planning a big party and reception at the old family homestead.
In other words, our place.
No, she hadn’t mentioned it to us.
Once the snow melted, we did a couple months of emergency painting and landscaping, and we had a terrific party. We never let on that we hadn’t been given a heads-up, and truthfully, I didn’t care. After all, she was my aunt, and I love parties. Plus, I confess to a certain fondness for tough old ladies.
Speaking of tough old ladies, did you listen to Queen Elizabeth’s recent address? It was great. She’s 94 years old and has lived a large life, including working as a truck driver and mechanic in WWII. She doesn’t often speak in public and, truthfully, her speech wasn’t much more than, “Buckle up, buttercup.”
It was the way she said it. Age and experience add weight and perspective. And, you know, a British accent.
I hadn’t thought about Aunt Marilynn for a while. I have two of her books – the thin yellow one and a leather-bound copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls. I did always enjoy our conversations. She was the oldest of that generation and always a little more willing to tell stories, although my father thought she may have stretched the truth a little. I don’t have a problem with that – sometimes the truth gets in the way of a good story and in families, good stories are important. When her whole generation is gone, America will have lost something of tremendous value.
I’ll still have her books.
Copyright 2020 Brent Olson