Christmas always brings back those sad-happy memories of childhood; the anticipation of the day itself, the sweet sumptuous aromas from Mamma-GeeGee's kitchen, trimming the tree, and the visitation every year to Aunt Lottie's house.
Her name was Charlotte Marlowe but my brother, sister, and I knew her as...Aunt Lottie. It was many years later that I learned that she was no relation to us at all! She was merely a close friend of my Grandmother -- Mamma GeeGee. She was a stout woman, buxom, shoulder length yellow-white hair; and her face was marked by numerous small polyps and moles. She always wore a white, starched uniform and white shoes. In the evenings of spring and summer all of us gathered on the front porch after supper to talk. Sure enough coming down Spring Street from Thirteenth Street came Aunt Lottie. Climbing the few steps from the sidewalk to the walkway and then up the steps to our porch lumbered Lottie, greeting us kids with hugs and wet kisses stating confidently how we were the sweetest in the world. I never knew where she worked but I think she was a house keeper and sitter to some elderly someone someplace somewhere beyond Thirteenth Street. Plopping down in the swing next to my grandmother she'd kick off her shoes and discuss the day's events.
She was truly a dear, sweet wonderful woman. And in winter rather than the porch, she would come into the sitting room, back up toward the fireplace -- one of those gas types with the asbestos lining -- hike her starched dress up over her huge rump and warm her buttocks by rubbing them in front of the fire. You know, I don't see many old women doing that anymore! Central heating has erased that act from the memories of today's kids. She lived over on Fourteenth Street in an old one story house that sat close to the sidewalk. It was a dark musty old house. I don't recall ever seeing a light on in that house. We all went over to her house every Christmas to visit. There she lived with her alcoholic brother, Brian Marlowe. A disheveled old guy whose shirt was never stuffed in, perpetually in flip flop slippers, and a camel cigarette dangling from his lips that was wet half-way down, and carried an inch of ash that never fell off. His voice was gruff but he was harmless. And every year at Christmas we would go over for a few minutes to deliver a carton of camels to Brian and some money to Aunt Lottie. Like I said the house was always dark, lit only by the daylight drifting in under the half pulled dull orange window blinds. Lottie was always in the kitchen cooking when we arrived but not preparing the Christmas dinner one might think. She was preparing food for her cats. Only God knows how many cats she had! They were everywhere: on the porch railings, on the old chair sitting on the porch, on top of her old upright piano that hadn't been played in years. On end tables, the couch, the kitchen table, and all over the floor, and on stacks of old books and newspapers were cats of all sizes and descriptions. Aunt Lottie doted on those cats so tenderly because she doted on all life forms: her employer, our family, neighbors and her brother Brian. She knew no other way except to love all living things. I don't think she had any other clothes to wear, because even on Christmas day she wore a starched white uniform.
I'm not sure when Aunt Lottie died. But she lived on beyond Brian's death from liver failure and lung cancer. There is a vague memory somewhere back in my adult memory when burdened by life's problems (schooling, parenting, struggling) that I seem to recall my Mother calling me by phone that Lottie had passed away.
And now every Christmas I remember her and all those cats, and that disheveled old Brian in that dark, musty, cat laden house over on Fourteenth Street.
John R. Wieder
December 13, 1997
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