Great Aunt, to be exact. Aunt Harriet, or as we started calling her in her "older" years, Crazy Aunt Harriet. Christine and I were her only nieces, so to say that she spoiled us would be an understatement. We would spend the night over there and she'd take us to the movies, treat us to Winchell's Donuts, buy us silly trinkets at the Five & Dime. We's walk down the alley to the little corner diner, Super Cup, and we'd have lunch. She also always, ALWAYS had Leonard's bagels in the fridge and she'd let us watch movies ALL night long on the front porch until the station went "off".
Some of our holiday dinners were spent there and Aunt Harriet would have the fine china (those old sets where there's a stinking plate especially for asparagus and twenty million types of forks depending on what you were shoving into your maw at the moment) spread out on the dining room table blanketed with the white linen tablecloth.
We had fancy foods like cocktail shrimp and fun candies like Swedish Fish (when they only sold the multi-colored ones and you eventually had to eat even the yellow ones). Ethnic foods like globaki (polish cabbage rolls) and kabanosy (smokes sausage sticks) and that white, smelly, burn-your-tongue-hot horseradish sauce that I abhorred as a child but now crave as an adult (and cannot for the life of me find around here). Oh, and Makeowiec (poppy seed cake roll) and Polish rye bread to die for.
Aunt Harriet wasn't always knows as "Crazy Aunt Harriet" though. She was normally very prim and proper, and only nearer her final years started wearing those Moo-moo's and walk around with her hair cap on all day. Unfortunately, the last ten years of her life we saw her gradually lose her short term memory and with it, all the history that goes with you when you leave this plane of existence. But, as horrible as that seems, I believe she did have a much "easier" bout with Alzheimer's than some do. She wasn't one of those mean, angry crazy old ladies, and she actually seemed to lighten up because of her condition.
Of course, we would hear the same stories over and over (and over, and over, and over) again and again. How she worked as an accountant for Ziegler Coal Company and that she once got to tour an actual coal mine. How that same company provided her with a pension check amounting to $242.11 every month, even after thirty years of being retired. How in her earlier years she worked for the local Benjamin Franklin and earned enough money to buy herself a fur stole for a social outing. How the mortgage holders (who were Jewish) on her parent's house let them pay what they could on the house during the Great Depression so they wouldn't lose the home; up to her last breath she would never, ever speak badly about anyone Jewish.
And although I may be going to hell for this (and if I do, you're right behind me Christine), there was one thing that kept us ALL sane from having to listen to and answer Aunt Harriet's repetitive set of approximately seven questions. For example, she would ask if we got any snow down here. Like, ten times in the span of a half hour. At first was a bit maddening, but we all took it in stride. Then one of us (I'm not sure who, nor will I point fingers as it may well have been me) started giving her outrageous answers to her questions. Because she wouldn't remember what we said anyhow. So when questioned how much snow we got here, we would give wacky answers like, "About sixteen feet each winter" or, "We only get acid rain". When she found out that we had armadillos here, she would say, "You have armadillos here?! Are they vicious?!". To which I would occasionally say, "Yes! And they'll tear your face right off!"
Nothing like having fun with the mentally disabled, hugh?! But seriously, she was having fun. Well, at least it seemed like she was. There was plenty of giggling out of both parties.
With help from her Nephew, my Dad, Great Aunt Harriet was able to stay in the same home she grew up in for eighty-seven years. She fell and broke her hip at the age of ninety-two and had to go into assisted living. A few short weeks later she passed.
Every so often, I'll have a dream of Aunt Harriet, or see one of those horrid Hummel figurines or a Mors Dag plate in an antique store and get a little teary eyed. I hope she's in a better place, looking down on us (or up....she swore she did enough to warrant at least a little stint in the hot plate) and be able to smile knowing that even though she's gone from our lives, she isn't gone from our hearts.