Trial Balloon

A Bertie Wooster Aunt Fest

Posted at 6:00 AM on May 18, 2010 by Dale Connelly (36 Comments)
Filed under: Guest Bloggers

Today's entry is a dispatch from Trial Balloon's Mankato office.
Thanks for the assist, Clyde!

A few days ago several bloggers indicated they wanted to tell stories about their aunts. We agreed to call it "A Bertie Wooster Aunt Fest."
Let me explain that title.

In his delightful stories of the valet Jeeves and his dingbat employer Bertie Wooster, P. G. Wodehouse uses a variety of Bertie's aunts, particularly Aunt Agatha, to drive the plot. Agatha, like all of poor Bertie's aunts, is a strong-willed woman married to a weak and ineffectual man who barely emerges from the 1920s-era British wallpaper. So Agatha and the other aunts use Bertie for their various schemes, such as stealing a sterling silver cow creamer which is really Agatha's in the first place. Jeeves then always saves Bertie and the aunt, well, almost always. By the way, there is a delightful series "Jeeves and Wooster" from the BBC starring the multi-talented duo Stephen Fry as Jeeves and the Hugh Laurie (Dr. House) as Bertie.

To get our stories started, I will tell one of many stories I could tell about my aunts. My father had two half-sisters, Mabel and Nellie, two petite old maids with their levels a full bubble off. Their only acknowledged living relatives are my brother, my sister and I.

Nellie, who once had her skull split open in a ringside fight at a wrestling match, died 15 years ago, but Mabel, a WAC for 32 years, is still spry at age 90 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Somehow they picked me as their heir, a purely honorary tile, and executor, which will require some expense and time when Mabel does die. Mabel and Nellie spent years amassing things, which over the years they sent to me. Oh, the tons of junk they have paid UPS to ship to me so I can put it in the garbage. "Tons" is not hyperbole.
Where did they keep it all? Little has ever been useful, and most has been entertainingly awful.

Camel Bench.jpg

We have received cheap tourist kitsch from their many world travels, already-disintegrating religious items "offered" by TV preachers, gaudy jewelry purchased from Home Shopping Network and at parties, impossible-to-open Tupperware-like containers, right-wing and fundamentalist publications, their old pastel-colored polyester clothing, and other things.

The photo shows of one of our favorites. We kept this for a couple of months, before it got to be too much to bear, because our then two-year-old granddaughter liked to sit on it. It is a delightfully ticky-tacky blend of plywood, naugahyde, yarn, and pseudo-native craft.

So, friends, the door is open. Tell us your aunt stories, be they funny, touching, uplifting, ironic, or human.

Comments (36)

"a full bubble off level" - that one almost made me lose my coffee out of my nose, Dale and Clyde! thanks.
i'll try to think of some aunt stories while i'm milking. "aunt" Dodger is challenging lately.
good, beautiful morning, All

Posted by b | May 18, 2010 6:09 AM

I have only two aunts, and neither is wacko enough to make for lively stories. Berniece, my California aunt, was a submissive little woman who got bossed around by everyone, including her kids.

The story about that is about the time she noticed eight-year-old Tommy was hopping because he needed to go to the bathroom. She told him to go. "Only if you go with me," said Tommy. Berniece went. Then Tommy wouldn't go until she lifted the lid. She did. Then Tommy said he wouldn't go unless his mom took down his pants. She did.

At that point, I think even Tommy was surprised at how easy it was to boss his mom around and he was desperate for a new test of her submissiveness. He finally said, "Pull YOUR pants down and warm the seat for me." And she did.

Aunt Bev has the opposite problem, but I shouldn't say much about that. A few years ago she found a letter my dad had written to his brother Don, her husband these past 40 yeras. Dad wrote, "If you quit running around with that damned redhead, I could fix you up with Virginia. And I don't think you would be sorry!"

Guess who the damned redhead is.

Have a lovely day, Heartlanders. Welcome back Dale.

Posted by Steve in Saint Paul | May 18, 2010 6:17 AM

All my aunts, even my great aunts, are, or were, more or less normal. My grandmother's sister was a bit unusual from having been sent to a sanatorium for a number of years for TB. She read a lot and became very book smart compared to the rest of the ranching family.

I think my favorite TV aunt might have been Aunt Clara played by Marion Lorne.

I loved both Fry's and Laurie's portrayals of the adept manservant and daffy aristocrat in Jeeves and Wooster. My oldest son used to make us play a pretend game based on that series, and I would always have to be Laurie's Wooster.

Thanks for the inspiring blog entry, Clyde, and have a great day, all!

Posted by elinor | May 18, 2010 6:22 AM

Good morning all. My Aunt Rita passed away about a 2 month ago. She lived for many years in an apartment in the Bronx,New York. In recent years, I helped take of her affairs and visited her in the Bronx several times. Her apartment was full of her own paintings and many "art" projects. She choose to live on her own away from her family, all of which live in the Midwest, and seemed to have enjoyed her life in the Bronx. She was not in good health when I visited her and was glad to see me. She was 90 years old.

Posted by Jim | May 18, 2010 6:33 AM

the aunt thing is a foreign object in my life. my mom was one of 5 girla and my dad had 2 brothers adn two sisters but i was only close with one of those familys.
she was a rebel who left my uncle for a year or two when he wouldn't give in to her socialist want to distribute his salary. he used to say they were happily married for 37 years and she would say "we've been married for 40 years " and he would say " you don't count hose 3 years you left do you" i ran into an ee cummings book of poetry when i was about 8 or 9 at their house and commented on how much i liked it and she gave me cummings books for my birhtday for a couple of years. i went to her husbands funeral a couple of years ago and to her place for the get together after and was impressed with the 3 books she had in her bathroom. i made some comment about how much you can tell about a house by the reading material you find in the bathroom and she enjoyed that. now shes dating a guy who likes symphony and arts stuff (all stuff she got aced out of married to my pheasant hunting golfing uncle who hung out at the elks club with the boys.
i also have a busybody aunt who tells you what she thinks when you don't care and don't want to hear it. she is very consistent and always disapproves of the way you live your life in the same way.

ben i love the" its nothing personal i just don't care" comment yesterday

clyde. i think if you tell the doctors office you will wait during the incubation period between the time they find a symptom and the appointment, you will make your point

Posted by TIM | May 18, 2010 6:53 AM

Greetings! While I may have many colorful aunts, I don't know them that well. But my favoritest aunt would be my dearly departed mother's twin sister. When Natalie turned 80 a couple years ago, my sisters and I flew to her home in Virginia to visit her and her husband.

We had an absolutely glorious time. I hadn't seen her since Mom's funeral 3 years earlier, so I cried when I saw her. Throughout the weekend, she would catch one of us looking at her closely, finding our dear mother in her features. She knew and would smile back knowingly, but with great love as well. We knew and appreciated Nat as a very different person than our mother, but seeing our mother in her face was a great comfort.

Posted by Joanne in Big Lake | May 18, 2010 7:14 AM

I very much appreciate my Aunt Ida, the older sister of my Aunt Rita. Ida is still living and is 93 years old.

She said that my Grandmother told the people caring for her in a nursing home that they had to give her a different room mate or she would not take her medicine. My Aunt, who had worked as a nurse, said she would have asked my Grandmother "what color coffin she would like to have" if my Grandmother had tried to refuse medicine from her.

My Aunt Ida gave me a rose plant that had been in my Grandmother's garden. She said Grandmother claimed it is an Austrian perfume rose, but I shouldn't believe everything that Grandmother said.

Posted by Jim | May 18, 2010 7:35 AM

One of my favorite "aunts" was not a blood relative at all, but a close family friend. I think I was 9 or 10 before I figured out that we knew Ruth because she had been my dad's boss and not because we were related to her.

On Wednesdays, when my mom worked a little later, I would stay at her apartment until Dad picked me up. We had a wonderful time having tea parties, making art, she taught me to play Kings in the Corner and made clothes for my dolls. I clearly remember practicing piano on her little spinet piano, surrounded by all her blue glass and purple violets (African violets, ceramic violets, violets on things...).

She was family in the truest sense, and I wept freely when she passed away (I was in high school). I still miss her.

Posted by Anna | May 18, 2010 7:42 AM

Such a gorgeous morning! The momma robin whose nest is in the crook of the gutter on our house is busy carrying food to her nestlings. She is not nearly as interested in us as we are in her.

Aunties - had a lot of them on both sides of the family, all of them very enjoyable. They knew my Mom and Dad had their hands full with the ten of us and they primarily took the roles of cheerleaders for us kids.
My Dad was the only boy in his family; his three sisters became nuns in the Catholic chuch. Those aunties were so much fun! They wrote to us frequently, and always made us laugh.
When my oldest brother and his wife had their first child I was in second grade. My sister Margie and I were very proud, of course. Soon after our nephew's birth we were on a train ride to visit the aunties. When we got to Portland, which was where their convent was located, we shared the big news about our new nephew . The aunts said "Oh! Since Bob and JoAnne's baby is a boy, that makes you and Margie uncles, right?" Margie and I were dumbfounded. We knew that wasn't right, but we didn't know why. We puzzled about that all day. Finally as we were sitting on the train for the ride home to Seattle, Mom explained how the uncle/aunt determination was made. It was one of those moments that crystalizes in one's brain: I remember the brown leather train seat I was sitting in, the dripping of an umbrella, the window I was next to, and the rocking of the train. Margie and I looked at each other and burst into laughter! That was typical of the kind of interaction my Dad's sisters had with us - fun, challenging, and witty.

Posted by Teri in Zimmerman | May 18, 2010 7:46 AM

the aunts on my moms side were stories tellers like my grandmother but where grandma told interesting stories about interesting people and events.(they did go on and on) we used to sit around the easter thanksgiving easter table and listen to grandmother go on with her stories for 5 10 15 minutes. then she would come to the end of the story and she would stop. she was a nice lady but none had ever taught her story telling. we thought the kids table was invented so we wouldn't have to listen to grandmas horrible stories. because her stories were not anything that anyone would want to emulate the aunts discovered their own venue. they told mean malicious stories where everyone mentioned was doing it wrong and it grew tiresome very quickly. my mom never understood why her sisters were such mean people. it drove them apart. she was the opposite. funny stories about delightful people. still not great story telling skills but you wanted to know more rather than wanting to run away.

Posted by tim | May 18, 2010 8:13 AM

The frist of two other Nellie and Mable shipments stories:
In the 1980's Nellie used to send us a detailed inventory of what was coming. So one day I was working in the garage when came the UPS man with the five boxes Nellie told us were coming. After I signed on his clipboard (remember back when you signed on paper??), he handed me the first box, which I then dropped in the garbage bin standing open beside us. He looked at me a second and went and got two more boxes from his truck, which I dropped in the garbage. When he came back with the last two boxes, he asked "Do you want me to do it?" I said "yes" and he dropped them in the garbage. He said, "I 've never done that before." I asked him if he wanted me to explain. He said no that it would make a better story back at the garage this way.

Posted by Clyde in Mankato | May 18, 2010 8:23 AM

Second story:
Due to an unclear medical problem from her childhood, Nellie's left leg was 5 1/2 inches shorter than the other.* After she died in the 1990's, Mabel sent us boxes of Nellie's clothes in weird pastle polyesters, mostly pants with, naturally, one leg 5 1/2 inches shorter. Her note said "I'm sure you can find someone who can use these."
*She was told at 18 that she had cancer and would soon die. She did have cancer, but of course did not die until in her 70's. Not sure how cancer was related to the leg.

Posted by Clyde in Mankato | May 18, 2010 8:29 AM

Tim, I have also heard some of those stories that are not so nice. My Aunt Ida probably offended some people with her sharpe tongue, but usually her pointed comments seemed to be delivered in a humorous way that I like. One of the things I liked about visiting the Bronx to see my Aunt, was the straight forward way many people there spoke about things which isn't so common in the Midwest.

Posted by Jim | May 18, 2010 8:34 AM

My great aunts are all gone now, but they were a colorful bunch. We named our daughter after Annie, who lived to be 95 and stated that she hadn't an enemy in the world since she had outlived them all. She also refused to live in a nursing home since she didn't want to live with a "bunch of deadbeats". As a young child she is reputed to have scolded her mother for being pregnant with her 12th child, an irresponsible thing, Annie thought, since they didn't have enough food to feed the other 11. Money was a sore point in the family, and as an adult she got into a hair-pulling fight with her sister, Amelia, over their inheritance. Amelia was even more ornery than Annie, I am told. Their aunt was a pretty tragic figure who was also very poor and had three sets of twins and whose husband was beaten by her brothers after they found out she was pregnant once again. My mother's aunts, My mother's aunts, Lena Meta, Bertha, and Greta, were great quilters. They sided with my Great aunt Emmy in a 38 year feud with my Grandmother. My Grandmother had come to the aid of Emmy after Emmy's husband, Uncle Willy, got mad at her and had her unjustly but briefly committed to the State Hospital in Willmar. I guess you could commit your wife pretty easy in 1960. Emmy got mad at my Grandmother for getting mad at Uncle Willy, and stayed mad at her until she died in 1998.Emmy would write multiple page letters full of vindictive accusations and complaints about my Grandmother to various family members over the decades. My Grandmother lived on until 1999, when she died at the age of 99. It was pretty sad to see those two sisters in the same nursing home not even talking to one another.

Posted by Renee | May 18, 2010 8:39 AM

Jim and tim:
On the other side my mother's two sisters were the two aunts I thought everyobdy had.* One with a barbed tongue who ripped you over for everything you did. The other one defied many social conventions, like an aunt mentioned above: divorced in the 50's, three husbands total, lots of makeup, acted like she was 30 at age 45 instenad of like 60, started several businesses. Interesting that the four brothers of those three strong-willed women all married rahter dull women.
**At to that if you are Catholic the aunt who became a nun. as per Teri.

Posted by Clyde in Mankato | May 18, 2010 8:41 AM

Renee--you are telling the part of my father's side of the family I did not tell. When I said that Nellie and Mabels' only acknowledged relatives are my brother my sister and I, I was referring to feuds, which delightfully my brother, or rather ex-brother, has continued into our generation.
Dale--this issue with my brother sort of came to a head a second time when you wrote that wonderful eulogy to your brother, which was so wonderful and hard for me to read. But I kept it.

Posted by Clyde | May 18, 2010 8:49 AM

Wow... the stories of our families, eh? Sad, funny, entertaining and heart wrenching at the same time... Thanks for sharing everyone.

I was only close with a couple Aunts; One stands out because as a kid I thought she was so mean to her own kids. And I dropped and broke a dinner plate at her house during Christmas so I never thought she liked me.
Years pass and it seems she likes me better than her own son (who, truth be told, certainly does have some issues...) and we've become pretty good friends. She's given herself the title of 'Your Favorite Aunt'... to which I always reply 'Your Favorite Nephew'....

Posted by Ben | May 18, 2010 8:50 AM

My aunt once gave me a baggie full of expired Betty Crocker coupons. She was aware they had expired, but thought I might still be able to use them because the print was so tiny that the people at the fulfillment center probably wouldn't look really closely. Perhaps she is distantly related to Nellie and Mabel.

Posted by Linda in Saint Paul (West Side) | May 18, 2010 8:54 AM

My aunts are/were all pretty normal. I have to credit Dad's sister Bette with teaching him to make lefse and kumla, which is why I eventually learned to make them.

Husband's great Aunt Ethel (say Ee-thel) was a colorful woman who supported herself by sewing for all kinds of people. She would stay in a garret room in some of the huge houses on St. Paul's Summit Avenue, often for weeks at a time, darn socks and sew the new clothing needed by the household. She was apparently quite a storyteller with a terrific laugh, and Husband's family loved to have her come for Sunday dinner.

This was during the 1930s-50s. She would tease the children's imaginations by talking about "the little red wagon painted blue". But that was all she would say about it and let the children try to make sense of it.

Posted by Barbara and Michael in Robbinsdale | May 18, 2010 9:04 AM

Linda--ah, there's another aunt we all had, excpet mine was my mother.
tim--"incubation" is good; but not quite there. I was referring only vaguely to myself, but to several people, which is probably a part of being 66, knowing people who get test results like that.
A Minnesota oddity about the word "aunt." In much of MN, but with no real pattern, people use the two pronunications of aunt (ahwnt an ant) interchangeably, perhaps even saying it both ways in the same sentence.

Posted by Clyde | May 18, 2010 9:05 AM

Oh my sainted aunts! I've always prized them because as a group and individuals because they have always been more accepting of who I am than my parents.

Then there was the great-aunt crew, my maternal grandmother's sisters and sister-in-law (and my mom's godmother who was no relation at all, just for good measure). We would spend a week in that tiny house with my older cousin, and the big event was the card party they would all come to-we played Michigan Rummy until it was time for "The News", then have "lunch" and that was the evening. As in many families, I am sure, they went into German when we weren't supposed to know what they were saying.

The whole crew were born right around the turn of the century, so figuring out their ages was a breeze-except for the baby of the family, Aunt Clara-I always got the feeling she had been "the wild one" but of course, never really got the full story on any of them.

Posted by catherine | May 18, 2010 9:10 AM

Interesting, and sad, how many families do have these splits and feuds. We now only see half of Husband's family of 8 kids...

Kurt Vonnegut talked in Cat's Cradle about your Karass, the people not blood related who become your family, like Anna's "aunt".

Posted by Barbara in Robbinsdale | May 18, 2010 9:20 AM

The colorful aunt in the family was one who I never met - Great Aunt Lillian. She had been an army nurse during World War II (family lore has it that she told the army recruiter, "send me where the boys are or I won't sign up"...she wound up in Italy, France and North Africa if I remember correctly). She also was (briefly) a nurse at a finishing school in Kentucky (at least until, so the story goes, it came out that she had been "stepping out" with the married Dean of Students).

This same aunt brought home tchotchkes from her travels and, we discovered when looking through her old slides, also seemed to collect men (probably started at the finishing school). There were several sets of slides from different trips (skiing, a trip to Chicago...) where she was with men that were unidentified, not recognized by family, etc. All good looking men, and all, it appeared, more than platonic friends. My Aunt Mary - who is the teller of the best Aunt Lillian stores - and I decided we could make up our own stories about these men, which made for a fun afternoon.

Posted by Anna | May 18, 2010 10:42 AM

I hate to break up the lovely auntie stories, but I found a new article today that truly demonstrates "junk science" and get back on my soap box from last week. It's actually rather funny -- a respected journal published an article saying diet soda ~could~ prevent kidney stones because they contain citrate. It's not even a study -- just a theory. Check it out

Mike Adams adds his own ideas and opinions, but it is based on an article from Reuters (link is in Adams article). This kind of stupidity will probably make a news headline somewhere, but not a good study about how herbs are effective for kidney stones.

Anyway, back to our auntie stories. Clyde, my mother's name was Nelda. What was your Aunt Nellie's full name? Although my mom was a Nel or Nelda -- a gracious, compassionate, smart and delightful woman.

Posted by Joanne in Big Lake | May 18, 2010 10:48 AM

Barbara--Ah, I should have known you could quote Vonnegut, which makes you one of the truly initiated.
Joanne--Nellie, just that. Lewis, Herman. Adolph, Nellie, and Mabel. Ye, dey vas Deutch.
Anna--Mabel taught school first (taught both of my aunts on the other side of my family). Then she enlisted and taught men how to read so they could then go fight in WWII. You have to be literate to die in war. Really that was the rule; so they drafted and taught them to read. 32 years a WAC and retired a corporal. Huh? Also, in our Karass was Millie, more a great aunt to my kids, who had a day cabin across the road from us on L. Superior. She was way ahead of your aunt; she was very open about her trips with many different men. She was like Ben's aunt in that she criticized but it was funny. If I was working when she crossed the road, she would tell me I worked too hard. If I was not working, she would call me lazy and tell me to do something.

Posted by Clyde in Mankato | May 18, 2010 11:20 AM

Well, I'm on a roll -- another article from Dr. Mercola about the UN-credibility of the science found in medical journals. This is the info your doctor relies on to treat you.

Clyde - the video in article is Dr. Beatrice Golomb using statistics to uncover the widespread corruption in medical science. You might find her interesting.

My apologies -- I promise I won't bring this up again (unless asked). But two new articles in one day -- I couldn't help myself. Do have a great day!

Posted by Joanne in Big Lake | May 18, 2010 11:28 AM

I fear that I will turn out to be the old "eccentric aunt" to my one niece and one nephew. My aunts (aahhunts) weren't so eccentric, mostly just nice.

Clyde, I have a co-worker who haunts rummage sales each weekend then posts photos of the more interesting or kitschy things he and his wife buy or don't buy at yardsales...your "horsey" would be a great addition to his blog:

Posted by cynthia in mahtowa | May 18, 2010 11:32 AM

Cynthia--actually it is a "camely." I have contact with two unmarried former students who take great bride in being the loving, giving, eccentric aunt.

Posted by Clyde | May 18, 2010 11:55 AM

Barbara, which Vonnegut has Karass in it? Haven't read him in a long time, should review.

My son is posessed of many aunts and great-aunts, but then there are the aunts-of-the-heart, who are the sisters my parents were never so thoughtful as to provide me with. I actually kept asking for a dog, but they kept bringing home these brothers-much good that did me.

Posted by catherine | May 18, 2010 12:05 PM

Joanne--yes, important but ignored stuff. This was some of the basis of the article I read recently. I hate to criticize math teachers, they have such a tough job, but they need to teach more about statistics and probability which they are trying to improve. But since people who have taken statistics in college don't get them, well, it's a black hole.
One last comment on my ahwnts/ants: my mother's many aunts, a dozen or so, were all born in Iowa between about 1885 and 1900. You would assume that almost all would have married farmers or taught some school. But not really so. They did many things and found many niches, even the ones who did marry and farm did many things beyond what you would expect.
The Mankato branch or RH, as Dale called it, is going to close down for awhile for personnel reorganization.

Posted by Clyde in Mankato | May 18, 2010 12:36 PM

Clyde - and anyone else following this thread of conversation -- if it were just misunderstanding or not using statistics well, I could deal with that. What gets my blood boiling is deliberate misuse, lying, fabricating, exaggerating, cherry-picking, one study published several times under different guises and just plain bias -- and they're accepted as scientific facts that WE all rely on in the best medical journals published.

This is yours and my health, life and death by pharmaceuticals and our entire paradigm of current conventional medicine -- based on corrupt scientific studies. Granted, not all of them -- but a surprisingly significant number.

Oy -- my blood pressure is going up again. Shutting up ...

Posted by Joanne in Big Lake | May 18, 2010 2:03 PM

Clyde, thanks for the good blog topic and good luck with your personnel reorganization.

Posted by Jim | May 18, 2010 2:32 PM

Catherine - it was Cat's Cradle.

Joanne - which herbs are you aware of for kidney stones? And a resounding Yes to your take on the state of mainstream, AMA style medical research.

Cynthia - I would imagine any number of people on this blog will be deemed "eccentric" by relatives from all walks... When our son would call us wierd, we'd just say "thanks."

Clyde - you may not see this, but thanks for a fun day.

Posted by Barbara in Robbinsdale | May 18, 2010 3:12 PM

Barbara - this is late, but here it is. Mike Adams mentions Chanca Piedra in his article, which is a powerful herb from the rainforest. They mention citrate in the original Reuters article, which of course, is in lemonade.

Rainforest herbs aren't necessarily found at the local health food store. Amazon Herb Company has fantastic products from the rainforest - that being one of them, I'm sure.

There might be other products, too. I'd have to research it a bit.

Posted by Joanne in Big Lake | May 18, 2010 10:17 PM

the topic was fun clyde. well done. fun aunt stories. it never would have occurred to me.
cuynthia i have no doubt you will go down as an eclectic aunt,
joanne i love the voodoo that you do so well.
jim, the humor you had from the sharp tounged aunts would have made all the difference i think. sharp tongued with a punch line is different.

Posted by TIM | May 19, 2010 6:10 AM

Thanks Joanne!

Posted by Barbara in Robbinsdale | May 19, 2010 10:02 AM

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