Every Girl Should Have One.

An Aunt Lillie, I mean. I was thinking about mine because it was her birthday last week and in Minnesota in January sometimes our minds go wandering in search of interesting and cheery things to think about.

Even though my Aunt Lillie's been gone for some time now, I still think of her fondly almost every day, partly because of this picture of her I keep on the bookcase in my studio.

Lillie and me on a walk in Massachusetts, 1964

And I was reminded of her in a little more detail recently because while Hannah was home over the holidays, I got to spend some time observing her with our new granddaughter Aysia, who is 6, and who followed Hannah around like a puppy dog for a week solid. Seriously.

And why wouldn't she? For Hannah there is no dress-up too silly, no tea party too elaborate, no Barbie outfit too difficult to put on. With Aysia's cheap watercolors and a stiff plastic paintbrush, Hannah whipped out a perfect likeness of "Sleeping Beauty" on demand, fit for framing, all the while directing Aysia in the correct use of jewels, feathers, sequins and glue when crafting.

Hannah drew this picture for Aysia to take home and hang in her room of the two of them in a teacup with Cooper sailing away to some wonderful imaginary place. And the first thing I thought was "everyone should have an Aunt Hannah," and then I realized that of course I did only she was much older and her name was Lillie.

This is Lillie long before I knew her -- I found this little envelope of pictures (about 30!)

among some other things and quite literally stole them from my mother a few years ago, about which I am completely unapologetic because they are just so wonderful I couldn't believe it.

There have been so many times in my life that I wished Lillie and I could spend the day together being the same age, just shopping or baking or making stuff or any of the things that we both loved to do, but without that pesky distance of her being 60-some-odd years older than I am.

Lillie and I spent a good deal of time drawing paper dolls together, among other things, and I have an old junk-mail envelope that contains some of them but wish I knew where the others have all gone to live.

Lillie remained unmarried but had a long-term boyfriend who dropped by to "chew the fat," deliver produce from his garden or quarrel frequently. My mother always said that when it came to marriage, "one of them was too afraid and the other didn't dare." When he died, he simply said, "Lillie was my girl." I guess that was enough for her.

But this was only one of the things that fascinated me as a child. In addition, Lillie:

wore men's pajamas,

had little use for bras or foundation garments of any kind,

loved to read magazines like this one late into the night,

never drove a car and never explained why,

owned a store for over 50 years at which she let a kid like me spend as much time as I liked doing whatever I liked,

made change at her store from an actual cigar box,

drank Coke from little green bottles (which I was not allowed to have),

had to move out of her bedroom and into the room next door because she never threw anything away, and therefore could no longer find the bed,

(I will present this as exhibit A -- an envelope on which she recorded the first day I came to the store to spend the day with her. I'm delighted to report that she lived long enough for me to bring my oldest daughter to the store for a visit),

cried (real tears!) if someone inadvertently put mayo on her sandwich,

never left the house without a head scarf tied firmly and cotton in both ears,

never met a cat she didn't want to save table scraps for,

and on and on and on.

There are a thousand and one things that made her Lillie and I love and miss them all.

She once gave me dating advice when I was a teen, to "never let them get your jewels." Sound advice. I think she held on to hers pretty tightly.

But she shared everything else.
There was no gossip too trivial, no Barbie outfit too difficult to sew, no spider too terrifying to kill, no miracle vitamin cure too unbelievable to try, no made-up card game too ridiculous to attempt, no hair too straight to pin-curl, no scrap too small to save and most importantly to use to make something later.

To her I owe my extensive vintage fabric collection, a vast array of cotton rick-rack, lace and bias tapes in marvelous colors not seen in well over 50 years,

the seeds of my vintage magazine collection,

boxes and tins of wonderful old cards and ephemera,

my devotion to all-things-Mother-Goose,

and most important of all, a love of creating, and more specifically,
hand sewing.

A little school sampler by Lillie, probably about 100 years old -- I'm pleased to see the teacher gave her a "98"

But perhaps the most remarkable thing about my great-aunt Lillie is that although I didn't appear on her radar until she was well past 60, she was a first-rate friend who always made me feel like I was so important she'd just been hanging around waiting until I got there. And I know my older sister felt the same way. And probably my mother and her sisters before us.

It is extraordinary (and a little daunting) to me that I might still have some task ahead of me as important as the impact Lillie had on my life was. Something -- or someone -- I don't even know about yet.

Happy Birthday, Dear Friend. I can't wait until we meet again (I'm old enough now to bring you a Coke and a Diet Coke for myself).

We'll sit down at the little oilcloth-covered table in your shop (the one I use in my booth at art shows now, can you believe it?)

for a nice chat that begins with you saying, "tell me what you know . . . "


abi said...

Awwww I miss Aunt Lillie too. I'm going to look through my books for pictures of her now. I really miss that store too. If you can believe it, I think that the store might be a children's store again. I drove by a few months ago - but I wasn't sure if it was the exact same one.

susan m hinckley said...

That's really amazing -- AF has grown so much, it's probably hard to tell what used to be what. I'm so glad that you remember the store and Aunt Lillie; my girls are too young. And by the way, thanks for the awesome ornaments! What a delightful complete set we all have now!

Nancy said...

I have an Aunt Lillie! Only she is my Aunt Elaine and I am going to lunch with her this saturday. I am only beginning to come to terms with *being* aunt Elaine. But you make it sound so wonderful. I think I shall give it a try!

Amelia and Justin said...

I wish I could remember more about Aunt Lillie...but I remember the way she smelled, and that is a fond memory for me (odd as that may be...) I really do think I have some very vague memories of the store - if nothing else, I remember going there once she had died. I can't wait to know her better.

susan m hinckley said...

Nancy, I've read your writing about your Aunt Elaine and it actually reminded me of my Aunt Lillie, so enjoy her while you can! And I think having an "Aunt Nancy" would be equally splendid -- you can pick your own eccentricities, of course, and you can be one even after you are married, you know!

susan m hinckley said...

Amelia -- I, too remember Aunt Lillie's smell, and also particularly the way her skin felt, because by the time I knew her her face had become quite "fuzzy" and I used to love rubbing her cheeks and teasing her about it. Feel a little bad about that, now that I think of it . . . and now that I'm only a few years away from growing fuzz of my own . . .

Library Gal Quilts said...

Susan, This is such a wonderful post. I had a grandmother named Dorothy who was my version of your Aunt. I'll have to blog about her. You inspired me. Our foremothers...yes indeedy. Pam in Chico

susan m hinckley said...

Pam -- I'm excited to read a post about Dorothy. I'll keep visiting your blog in hopes that you write it! Wouldn't it be fun if everybody wrote about someone who had influenced them profoundly? That would make a lot of interesting reading. We'll have to see if we can get that started somehow . . .

Sara and Cory said...

Thanks for the walk down memory lane! I have odd, little bits of memories of Lillie and the store...the little lamb ride on, the squeeky toys in the front display, the slope of the linoleum floor at the entrance, the scary bathroom in the back...and of course the baby shoes! :O)

susan m hinckley said...

Actually I meant to talk about the baby shoes in my post, because that was my favorite thing about the store, arranging and rearranging the shoes. And that bathroom was the stuff nightmares are made of -- I just learned to go FAST.

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