Sunday, December 13, 2015

Aunt Bea's Plymouth: "The Gad-abouts"

Somewhat strange, I suppose, for a twelve-year-old to tag along with his aunt as she made her rounds for the church. Yet, calling on old members and friends, new families fresh with babies or Beagle pups, farm folks and city dwellers––every visit made a memory for me.

One could peek down the hall or up the stairs of the homes we entered. I'd note the Victorian antiques or if the television was a DuMont, Philco, GE, RCA, Sylvania, or an Emerson. Then record what calendars or portraits hung on the wall, find the creaks in the hallway, smell the aromas that clung to the wallpaper. 

Church visitation was no respecter of persons: some homes reeked of old times and infirmities; others were upscale where finned Cadillacs were berthed and, on the Hi-Fi, lush violins played country club music to complement the plush draperies and polished heirlooms.

The Breathwaites lived close to the "fashionable" side of town and life back then. Often pictured in the Tribune, they could out-Carnegie Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People––a very popular book back in those days. They drove Buicks. A dignified Roadmaster sedan for Cecil; a smaller, sportier Century hardtop for Virginia.

We were ushered into the stone foyer just as Cecil's cousin was leaving, and my Aunt Bea was elected to negotiate an argument.

Yes, Cousin Jim told us, the elder Breathwaites were still holding forth on the family place. "Mom and Pop rent most of the land and pasture, and that's fine with me since I din't want to farm. And, . . . so here I am, trying to get these two down yonder to see 'em while they're still around."

"We're driving down soon's we can," Cecil laughed, embarrassed enough that even I could see it.

"That's what I heard the last time we had this discussion," Jim told us. "Every time we get into this."

"Jim," Virginia piped up, "we're busy people, just like you and Karen."

"I painted this house a year last summer," Jim told the both of us. "So I kept track of the to and fro around this place. Cecil would pull out, first thing in the morning. Then there goes Virginia, driving off. Cece comes back, then he leaves again. Virginia comes back. Cece drives back in, then Virginia takes off. Then Cecil takes off, and Virginia, in the meantime, comes back––"

Cecil shook his head and laughed, "Oh, Jimmy, now––"

"Y' might as well leave the garage door open––be easier. Needa traffic cop out here."

"Jim, we're social people––"

"Gadfly gad-abouts, I say."

"Well, you saw us on a Thursday and that's our busiest," said Virginia. "Miss Cotton knows all about how many things go on in this town." Jim started ticking off his fingers.

"They sing in two different church choirs, Presbyterian and Stone Methodist––practice every week for that. Then, Ginny plays the organ over at St. Paul's. They're both Gold Coaters, so have to get out and meet the tour buses comin' through. Then there's Rotary, and her garden club, Kiwanis, and the library board, something up at the college, and the Art and Book Guild, the Bird and Tree Club, the balloon fest, the pancake breakfasts––"

"And there's always work to be done and volunteers have to do it," Virginia pled her case.

'Well, Gin, let someone else take that stuff on." Jim scowled her way. "They pawn these jobs off on you two 'cause they know it'll get done."

"Jim, Ginny and I've talked about this very thing. We're going to bring the kids––"

"Dad's got four tracks for his trains now. Goes clear down one wall and around the corner, across the other. Mom's family tree quilt is done finally. Th' folks would be tickled to death to show those grandkids around . . . and get acquainted a bit."

"Yes, just as soon as they have a free weekend, we'll load 'em up––"

"Do it before they turn sulky, . . . couple pouty teenagers don't want to bother with us old duffers."

"We will, we will. We'll get it done."

Jim made his way to the front door of oak and wrought iron. "One of these days, Cuz, you're gonna get the call, 'The funeral's on Friday, hope yunz can make it.'" 

The cousins said their goodbyes, and Aunt Bea and I were ushered into a den cozy with tartan upholstery, bookshelves built into the pickled oak paneling and a robust rock fireplace, trimmed in copper.

Church stuff took up most of the visit and most of which I don't remember. I do recall, though, the bit about pouty teenagers and pawning jobs off on folks entrusted and known to get such done.

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