I was lost in day dreaming, staring at Aunt Chin’s paper fan and hanky on the table. Next to it was a dry cloth she had used to wipe up the condensation that had puddled under her glass. She had left it there I assumed for me to use when I was done. The faint smell of freshly washed peaches wafted over on the breeze of the fan, which was massaging the back of my neck, and relaxing me. I smelled my hand. Yep still onions. A buzzing bug of some sort was perusing the screen looking for a mar to gain entrance. Beyond the buzzing, in the far distance…the chicken’s small noise was reminding me…reminding me…reminding me. I suddenly felt a little less relaxed. I could hear off in the house somewhere Chin’s soft cheerful humming, which was a tad reassuring. Just as I was finishing my water which didn’t taste as wonderful anymore, I heard Chin calling me, “Pitou, come back here.”
I wiped up the table and deposited my glass next to hers at the sink and laid the cloth on the counter. Then off I flitted to find where her voice was coming from. I had not really seen the house, through the motivation of breakfast smells when we had arrived, or had half seen but not paid attention. I knew the little hall and the bathroom at the end of it. I had used it during breakfast, and I had walked in through the parlor, but not taken it in. Now though, I ventured through the living room, which from the halls entrance, was to the left where the kitchen was to the right. The living room as I expected was a large gracefully pleasing room. The welcome of it made you want to go “Ahhh” in the same way her coffee had that morning. The exquisite wood furniture made the table Gus was building look common. I wondered, and bet, and would have been right, that he had made all of this for her. Including an elegant cabinet the TV sat in, two imposing book shelves on either side of the front window, and some etageres, tables etc… The happy upholstered sofa and chairs, were as plump and inviting as Chin herself. Embroidered pillows and some figurine finery accented around the place, intermittingly mingled with all variety of family photos. The room really was filled with furniture, as Uncle Gus had said.
One photo of my grandparents, that I knew well, hung on the wall in a lovely oval frame. And next to it in a carbon copy of the frame, another couple looked out at me. I stopped to look and realized this must be her parents. They both resembled her. Her mother was plump, not nearly as much a Chin, but she had those same long eyelashes. The carving on the frames caught my notice and I bet, and I would’ve been right, that Uncle Gus had made these frames as well. The corner of my eye caught Chin in a doorway across the living room. “Those were my parents, bless their dear selves.” The fondness in her voice lilted across the room. I was still viewing the photos and frames as she walked beside me and took my hand. “Mon Pere has been gone almost ten years now and MaMA left me two years ago, same year as your grandpa died. It was a hard year and a hard Christmas for Gus and me.” I still hadn’t looked over at her directly when she pulled me along to the other door and just before we exited the living room she grabbed a framed photo and touted, “And THIS, this is my little baby sister Evangeline. We call her Lina. I call her Linapou when she’s being a poot.” And she erupted into giggles.
My confused perception was split between two sites. One being the woman in the picture hardly seemed like any sort of LITTLE BABY anything. She was as full-figured as Chin, possibly more, but did look just as happy.
The second thing that had caught my eye was Chin herself. I had never seen her dressed this way before, and at once she seemed years younger. Her hair was down and shoulder length, filled with billowy shiny brown curls which were only restrained at the sides where she had fastened them back with blue barrettes with little butterflies on them. This, combined with those eyelashes of hers completed Aunt Chin’s own brand of beauty. Her garb was so unlike anything I’d ever seen her wear. She had on what was a sort of unfitted, very large, blue chambray, tent of a house dress, or was it a blouse, because she also had some baggy grey shorts underneath. And she was barefoot. She looked totally comfortable.
“C’mon Pitou.” she said still pulling me along, “we still have so much to do, and the sun is getting higher in the sky.” I started to realize at that time how aware these country people have to be about their day.
“What do you do for air conditioning on really hot days?” I asked her.
She cocked her head to one side curls bouncing, “We turn it on, she laughed.”
“You have air conditioning?” I popped out with surprise.
“Just one, and we paid a good penny for it too.” She spun me around by my shoulders and we looked back into the living room at a large window on the side that I had missed. And there was a BIG window unit. “We’ve had it three years and I love it, but it takes a lot of power to run it so we wait until we have to. We will be turning it on later today and have things as cooled down as we can for your sister after her hottt ride in that car.” She fanned herself with her hand mocking my sister Irene and chuckled again, as did I.
“Now…” she spun me around again. “I’ll quickly show you the rest of the house on the way to the laundry” Just past the living room door, we had just gone back and forth through, was a longer hall than the other with three rooms off of it. The master bedroom was nice and comfortable, fairly neat and orderly. That is except for many belts ties and other things hanging from hooks on the closet door. Pictures and a rosary, some just tacked to and some hanging neatly covered most of the walls. A vanity across the room was covered with all sorts of perfumes and powders and lady stuff, and a paper fan, and a mirror almost framed in snapshots tucked and taped in various ways around the edge. All manner of shoes were haphazardly lined up in pairs in a few various places in the room. It was a very lived in room. Next was the guest bedroom.
This room on the other hand was straight out of a home decorating magazine. Aside from a big white four poster bed, it was a bit more modern than the rest of the house. Straight lines and solid colored fabrics in dark and light blue, and white, and grey adorned the room. It had a very square, very dark wood, dresser and bed stands, so dark I thought them black at first. There was one large blue chair in the room next to a little reading table and lamp. All three matched in design and were marvelously different. Not knowing about decorating or anything as a child, I couldn’t have explained it, but now I would almost bet (but would be wrong) that Frank Lloyd Wright had designed them. Chin explained it, “Gus made that chair and table for someone who didn’t want it when it was done, so we made this room around it, I think it’s so fine a chair, yeah.”
“So do I!”
“Go sit in it,” she prompted, so I did. It had wide wooden arms of the same very dark wood, and just inside of the arms were soft rectangular cushions, atop a just as soft square cushion. The back was another upholstered rectangle slanted just enough for comfort and topped with a small rectangular head rest cushion. There was a small part of me that was already getting tired from the day, and would have loved to stay here and take a nap. The chair was that comfortable.
“Is that Uncle Gus’ job, building furniture?” I inquired.
“Now it is, but until he retired it was mostly a hobby.”
“What did he retire from?”
“Well, when we were just young he drove a steam shovel. But he retired from the refinery in Lake Charles.” Chin explained.
I had been through Lake Charles, and seen other refineries as well. “Those refineries stink like rotten eggs.” I exclaimed
“That they do, cher, or something worse.” She snickered, “as well as do the work clothes of any man who works there. I used to make Gus go straight to the garage, and strip his smelly duds into a separate hamper, then bathe, as soon as he walked in the door.” Aunt chin added that she didn’t much miss those days.
It was time to continue our tour on to the last room. This was a tiny little room that kind of slapped me in the face.
“This, Uncle Gus calls my silly room, but secretly I think he likes it.” I thought to myself … ‘she’s wrong’. It had all manner of feminine foo foo everywhere. And a rainbow of pastel colors represented in various forms of ruffles, frillys, lace, doilies, and more. “Gus would never let me fix the guest room in a girly way, ‘cause he said we might have a man guest some time. So when I got my sewin’ machine, and wanted a sewin’ room… we turned this into MY room, and I fixed it the way I wanted.” She said with conviction.
“What was it before?” I was trying to picture.
“Well it was meant to be a storage place, and we used it for that until we got a storage building outside. So we put in the window, and changed the shelves into a sewin’ center. And I got this big table from a laundry place for cuttin’ out patterns.”
Other than the big white table which had ruffles, and cloth storage satchels on the end, there was indeed a lighted sewing center with the machine in the middle surrounded by shelves drawers and cabinets. Many of the shelves had full bolts of fabric on them. Adorning the shelf top was a valance that matched the one on the little window. That one was over frilly curtains with lace sheers. There was a round table by the window, covered with a ruffled table cloth, and lamp with a ruffled shade, and a little electric fan that appeared as if she had painted the base pink with white flowers. The fan base matched the knobs and handles on drawers and cabinet doors in the sewing center. An overstuffed grandma looking chair sporting doilies on the back and arms filled out the corner next to the table. And a bag of knitting was next to the chair. The walls were a gallery of white ornate frames, around floral prints. But alone in another corner, looking totally out of place without ruffles, sat a black portable TV set. ‘Hummm,’ I thought to myself. ‘you know I bet she really likes sitting in here.’ And if she liked it, then it was good enough for me. Plus I had noticed from the fabric on two of the bolts that she had made her red dress from earlier, and this house dress she was wearing now.
The tour was over and we were at the hall’s end where there was one last door.
Outside the door was what was once a garage as it had steps down to a cement floor, and you could see one wall that had been where a garage door once hung. Now it had an outside exit door with a diamond shaped window in it, and two other windows on each side. “We call this the basement, though there’s no such thing in Louisiana.” She let out a snicker. “But it’s really just the little old garage we had before Gus and your Uncle Lawrence built the separate two car one on the uther side’a the house.”
“I saw it when we got here.” I mentioned. This room was used for all manner of things, including a washing machine and a chest freezer. Ole Aunt Chin had a few more modern conveniences, than I thought. Yet something she said was nagging my mind. What was it?
“Oh I love walkin’ on this cool cement floor on a hot day.” Chin happily tooted, in a sing-song kind of way. She was walking over to a big laundry basket full of what looked like mostly sheets.
“Why is there no such thing as a basement in Louisiana?” the nagging statement having been recalled, I now had the question.
“Have you ever dug very deep in the ground around here? Nuttin but water, cher, Nutttinn but water, same as reason for we can’t have root cellars. I remember my Grandmere hated that. She had come from Illinoize, and they had’em there. She always complained there wer’nt no place to put fresh pick vegetables and canned stuff.”
“Yours are out in that shed, Uncle Gus showed me.”
“He did?… did he show you how it works?” I looked at her totally puzzled… She was loading the washing machine. “He didn’t show you how it worked?” I stood there still clueless… she realized and elaborated, “It’s a “hutte froi” umm…it’s called a cool shed sweetie, it has a big fan on top that sucks out air, and on the sides a’ the roof is two big triangle windows covered with screens filled with moss from the trees. The air sucks in them windows and gets cooled... then goes out the top. Plus it has cement floors, like in here, and storage places made of bricks and cement. That cement it help keep it all cooler.” I sort of understood. “I’ll show you later when we out that way. But if we don’t get busy with nothing but flappin jaws we won’t get everthin done.” She finished putting a load of sheets, and the table cloth from breakfast, and more sheets, and table cloths into the washer, and started them washing. Then she went over to the freezer and pulled out two white butcher paper wrapped packages. “Can you take one of these bebe?” she motioned to me and I went to get one. It was a bit heavy and by the size and shape of it I realized it was a chicken. “Frying hen” was written on the paper.
The sudden possibilities of deliciousness lifted my psyche in the air ten feet “Are we having fried chicken tonight?” I excitedly questioned. I think every kid loves fried chicken, and I could only begin to imagine how delicious hers would be.
“Among other things.” She answered, “You’ll see, ….we need to scoot now, so grab your chicken and, how’bout let’s just get your skinny little butt and my great big b’hine back to the kitchen for pie makin’.”
Waitin' for the Weekend
2 days ago