Three geese in a flock.
Aunt Freda always had a friend---she knew the need to have a buddy, a friend. As she advanced in chronological years, her "buddy" was more likely than not, someone with her "mental" years. She never met a stranger. Aunt Freda died December 28, 1951, just a month before her forty-first birthday, January 21, 1952. Her birthday was always a time for celebration. She taught me to take joy in mine.
Aunt Freda could not read or write. Arithmetic eluded her. She associated her age with the years on the calendar and lost track of her age when she passed thirty-one. Before her thirty-first year she could point to her birthday on the calendar and say, "This is how old I am." When she passed that age she would point to her birth date on the calendar and ask, "How old am I, or how old will I be on my next birthday?"
Aunt Freda taught me many useful things. She did not know about biorhythms. But she did know that when you go to bed at a certain time, you arise without difficulty early in the morning. She always awakened at six in the morning to the sound of the Angelus bells that wafted across the fields from the church in town two and a half miles away. We didn't have electricity but she never had to milk the cows by lantern light. With her talents she mastered all of the skills necessary for farm living the year around and she always had time to plant and tend a flower garden. She particularly loved zinnias, which she called “Old Maids.”
I was her buddy, her pal. We were bed partners in the drafty upstairs room that we called the "old house" until I was six or seven. She kept me warm on winter nights. I can still smell the fresh corn husks inside the ticking on which we slept. In those long ago sultry early summer days in Alabama, with gallon syrup buckets tied around our waists, side by side we picked blackberries. As we picked we were serenaded by mournful turtle doves and the buzzing of June bugs. We were content. I was secure in unconditional love.
Milking the cows was Aunt Freda’s primary responsibility–--morning and evening. When I was six years old she taught me how to milk, though she never really trusted me to do it right! Morning and evening, before taking the precious milk to the kitchen to be processed, she poured some into a row of pie tins for the barn cats that always waited on the stone sill for their special treat.
Every morning she would pour a pitcher of warm milk and place it on the breakfast table. The remainder she divided into earthen bowls that rested in the milk cupboard. When the cream rose to the top she would skim it by ‘blowing’ it into the butter churn. In the evenings she placed a pitcher of skimmed milk on the table for supper. As the overflow of the milk began to clabber some was churned with the cream for buttermilk and butter. Some she hung in a flower sack to drain on the clothes line outside for cottage cheese. When Aunt Freda was absorbed in these tasks they took on the air of sacred rites!
My Aunt Freda taught me the joy of a starry milky way night as we searched the sky for the big and little dippers. On those starry nights we bathed in the cold spring water in the concrete watering trough down in the meadow. I lost my fear of the icy water and began to anticipate the "refreshed" feeling that followed. The restful sleep that followed always helped to meet the challenge of a new day. I began to anticipate a dip in the cold spring water when the hot southern sand burned the soles of my feet as, together, we chopped cotton, hoed corn, or just carried water to the next field where other chores were going on.
Aunt Freda loved any five-cent movie that had horses. Mounted horses being swiftly ridden across the silvery screen always thrilled her. She loved the beauty of the steeds, but more than that, they took her on a flight of fancy in her zest for life.
Sadly, I find some things on Memory Lane that are painful for me to look at. There came a time when I was no longer her "buddy" because I started to get embarrassed because she was "different." I was not yet in my teens when she cried all the way home after seeing "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves." She was very touched when the lovely Snow White was released from her witch-induced trance as the handsome prince bent down and kissed her. She cried harder still when they rode off on a white steed!
Memory isn't perfect, but the smell of milking time, newly turned earth and the aroma of blackberry cobbler, fodder time and new-mown hay easily bring back memories of Aunt Freda. Add to these, the whistle of a train. When she heard a train whistle she would always stop to wonder where the train was going–and dream that one day she would take a train ride. To the best of my knowledge, she never did. To her a hundred miles was "around the world!”
Feelings like joy, discovery and delight easily come to mind when I think of Aunt Freda. With her world view of simplicity, joy and wonderment she showed me the way over the cuckoo's nest. I somehow managed to lose the way. Better still, I didn't attach enough importance to her example.
Yes, Aunt Freda showed me the way, but it has taken me years to realize that my "cuckoo's nest" is of my own making. The good news is that I am beginning to feel free at last, oh Lord, free at last!
Aunt Freda, I was privileged to have you for my Aunt. Your love for me was unconditional. It was, and continues to be, my mainstay.
“Because you have been faithful in a few things, enter into the joy of the Lord!”
Requiescat in pace, Aunt Freda.