Aunt Blanche was my mother’s older sister. She was the first born – and she wasn’t very old before my grandmother realized she was a little, well, different. I suppose the proper, “politically correct” term to describe Blanche would be mentally challenged. She never went to school, never held a job, and never married.
I have a photo of Ky, when she was about 4, that looks just like Blanche. Ky hates that picture, which is why I’m going to dig it up someday and post it, ‘cuz I think it’s cute that she looks like a modern-day version of my Aunt Blanche, and I’m the Mom, and she can’t stop me.
Blanche held a very special place in my grandmother’s household, and was quite responsible in many ways. She had chores to do, like everyone else, and managed nicely in most cases. She would get upset, now and again, if things didn’t go in the order she thought they should.
My mother had a knack for calming her down in these situations. She could usually convince Blanche that since she was the oldest she should do the thing she didn’t want to do, or not do the the thing she wanted to do, because, being the oldest, she should consider what was best for all concerned and “take the high road”. Blanche always wanted the best for the family, and would generally concede the point.
There are a few snippets of “Blanche Stories” that I’m going to post over the next while. This is one of them:
My mother’s kin were farmers – and the largest meal was the one at midday, which they called “dinner” rather than “lunch”. That was the meat-and-potatoes meal, served with several loaves of fresh homemade bread, baked just after breakfast, many pots of tea, and something sweet to finish up with, usually pie or a jelly-roll, also made fresh that morning. There were eight kids in that family, three girls and five boys, Gramma and Grampa, and however many hands they might have on the farm to feed before the men went back out to work.
Every afternoon after dinner, Gramma would either lay down for a nap, or take a walk into town to sell eggs or run her errands. My mother, her younger sister, Helen, and Blanche would be left to wash up the dinner dishes. The mountain of dinner dishes. The last words Gramma would say to my mom and Helen were always, “And don’t let Blanche do all the work!”
Because Blanche would, if you let her.
So, my mom and Helen would wait ’til Gramma was down the driveway, or sleeping, and they would tell Blanche that they were going to the outhouse. And they would say to her, “Don’t you dare do all the dishes without us!” The dishes were very lovely bone-china pieces from a shop owned by Gramma’s sister. None matched – they were “seconds” given to Gramma, that couldn’t be sold because of a chip here or there, or bits of the pattern faded or missing. Blanche believed that Mom and Helen enjoyed washing the dinner dishes, because the plates were so pretty.
So, Mom and Helen would go out the kitchen door, and sneak around the corner of the house to peek in the kitchen window. Blanche did enjoy washing dishes. And eventually, when they didn’t come back right away, she would go ahead and wash them all, and then the pots and pans afterward.
It’s here I must remind you, that the farmhouse had no running water. There was a well, and a pump, but the water was hauled by hand, in buckets, and heated up on the woodstove. None of this turning a faucet and filling a sink with hot water, the way we have it, now.
When they still weren’t back from the outhouse, Blanche would dry everything and put it all away, mumbling to herself that if Maude and Helen were going to take so long, it was their own fault they didn’t get to help. She always thought she was getting one over on them by doing the dishes by herself.
Of course, once the kitchen was all cleaned, Mom and Helen would come back, look around angrily, and yell at Blanche, threatening to tell Gramma on her and get her into trouble. It wasn’t fair that Blanche should get to wash all the dishes, just because she was older than they were. Blanche would beg them not to, and they would reluctantly agree, if she would promise not to do it again.
But, of course, the next day after dinner…
Random Song-for-the-Day: “Let’s Dance” – David Bowie