Sunday, October 18, 2009

Aunt Ginger

Aunt Ginger is our family's Depression baby. She was born 80 years ago today, just 11 days before the stock market and the American economy crashed resoundingly into the Great Depression. My mom would come along six years later, which makes her a Depression-era baby as well, but Ginger gets the honors for being born in October of that infamous year.

Ginger is the aunt who in the old days would have been called the "old maid aunt." Ginger lived with her parents and never left home until after both were dead and it was time to move on. She never married, although she has enjoyed a rich and colorful romantic life. She never had children, unless you count the 28 or 30 (I can't remember which) nieces and nephews, of which I am one, as well as the countless great-nieces and great-nephews, who populated her life from her teen years on.

She has lived at only two addresses her whole life: the house my grandfather built over on the east side of town and in which she was born, and the apartment complex she moved into when she was 49 years old. Just recently, several of us spent a weekend moving her from the upstairs apartment she had lived in since 1978 to a downstairs apartment so she didn't have to climb stairs anymore.

Ginger was the family babysitter. Many of those nieces and nephews grew up right here in Delaware. She babysat most of us and, in more than one case, she babysat our children when they came along. My boys were often the recipients of Aunt Ginger's babysitting. During those years, she lived a little over two blocks away from our house. When Aunt Ginger was slated to babysit, my boys would stand on the sidewalk looking down the street, waiting to catch a glimpse of her. Whether it was one or two of them out there, the reaction was always the same: a whoop, a shout of "Ginger's coming!," and an impromptu little jig right there on the sidewalk.

Ginger never learned to drive. She tried to learn at least two different times in her life, but Ginger and a seat behind the steering wheel were a bad match from the outset. My mother has long told the story of driving with Ginger in the passenger seat, back when my mom was a newly minted driver, and coming to a railroad crossing. Mom started across after looking carefully right and left. Ginger also looked right and left, spied a locomotive headlight way, way, way, way down the tracks, and screamed "TRAIN! A TRAIN!" My mom promptly panicked and stalled the car out in the middle of the tracks. As mom tells the story, she had a tough time concentrating on starting the car and getting off the tracks with Ginger shrieking nonstop next to her.

Now imagine Ginger behind the wheel of a car and you will understand why she never learned to drive. From the limited tales I have heard, it was in large part because now when she shrieked ("A CAR! LOOK OUT FOR THAT BIKE! THERE'S A SQUIRREL!"), she was shrieking at herself and the whole enterprise was too fraught with tension to continue.

During her working years, Ginger relied on co-workers to get to the factory job she held for over 40 years - the only job she ever held. She rode to church with my parents until they started attending different congregations, then found rides with fellow church-goers. She and my mom go grocery shopping without fail every Friday, so that takes care of getting groceries from store to home. (When I was a kid, my brother and I would meet her at Albers and lug her groceries home in a wagon.)

Otherwise, even now, Ginger walks just about everywhere, weather permitting. As a result, despite chronic and severe asthma, Ginger has probably enjoyed the best health of all of her sisters and brothers. Still does, in fact. She will be the first to tell you that she is slower than she used to be, but then she will smile and say "but at least I'm still walking,"

Despite her lack of driving skills, Ginger is a well-seasoned traveler. She was the one who took us on a Greyhound bus to downtown Columbus annually to see the Lazarus Christmas windows and then shop in the flagship store. She traveled regularly to Florida for winter vacations, she visited Mexico with my cousin Anne, she flew out to see me in Portland when I was in the northwest and then later in California, when Ben was little. I have a photo of the two of them asleep in the back seat of the car after a long day in the Sierra foothills, his little boy head with its dark hair nestled close to her great-aunt head with its silver hair. She even flew to Europe when my brothers were stationed at various army bases in what was then West Germany.

In recent years, Ginger has started volunteering with our local Meals on Wheels. Hazel drives; Ginger delivers. She loves it. I think she gets a kick out of volunteering to serve "the elderly," being one of that group herself.

Not bad for an old maid aunt who never learned to drive.

Ginger has taken a good deal of ribbing over the years and not only for her lack of driving skills. She was almost always the straight man in a family full of wisecrackers. "Miss Priss" was one of many monikers she collected over the years. Like her namesake spice, her tongue and temper are sometimes sharp, which usually only served to spur on the teasing even more.

Some of those wisecrackers will be here later today. Unbeknownst to Ginger, there is a party this afternoon at this house. Ginger's only surviving sibling, my mother, will be there, of course. So will a cousin who I have yet to meet (cousins in the family at that generational level were a rare commodity). So will a number of Ginger's nieces and nephews, my siblings and cousins, most from around here but some coming from several states over to celebrate her 80th.

It will be a Skatzes gathering, which means it will be noisy and crowded and full of jokes. We planned a potluck; Jackie and Mark are bringing the cake, I'm making the chili. I still haven't figured out how to get Ginger from her apartment a block away to here without giving away the whole surprise, but I'm working on it.

I don't know how my cousins and brothers view Ginger, but she has been special in my life. When I was a little girl, we all lived in separate apartments in the Flax Street house, and I would often escape to Ginger's rooms. There I would rifle through her jewelry, listen to her LPs, and tolerate her putting polish on my nails (which I would then methodically scrape off). There was a bond between the two of us, maybe because I could always talk to her when I couldn't talk to my own mother. I still can. And hope to for years to come.

Happy 80th, Ginger!


Ellen said...

What a great celebration of a special family member! Your love is the best tribute to her.

Captain's Wife - Jennifer said...

She sounds like such a blessing. :) Happy Birthday Ginger!Thanks for sharing! :)