Lottie, or Aunt Lottie as I knew her, lived with my great grandmother and my grandparents. In my child’s mind they all lived together in “the old people’s house”.
My great grandfather died when I was three years old. I have a vague memory of him as an impressive presence but that may be just from stories told to me as I grew up.
Sometime after he passed away, my grandparents moved in with my great grandmother to help her and keep her company. Then my Aunt Lottie moved in. She arrived when I was still so young that I remember her always being there as part of that household, the old people’s house.
Aunt Lottie was a short, heavy set woman with closely permed curls in her white hair and wire-rimmed glasses. She wore printed cotton dresses and tidy printed cotton aprons that always had a pocket for her handkerchief. She wore her stockings rolled down and tied in a knot above her knees so they stayed up. Her shoes were sturdy, black, lace-up leather shoes, sensible shoes. And she always wore a smile.
When we had family gatherings, she would come down the hall with her small Kodak Instamatic camera in hand. She’d be laughing and telling us all to get closer, to bunch together, even closer for yet another “bunch picture”. There were so many bunch pictures over the years, one for each occasion. They formed a record of our family as I grew up.
Aunt Lottie was a smiling and happy person. I don’t ever remember her having a harsh word for or with anyone. . Even when she went to the hospital her good cheer remained during her brief stay, right up to the end. She passed away when I was thirteen.
There was something about Aunt Lottie that I sensed as a child, something about the way the other adults treated her. They treated her with patience and kindness but they didn’t seem to feel as much affection as I felt for her. I loved to run into her waiting arms and have one of her great big happy hugs.
A few years ago, while searching our family tree online, I came upon an entry that shook up the puzzles pieces of the family I grew up with and put them back down into a new pattern.
Lottie wasn’t really my Aunt, I knew that. I was told we called her that because she was just like an aunt, in the way many older and endearing people are referred to as Aunt or Uncle. So no, she wasn’t my Aunt. However, she was the first wife of my great grandfather! After he had passed away, Lottie fell ill with cancer. They had no children during their marriage, she hadn’t remarried and she had no other family to depend upon. So my great grandmother, the second wife, took Lottie, the first wife, in and gave her a home where she happily spent the rest of her days. A long-held childhood mystery was solved.
In honour of my Aunt Lottie, I like to think of this house as Lottie’s house, a home she can finally call her own. It was built at about the time she would have been a new bride. It’s the sort of house they may have lived in during those early happy years. It’s the sort of place where, if you listen carefully, you can hear Lottie laughing and asking you to gather closely together for a big bunch picture.