48 - My Aunt Gertie

Billy Can and Billy Can't

I remember my Aunt Gertie well. Her name was Gertrude but we called her Gertie. Aunt Gertie was a perfectionist. She had standards. Her standards were the standards of her day and she applied them firmly and with an air of righteousness.

She helped to raise my mother in part. My mother's mother was pathologically attached to her own mother and left her husband taking my baby mum with her. My mother's father crossed the border into the USA and 'kidnapped' her back to Canada. Thus, my mum was raised by various people, including Gertie who was not a blood relative but a relative by marriage. Aunt Gertie became the family aunt.

We all lived in the same town of Chatham, Ontario, which was a moderately-sized city deep in southern Ontario farming country.When she grew up and married my dad, my mother used to dread Gertie's coming to visit the house. Gertie would check for dust and look under things, She sought imperfections and found them! She would call these imperfections to my mother's attention. "Now, Phyllis, perhaps you didn't notice but there are dust bunnies under the couch..." etc. There must have been an orgy of housekeeping before she came to call or, God forbid if there was an unexpected visit, despair. Gertie, however, was not given to unexpected visits. Her premise was "Let them do their best. I'll still find something wrong!"

Gertie liked to visit people in the hospital. She would tell patients about all the people she had known who had suffered from the same complaint and then died. Eventually, the hospital barred her visits because she just wasn't cheering up the patients.

Another thing She liked to do was attend the funerals of people she didn't know. Let's just say she was interested rather than nosy. I don't know if she commiserated with everybody. She was probably just curious about the cause of the deceased person's demise. A bit macabre when you come to think of it but that was Gertie.

She was a widow with no children. Her apartment was perfect. In the dining room, there was an oak dining table and a glass-fronted case with bone china cups in it as well as the good dinner service and a tea set. She had a neat little kitchen and a sun-room. The living room was the jewel. There were needlepoint chair cushions and framed needlepoint works hanging on the wall as you came up the stairs to enter the living room. These were not done by herself. She wasn't a craft person. Needlepoint was the accepted feminine art of the day so she collected some.

The mantelpiece held Royal Doulton figurines which used to fascinate me as a child. A beautiful oriental rug in tones of red and blue was on the living room floor. Everything in the room was 'just as it should be'.

In the bathroom on the back of the toilet ledge, there were two rather unusual antique Plaster of Paris figures of small boys sitting on chamber pots. One had a broad smile on his face and was labelled "Billy Can". The other was sunk in gloom with a dejected frown on his face. He was labelled "Billy Can't" When my Aunt, in her elder years, was getting ready to go to a Home for the Aged she was giving away different things and she gave everyone their choice and I chose "Billy Can" and "Billy Can't". I still have them.

My Aunt Gertie was not wealthy. Her husband had died relatively young and his pension did not keep pace with inflation. I believe she minded children for folks and in her elder years she took in boarders. Young males on a limited income would occupy the guest bedroom. Some of them worked for Chatham's CFCO AM radio station which was short on pay and long on opportunity and experience. Some joined the Chatham Little Theatre group where my mother was the doyenne. I don't know if these young men stayed in radio. It's a hard place to make a living. Some of them were decidedly Gay and my Aunt, all unaware, referred to them as 'the dearest boys'.

I once took Gertie some embroidery I was working on and showed it to her proudly. She promptly turned it over and said firmly that someone (presumably an authority) had told her that the back of embroidery should be as neat as the front. I can still hear her voice saying this, too late for rebuttal because it is, of course, complete nonsense.

In the end, and endings are often sad, she was in a Home for the Aged. My mother would visit her there. Mother once said to me, "Oh, Sonia, it's terrible. She's not even wearing her own clothes and they don't fit. She was so neat and now she's all messed up.

Myself at a young age

Wavy Line

© Sonia Brock 2006

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