Last evening I was reading a story authored by Martin Luther King, Junior’s sister, Christine King Farris, entitled My Brother, Martin, with one of my online English students who lives in China. Interestingly enough, she mentions a fur piece worn by one of the neighbor ladies, this brought to mind a story of two of my older brothers, Claude and Richie, and my Great Aunt Gerty, who lived with us. And so the story begins in the little German-American farming community of St. Michael’s.
Aunt Gerty’s Fur Piece
We lived in a rather large farmhouse, once owned by my Great Aunt Gerty. In her declining years, she offered her home and the shop attached to my parents, if they would agree to come and live with her and take care of her. They accepted. I do not know if this great lady was in her right mind or not—as my parents already had six boys and two daughters that they were bringing with them! I was still in the mind of God.
The decision was made. So, one day, my Dad and Mom made the 35-mile journey from the town of Jackson, to the tiny, two-street town of St. Michael’s, the birthplace of my Mom and where her parents had once run a little grocery store and tavern business. She was coming home with her husband and children to care for my Aunt Gerty. One of the many giving and generous acts my Mom made herself available for over the years, notwithstanding the generous offer of Great Aunt Gerty.
My parents brought five boys into the world, prior to a daughter being born. My Mom always said,
“The boys were so much easier to take care of than you girls!” Personally, I think she was just tired by the time the next four of us arrived in this world. Pardon my digression, but it leads us to the story of the fur piece. Without understanding the bedlam of the house, the story would not be as delightful!
I was only three or so at the time, but I recall vividly the uproar caused by the fur piece!
Apparently, my Great Aunt Gerty was beginning to decline in health and lay bedridden in the rear bedroom. Relatives from Port Washington would drive over once a month to visit her. Each time they visited they would bring a cake box along. However, there was no cake, or anything else!! And each time they would leave, my Mom would notice another missing knick-knack or piece of jewelry. Soon there was only the fur piece remaining. The fur piece was a shrunken fox, with piercing eyes, and little feet! Its glass eyes would peer into mine and when I saw it around Aunt Gerty’s shoulders, I kept wondering when this “thing” would leap off of her and attack me!
Evidently, this fur piece was a highly sought after possession!
On the morning these people were to arrive, Mom said at breakfast, “Well, there is only one thing remaining to be smuggled out with that cake box! The fur piece!” Then she went on to prepare eggs and oatmeal for the hungry mouths around the table. Of course, Claude and Richie’s eyes lit up at the mention of the fur piece and they began whispering between the two of them. My Mom was too busy with the food preparation to notice, but once the food disappeared, the two boys vanished! I thought to myself, “What are those two up to?”
The day moved on, and the relatives arrived and the visit began.
All of a sudden there was an old lady’s shriek from the bedroom! My Mom ran to see if Great Aunt Gerty had fallen out of bed.
However, when she arrived in the room, Great Aunt Gerty was sitting upright in the bed, with a stern face, and screamed at my Mom: “WHERE is that fur piece! You stole it! You thief!” Maggie would like to borrow it from me for a wedding she has to go to. WHERE is it?”
My Mom, of course, adamantly responded, “I have no idea WHERE your fur piece is!”
Meanwhile, I was outside, playing in the dirt under the cedar tree when I heard scrambling on the roof of our two story home. Claude and Richie were dangling a dead animal from the roof! I screamed as any three year old would do! Then I ran and said to Mom, “Claudie and Richie are on the roof! They killed an animal! It is hanging from the roof!”
My Mom, of course, scolded the boys and ordered them down. Then promptly took the “dead thing” and brought it to my Great Aunt Gerty.
Shortly, the relatives from Port Washington concluded their visit and, once again, left with the cake box.
Funny, I never did have a piece of cake!