I had a great-great Aunt Lillie growing up. She was quite a character. If someone had explained to me what "eccentric" meant, I’d have said that defined Aunt Lillie.
In an age when most women, the older ones anyway, wore dresses and aprons, Aunt Lillie wore men’s trousers. She was hunchbacked, and I never knew the medical reason for that. She was not what you’d call a feminine-type woman by any stretch of the imagination, and didn’t seem to bother with fixing herself up to be more presentable. She was one of those no-nonsense sorts.
She drove around our little town in rural Oklahoma in a big white car. I believe it was a Chevrolet. But the funniest thing was she always had her dogs in the car with her.
Aunt Lillie’s husband Joe was the town treasurer. They were as odd a couple as you’d ever hope to meet. He was tall and stately, whereas she was this little hunchbacked gnome. They lived in a big sprawling two-storied house in the center of town. They never had any children that I know of.
She spent a lot of her days fishing. You’d see her driving through town toward the lake with her dogs in tow. She seemed to prefer their company to anyone else’s, including Uncle Joe’s.
Aunt Lillie’s been dead a long time now. I figure she must be buried where most of the town’s former residents were laid to rest, or somewhere thereabouts. I think Uncle Joe was the town treasurer for much of his life.
Through my adult eyes that struggle to reach back and focus through my little girl eyes, I see a kind older woman who didn’t fit in. Who didn’t adhere to the unwritten rule that it was considered proper to engage in certain social activities if you were married to one of the town’s most respected men. And who didn’t much care what you thought about it.
And for this reason, I think of her fondly. We lived in a Mayberry-sort-of-town, and she was certainly not Aunt Bea. I don’t remember her serving coffee cake to the neighbor women. Or sipping iced tea out on the front porch, and hollering out to the citizens who strolled down the sidewalk. She wasn’t much to socialize.
I realize I’ve never mentioned her to my daughters, and I should have. She was, in her way, a feminist before anyone really understood what a feminist was. And in my mind, that makes her a dignitary of sorts. Someone special who passed through my early life and made a definite impression. Just the thought of Aunt Lillie and her dogs makes me smile, forty years down the line.