Thursday, March 22, 2012

Aunt Hido and the Buttermilk Pie

My great-grandfather and his brother married sisters. And so it went with my father and his brother. Or I guess I could say that my mother and her sister married brothers. Whichever is the correct order, the marriages gave me double cousins.  Having a couple of extra sisters and an extra brother was a good deal. My sister and I seldom argued, but my older brother knew how to push all the right buttons to make me come out futilely swinging.  

I seldom had a cross word, however, with my cousins. Their home was always a place to go when I needed to get away from home. I liked the fact that, in some fashion, I was related to everyone they were related to.

Daddy was sick a lot when we were kids and no doctor seemed to know how to get him well  He had digestive problems that grew progressively worse for almost a decade. He spent four years going in and out of hospitals.Until Dr. Olen Janes correctly diagnosed his problem, it looked as if we would lose him.

I was the youngest and Mother usually took me along when Daddy had to be hospitalized while my older siblings were allowed to stay at home or with friends or relatives. When the absences were really long and it looked as if Daddy might not survive, she had to find places for all of us to board.
I stayed with several wonderful aunts and uncles, but most of my time was spent with Aunt Hildred and Uncle Arch.  Readers of my Rivers Trilogy will know them as Tillie and Seth. Here’s an excerpt about Tillie from Rivers Flow. Jake walked past the table toward his room, but Tillie blocked his exit from the kitchen. She took him in her arms and hugged and patted him. Jake felt himself start to cry and jerked away to try to regain his composure. 

Sometimes, Arch and Hildred had all three of us. They had three children of their own and times were tough.  Imagine adding one, two or even three extra mouths to feed, laundry to do, etc.  I missed my daddy, but I was used to long periods away from him.  A boy that age really needs his mother.  She's usually the one who finds the right clothes and packs the right lunch for school. And you can cry in front of her, admit your fears, and not be too ashamed.

Aunt Hildred seemed to know when I needed Mother the most and she did her utmost to fill that role.  When she wanted to comfort me, she would be Aunt Hido (Hildred was first called Hido by my brother, Richard, who inspired the character Tuck in Rivers Flow) and I would be Shim. She could always make me laugh and feel better. 

I never felt like an intruder in her home.  Everyone in the family shared with me. They at least pretended they were glad to see me come and unhappy to see me go home.  Aunt Hildred would have it no other way.  I can only imagine the burden we placed on her, but she never once let it show.  Of course, Uncle Arch was also welcoming, but I don’t recall his doing much laundry or cooking. 

Aunt Hido was a great cook. I loved her biscuits more than my mother’s and was never disappointed at her table. During one of my extended stays at her house, I came home from school and discovered a freshly-made buttermilk pie in her kitchen. I had a strong sweet tooth. Time (or nausea) has dimmed a lot of the details, but I was either alone in the house or my cousin Kay left me alone with that pie. Either way, the pie was sliced, and I tasted my first piece of the most delicious pie I had ever eaten. I decided that she would not mind if I had another slice.

When Aunt Hido told the story over the subsequent years, she maintained that I ate the whole pie. I think Kay helped, and that, using some sort of childish logic, we left only a slice or two for the others.

One thing is certain. I was very, very sick—so sick I could not even glance at buttermilk pie for thirty years. Instead of arriving home to find a warm dessert for the whole family, Aunt Hido found an empty pie plate and a very sick little boy—a real test for even a patient person.

Do you know what she did?  After putting a cold wet cloth on my head, she laughed.  She laughed.   I was mortified for doing something so thoughtless and stupid. And, I thought I was going to die for my sin. I was sick enough to wish for it. But Aunt Hido got me to laugh.  And we laughed about that until we lost her. 

About twenty years after the pie incident, I returned to my old stomping grounds to open a business. I also took up racquetball. One of my fellow players (a college professor) turned to me soon after I started playing and asked if my name was Ainsworth. Well, I had just put up a big sign near downtown Commerce and I assumed he had seen it. I guess my head swelled a little when I nodded, expecting congratulations.

But it wasn’t the sign that made him recognize my name. “You related to Hildred Ainsworth?”  I was proud to say that I was her nephew.

“Well, you must be proud. She is one of the nicest ladies I have ever met. And she bakes cookies that are nectar of the gods.”

Yep. He knew her all right. Aunt Hildred was working maintenance at the college and cleaned his office. The professor didn’t recognize my name from a big sign or the business I had opened or anything I had done, but by the good humor and good deeds from a very, very fine woman. I learned a valuable lesson that day. My aunt knew what was important. She didn’t preach it, she just practiced it.


Laci said...

Yea!!! The buttermilk pie story! Forgot about her being called Aunt Hido! Love hearing such well-told stories about my Mamaw! (And I bet Aunt Kay did help you eat it!)

Laci Ainsworth Northam

J A Hunsinger said...

Good story, Jim. I could practically taste the buttermilk pie.
Thanks for the visit to our memories.


pwhite said...

Many times I was separated from my brothers due to Daddy's illness. They preferred to stay with Aunt Hildred and Uncle Arch while I stayed with Big Mama and Papa Lee and Grandma Boone. My brothers don't remember maybe how I saw my Dad cry for the first time. He was leaving for Medical Arts in Dallas. He didn't believe he would come back . That was difficult for a little girl that needed to grow up fast. That was also the time when they somehow found $25.00 and bought matching wedding bands. Our parents went through so much , but Aunt Hildred and Uncle Arch were there. We had loving parents that cared even through these difficult years.

2a96unn3r said...

I guess I'm the only one in the family to have never heard this story. Thanks, Jim.


Charlotte Hilliard said...

Wonderful story Jim. After I wade through all the books I have stacked up to read I'm going to read all of yours over. I had more time to read when I was working. ha
I'm so glad I haven't eaten so much Buttermilk pie I can't still enjoy one.
Thanks for the short visit again with the Rivers. I love them.