In Search of Aunt Lizzie

Aunt Lizzie lived at the top of the steepest hill in the Valley. The half-gravel half-dirt road leading to her two story white clapboard house crisscrossed the hill to reduce the steep incline. Of course, in 1906 when the house was built, there were no cars but it would have made it much easier for both humans and horses to climb as well.

I was never sure why I called her my aunt. I guess because it seemed everyone referred to her as Aunt Lizzie. When my sister needed a costume for the school play, she borrowed one of Aunt Lizzie’s long  dresses. Likewise, when I dressed like a witch one Halloween, my grandmother had me go to Aunt Lizzie’s to borrow a long black dress. Of course it was much too long, cinched up with a belt, but it fit the bill nicely.

My earliest memories of Aunt Lizzie are sometime around 1962 after her husband passed away. I was about eight-years-old when I started going to her house. By this time, her bed had been moved downstairs to the living room as she was in her late 70s. I remember the bed well. The mattress appeared somewhat lumpy although always made to perfection. The small bed with its rounded metal headboard was tucked into a corner away from the front window where a view of the entire Valley came into view.

The front window was silhouetted by faded white lace curtains. An old wing back chair sat beside the window across from a small black and white television. It was there Aunt Lizzie sat every afternoon and watched her “stories” – a common reference to the old soap operas. I can still remember the intros for Guiding Light and As the World Turns playing on the small black and white screen.

Of all the houses in the Valley, this is the one house I recall visiting frequently. I would trudge up the hill, step onto the front porch and tap on the screen door. Sometimes Aunt Lizzie would be napping and I would just let myself in and wait for her to wake. Most of the time, however, she was already seated in her chair by the window. I would sit near her and watch her stories with her. I cannot imagine what we talked about, a 77 year old woman and an 8 year old girl.

Sometimes Aunt Lizzie would ask me to get her something from the small kitchen at the back of the house. She often had a small pitcher of water on the sideboard and sometimes a cookie to share. Those were the only rooms I ever entered. I would often stare up the grand staircase and wonder what beautiful things must be in those rooms no one ever saw. I imagine if I never saw them then surely no one else had either.

Last night my curiosity piqued. Exactly who was Aunt Lizzie? With the help of Ancestry, I dug into her background, working backward. Surprisingly, I discovered she was my Aunt. More specifically, she was my Grand Great Aunt – a half sister to my paternal Great Grandmother. Her name change after marriage is what made me think we were never really related. It made me wonder if my grandmother (her niece) sent me to check on her or take things to her. If she did, those memories have escaped me.

I try not to be regretful looking back. She may have known all the stories about what life my Great Grandmother lived and why her family ran my Great Grandfather out of town. If only I had been older and knew more and if I had been more curious. I am still content, however, remembering that 8 year old girl sitting in that huge house at the top of the hill, watching Aunt Lizzie’s stories taking for granted the view splayed just outside the window.