When Aunt Alice moved to Twin Falls, Idaho, to be closer to her sisters, my mother* and Aunt Grace**, I expected a drop-dead gorgeous woman to step down from the train.
My aunt had traveled all the way from Columbus, Ohio, to be with us. That alone was thrilling. She was from somewhere more exotic than my own hometown. But the part of her arrival that sent shivers of anticipation through me was that she had been married three times. At ten, I didn’t know anyone who had even been married twice and was certain my spicy aunt was glamorous and wicked.
We drove to Shoshone, the nearest train station, and waited for the train. When it pulled into the station, I watched for a slender, fashionably dressed, carefully coiffed, artfully made up woman.
My eyes shifted quickly from the train to my mother and back again, knowing her eyes would light up when her sister descended. The eye light-up happened, but the target of so much joy was a plain woman with no makeup, limp hair held back with bobby pins, drab coat, and a smoker’s throaty voice.
Aunt Alice was about as far from a glamorous siren as any woman could be, but she had some mysterious chemistry. She hadn’t been in town long before she met her fourth husband. Uncle Clifford was a match for her—a smoker, drinker, gambler and slightly off-colour conversationalist.
Alice and Clifford scrapped their way through half a dozen years of marital discord and then divorced. Living separately proved too lonely for both of them so they had a second wedding. This time they smoked, drank and fought until Clifford died.
By this time Aunt Alice swore she had had enough men in her life. Celibacy was to be her future. But that mysterious chemistry drew a man twenty years younger than she was. He squired her around until she entered her ninth decade and sent him packing.
That was when Jim arrived in Twin Falls. By this time Aunt Alice was managing an apartment building across the street from the Greyhound bus station. Jim’s wife had died, somewhere back in the Midwest, and Jim decided he needed one last adventure. He sold his house and earthly possessions, packed what remained into a couple of suitcases, and boarded the Big Grey Dog.
He had no destination in mind. When he reached Twin Falls, he decided to stop for a while. He had been a traveling salesman. Twin Falls was on his route, and he hated it. Now, at 80, he was curious to figure out why the town was so distasteful to him.
Across the street he saw an “Apartment for Rent” sign on a grey, two-storied house. When he rang the doorbell, my Aunt Alice answered.
Jim rented the one-bedroom basement suite and began to visit my Aunt Alice. That mysterious chemistry kicked in again, but she always insisted they visit with the door to the hallway open. An 81-year-old apartment manager was not willing to be accused of hanky panky with an 80-year-old visitor. Before many weeks went by, Jim asked Alice to close the door.
“No, Jimmy, people would talk.”
Another week went by, and Jim once again asked Alice to close the door.
“No, Jimmy, people would talk.”
“Well then, Alice, let’s get married.”
“At our age? That’s just plain foolish.”
The next time Jim visited, he again asked Alice to close the door.
This time Jim pulled a ring box out of his pocket. He showed it to Alice and said he wanted her to marry him.
“Oh, well, if you’ve gone to that much trouble, all right.”
When I visited Aunt Alice and Uncle Jim shortly before their deaths, they both told me their love story. They even agreed on the details.
Jim was a real sweetheart. I liked him from the moment we met. I guess it just took a lot of tries for my Aunt Alice to get it right, but when she did she became happier than I’d ever known her. The cloud she’d always dragged with her, the abrasive talk, the shadowy way of viewing the world…they were all gone.
I was limping to the end of my own marriage back then. Aunt Alice gave me hope. As long as we’re alive, we really can change our lives. And coming to the end of one chapter doesn’t mean a bleak future. It just might mean the happiest time of our lives is ahead.
[Click on the uencounter.me link to see where it all happened.]
*More about my mother, Joyce Holm:
- The baby brought me home
- Talking about sex
- A launching pad, not a prison
- Digging deeply in memories]
**More about my aunt, Grace Davis