“Jenny, that was the best chicken pot pie I ever tasted.”
Aunt Sally rattled the ice cubes around in her glass as she finished off her sweet tea. She wiped the corners of her mouth with her napkin and rose to help clear the table. We had enjoyed her company for Sunday night supper for as long as I can remember.
“Don’t you want some dessert, Sally?”
Mama tempted her older sister with a piping hot bowl of peach cobbler with a scoop of vanilla on the side.
“Jenny, that’s just downright cruel. You know me and Katie-girl have to get up early in the morning, but since you twisted my arm . . .”
This was the way Sunday evenings had always gone. I had never in all my 18 years seen Aunt Sally turn down dessert even though she always “had to get up early the next morning.”
Mama and Aunt Sally were polar opposites. Mama was married with 3 babies by the time she was 23 years old. She was devoted to taking care of Daddy and us girls. Aunt Sally married young also, but Uncle Bert was killed in an accident before they had any children. She took over their hardware store after his death. People in those days didn’t take to a woman running a business, so the first year was tough for her--just tough enough to strengthen her resolve. Before long, Aunt Sally had proven everyone wrong and earned the community’s respect as a business woman.
After Aunt Sally had gone home for the evening, Mama and I sat on the front porch swing and listened to the lonely cricket songs that carried on the warm summer breeze.
“You know Katie, you’re just like your Aunt Sally. All these years, I’ve tried to turn you into another me--just like your sisters, but you’ve got her free spirit and there’s no denying it.”
“Does that mean you understand why I don’t want to learn to cook and sew--or marry Charlie Harris?”
“Charlie Harris is a fine young man from a good Christian family. Honestly Katie, I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand your decision to go to work at the hardware store, but I know that you couldn’t have a better role model than Sally.”
The following Sunday night, as plates were being filled with pork chops, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans and biscuits, the topic of conversation was my first week at the hardware store.
“You should be proud of this girl--she’s a natural. She’ll be running the place in no time,” Aunt Sally beamed.
I had to admit that I was having the time of my life working with Aunt Sally, but I could tell by the end of supper that deep down Mama was a little worried about the situation.
“Wait, Aunt Sally--I’ll walk you to your truck.”
As we walked, I got up the nerve to ask her something that I’ve always wanted to ask. I took a deep breath and blurted it out quickly.
“Are you sorry you never remarried and had children?”
“Breathe, honey,” Aunt Sally chuckled, realizing I was still holding the deep breath I had drawn in.
“I have no regrets, Katie. I loved your Uncle Bert and we talked about having a family, but that wasn’t God’s plan for our lives. I never met anyone else that I felt led to call my husband. You and your sisters have been like my own children, so I have never felt childless. The store didn’t keep me from having my own family, darling--it was my choice.”
“Oh, Aunt Sally, I don’t know what I want. I love working, but I think I want to have a family some day too.”
“You have a big enough heart for both, Katie-girl. See you bright and early tomorrow.”
Aunt Sally changed my outlook that night. I didn’t have to be just like Mama--I didn’t have to be just like Aunt Sally. They had each given me the best of themselves.
Today, I run the store just the way Aunt Sally always did. She lives with me now and we have still have Sunday night supper, but it’s not quite the same. Charlie orders pizza while Aunt Sally feeds the twins mashed bananas--I never did learn how to cook!
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