My sister, Janet, who not only got the good hair in the family, inherited our Aunt Babe's flair for the dramatic. I'm sorry you didn't know Aunt Babe. She was quite unforgettable. Who knows what color her hair really was, because we only knew her as a flaming redhead and it suited her better than anyone I've ever known.
Aunt Babe had style and sass. When she entered a room, all eyes were drawn to her. She wasn’t what you would consider a traditional beauty – fine-boned and delicate. She was tall, nearly 6 feet, and had substantial bones covered by substantial skin. She was well-proportioned and had possibly the largest feet of any woman I knew.
She was also the best-dressed woman in town. She had great clothes and shoes. Never a shy dresser, she was center stage wherever she went. And it wasn’t just her wardrobe that set her apart; it was her personality – large and loud. Her laugh could be heard across all 11 aisles of the A&P.
Babe was the kind of woman who drew people to her – both men and women. She had great, funny stories and was always cooking up something to create more fun.
She was married for more than 60 years to Uncle Kirby, a small, wiry man who didn’t say much and was the perfect straight man for Babe. He had a dry wit when he spoke, which wasn’t that often. Considering he was married to Babe, that was understandable.
Kirby was hired by International Paper Company and was sent to Arkansas where he met Babe, who at the time was only 14, but looked 20. On an impulse, they eloped to Louisiana, with my father, Babe’s older brother, in hot pursuit. He never did catch them, which considering the longevity of their marriage was probably a good thing.
Early in their marriage they signed up for dancing lessons at the Arthur Murray Studio. Dancing was their favorite pastime. They knew all the dances of the day – the fox trot, the waltz, the tango, and more. How they would have loved “Dancing with the Stars!” They were my stars.
Babe was a working woman at a time when not many women worked outside the home, at least in my neighborhood. If you knew Babe, you would have imagined that she had some very powerful, glamorous job – when in reality, Babe was the cafeteria manager at my elementary school.
I am quite sure that nowhere else in America or any other country was there a school cafeteria manager like Babe. Despite the required white uniform and white leather, rubber soled lace-up shoes, she was an effervescent star.
She knew every kid who came through the line and called them by name. As her niece, I not only received special attention when I came through the line, I also got extra peanut butter and cornflake bars, my favorite dessert.
Babe had her quirks. She always washed her dishes by hand, no matter how big the dinner party, or how late. And, she hated her home dishwasher. Once, when I was visiting, I opened it to load the dirty dishes and discovered she had converted it to storage for canned food.
Sometimes when my sister, Janet, and I get together and silliness erupts, which is most of the time, I can still hear my mother saying, “Girls, behave yourselves, you sound just like your Aunt Babe.”
I sure hope so.