Aunt Peg

Aunt Peg wasn’t really my aunt. She was my grandma’s long-time friend, and “Mrs. Swanson” and “Peg” both shot wide of the mark. Her windows leaked, her car rusted, but she never aged. Up until a couple years ago she was still swimming laps at Town Park Pool and singing a wobbly soprano in the church choir. George, her husband, died shortly after I was born, around the same time that my PopPop died, so she and my Grandma had an extra special bond.

I could tell Aunt Peg got on my Grandma’s nerves sometimes because she talked so much. But Grandma would take a deep breath, drum her fingers on her knee, and bear with Aunt Peg because they were friends. For decades they were part of the same Bridge circle and Arts & Crafts club at the church. I remember helping Grandma make egg salad finger sandwiches the night before a Bridge meeting. They used lovely teacups and saucers for the occasion, but I didn’t touch them because I break stuff like that.

They had the same hair-do--short, curly, fluffy--except Grandma’s was snow white and Aunt Peg’s was tree-trunk brown (I was going to put “dirt brown,” but that’s mean-spirited.) For a long time Grandma did her own hair. On Saturdays (the day before church) she would wash her hair in the kitchen sink then wind small sections of it around mesh, metal rollers, holding them in place with pink plastic pins. For an hour or so she’d sit on the sofa reading Marmaduke comics and drying her hair on “low.”

But when she needed another perm she’d make an appointment at Bobby's. Bobby was a woman. She had a hair parlor attached to her house and some yappy mutts. I went with Grandma a few times--I liked seeing old ladies put their heads in the beehive-shaped driers and scream at each other to talk. The perm took two hours, and she had gotten them so many times that the nape of her neck was splotched purple like an ink spill.

On holidays my mom would selflessly invite my Grandma’s widowed friends and my dad’s lonely brothers over to our house for dinner. I objected…and was overruled. Elsie, one of Grandma’s friends, was the only person I liked having over. She was sweeter than a lamb and didn’t butt into conversations or eat all the ham.

Aunt Peg was nice, but her speech was one high-pitched run-on. Whenever a guest was at the table my mom became Barbara Walters, turning the spotlight on them, even when they didn’t want to talk about themselves. My Uncle Jeb was one of these types, so he kept his mouth stuffed with potatoes so he couldn’t answer questions. But Aunt Peg liked having a dialogue partner, so to the conversation the rest of us only contributed soft chewing and gulping sounds.

I liked it being just our family, but I didn’t know how to say that, so I’d go out on the back deck and refuse to come in, even if it was cold or there were wasps. It put a damper on things.

When I’m a mom I’ll ask my kids if they want people to come over, and if they say, “No,” I’ll give them a hug and un-invite the widows. Except Elsie.