Aunt Ella’s House


The antique mower just wouldn’t get the edges on that patch between the cracked, roller-coaster sidewalk and the curb. The blades kept catching on the walkway to Aunt Ella’s house. All in all, I guess it did do a pretty good job, and it made the neatest noise when I pushed it. But I always had to make two passes on the driveway between the wheel tracks.

I checked my handiwork. Not too bad for 50¢. I had taken extra care around the rhodo-whatever-it-was, and I hadn’t even knocked one bloom off the ferny “jungle path” to the backyard. I liked the jungle path; it looked like every plant in the world must be back there. It was cool and misty on hot summer days playing hide-and-seek with birds, snails, and my cousins—a dark green Africa.

Aunt Ella’s garage was all of wood. Separate from the house and ever dark, it seemed to sit and brood. It kind of scared me to put the mower away. I never put the mower in the back, always right next to the pale, pink Studebaker, warily regarding the gray-on-brown-on-rust monsters that lay deeper in the tomb.

Those pesty bees about stung me every time I walked around the bottlebrush plant to get to the back door. The jungle slowly encroached upon all mobile things there. I always wondered how Aunt Ella could keep out of its clutches while she filled her bird feeder and cracked nuts on the dirty, pink tablecloth. Why, she was already 83!

The back door creaked as usual when I went into the porch. The washboard in the sink was really starting to rust. An old ladder led to the attic, where jars of apricot jam were stored. I sometimes climbed up there to check for gold and treasure.

I liked the white porcelain handles on the sink in Aunt Ella’s kitchen (even if they were a little loose) and the deep basin. When I would get the blue porcelain plates out of the cupboard, I had to be careful because the latch didn’t work very well. But what could you expect from old wood? Aunt Ella’s fridge was the only round, white one that I’ve ever seen. At least you never hurt yourself if you bumped into it. Her bathtub had feet on it, but they looked like witch’s claws.

Aunt Ella always sat in her rocker and let me eat all the hot chocolate chip cookies I wanted. I usually wandered by the perpetually black TV set, looked at all the pictures of people I had never known on the mantle, played with her black phone with the frayed cord, and tried to catch the two little birds that zipped around free in the house. I would finally plop down in the purplish pink, overstuffed chair next to the brass lamp with the fringe on it. It tipped over easy, so I had to be careful.

I made dust clouds from the chair’s arm while listening to Aunt Ella talk and waiting for Mom to pick me up. When I heard the beep I didn’t even remind her that she forgot to pay me. I said, “Bye, Aunt Ella!” opened the creaky screen door, jumped all five steps at once, hopped in the car, and waved to Aunt Ella on her dingy white and gray porch.

Later on, Mom said that Aunt Ella was getting pretty bad. I didn’t cry at her funeral, not even out of duty as I passed her open coffin.

The other day I drove by her house. The lawn was clipped to perfection, the rhododendron was gone, and the jungle path just wasn’t there. A new car was parked in the driveway, and on the porch the fancy screen door glinted in the dusky light.

Then, I cried.

[illustration] Illustrated by Colleen Hinckley