Thursday, August 23, 2007

Aunt Kiki's House

Because I am probably busier than I have ever been in my entire life this week, getting ready for the first day of school, and because eight thousand people asked, I'm reposting the story about Aunt Kiki. Now I should have reposted this before the Prada Shoe story because it gives some background, but in any event - here it is.

Teen Tours are a big deal around here and I can absolutely see the appeal, although when I was that age I wouldn’t have even been able to conceive of such a thing. A group of teenagers from all over the country, traveling the world, and their parents footing the massive bill, for 6 weeks?? It’s outrageous. They go all over the world from Bali to Dubai, staying in opulent hotels and eating at the finest restaurants. They shop in exclusive, international boutiques and their parents pay for all of it!! And the parents aren’t there! Sure, they have guides and chaperones, but I know teenagers and I can guarantee you that there is a lot of debauchery going on.

Parents, I'm sure, imagine wholesome excursions to historic sights, with quiet teens scribbling notes in leather journals and snapping digital pictures of their friends in front of 3000 year old Buddhas in Cambodia. I think a more accurate picture would be groups of teens lolling half naked on the carpeted floors of Bangkok opium dens, getting foot massages from exotic, transvestite prostitutes.

This scenario is about as far from my reality as a teenager as you could have gotten. Hitching a ride on an intergalactic satellite would have been more likely than my parents paying for or allowing me to go on a Teen Tour. Mainly, this was because we were poor and hadn't heard of, and couldn’t afford, such nonsense. It definitely wouldn't have been because my parents desperately wanted me around the house all summer complaining about how bored I was and how I needed rides to my friends’ houses. No. My parents got rid of me in their own way. They sent me to my Aunt Kiki's house every summer and when my sister was old enough to walk and speak in complete sentences, they sent her with me, as my charge, until school started again. It wasn’t that they didn’t completely adore us; it's that the two of us were a pain in the ass when we weren't in school, and my parents couldn’t drag us to work with them everyday. At that time, their work involved trying to sell tractor trailers of discarded, flawed or over-produced goods that no one wanted. Sometimes these goods included things like watermelons and potatoes. Other times they were surplus army uniforms. A lot of times my mother ended up selling things on the street to get rid of them, so you can see where a 14 year old and 6 year old could get in the way of all that. We had no interest in peddling, and so, we went to Aunt Kiki's, because she was on welfare and never had any plans of getting a job.

My Aunt Kiki is my mom's younger sister. She is only 12 years older than me. People often roll their eyes when Aunt Kiki's name randomly pops up in a conversation. She's slightly more normal now, than she was back then, but not much. When I was a young teen, Aunt Kiki was in her mid-20s, although I thought she was quite old and experienced. She lived even further out in the middle of nowhere than we did, and it took us 3 1/2 hours to drive to her house from ours. Aunt Kiki's house was a small, extremely old farmhouse. It was in a state of disrepair from both Aunt Kiki's constant poverty and her profound apathy (likely the reason for the poverty as well).Perhaps it wasn't apathy exactly. I don't know what it was, but Aunt Kiki just has never really cared a great deal about the things people care about - things like cutting the yard, or doing laundry, or de-fleaing your pets. She would let dishes sit in the sink for weeks, until someone else came over and washed them for her. My mother was famous for coming in and cleaning up Aunt Kiki's house, although there were several times when it was too much even for her, and then she would advise Aunt Kiki to move and start all over again, which she eventually did.

Aunt Kiki didn’t cook and didn’t work. She had a large vegetable garden in the backyard but I could never figure out how it got there because she wasn’t the sort of person who would go out there and actually take the time to plot out and put together a garden. The garden was just there and she just let it take its natural course, so by the time I arrived at her house towards the end of June, the tomatoes had grown into the pole beans, which were all tangled up in the asparagus, which had turned into big bushy things resembling feathering Christmas trees. I don’t know how any of it survived, but it did. Birds and slugs feasted, and even Aunt Kiki's dog, which was an old red mess of a mutt, would drag its tired self into the weeds to pull a tomato off the vine to chew in the shade. It probably did this because she never remembered to feed it.

Aunt Kiki loved animals and always had several cats, dogs, chickens and rabbits. Any animal that showed up, she'd name and keep. Since she never took any of them to the vet, or even fed any of them, they all looked an absolute sight. Several were pregnant. All of them got into fights and were missing patches of fur, pieces of their ears and the occasional eyeball. The dogs had mange, the cats had fleas, the rabbits were fat as butterball turkeys because she let them roam free and eat from the overgrown vegetable garden as much as they wanted.You could say that Aunt Kiki's philosophy on life is to just let things be as they are and do whatever they do without any intervention from her. She applied this philosophy to her child rearing. Yes readers, Aunt Kiki had children. At that time she had 2 daughters, but now she has four. All of her kids are from different fathers. At any given time Aunt Kiki would have a husband, lover, baby daddy or just a good friend that she was taking up with. I think this is not because she was a trashy kind of woman, but rather that there was something so sweet, so strangely nurturing and motherly, so generous of heart and just so damn fun, about her, that people were drawn to her and wanted to love her. This is exactly why I spent all my summers with her.

Aunt Kiki's daughters were born hell raisers. She let them, like her garden, her home, and her pets, do whatever it is that it occurred to them to do at any time. They could be dirty, they could poop outside in the yard with the dogs, take a bath in the hose, run buck naked down the road and return to cover themselves in mud, if they so desired. They could eat dry cereal for dinner, cut their own hair and draw on the sides of the stove in permanent marker. Her daughters Alexis and Fallon ( Aunt Kiki was a Dynasty fan) were 8 and 9 years younger than me, making them my sister's age. When I arrived for the summers I took care of all 3 children and after desperate attempts to make them all act like civilized human beings, I eventually gave up, gave in, and started taking showers in the hose myself.

Since Aunt Kiki didn't work, clean, take care of her kids, pets or her garden, it is reasonable to wonder what exactly she DID do. She certainly slept a lot. She got up and ate ice cream, smoked weed, watched soap operas, talked on the phone to about 35 people a day, laid out in the sun, went to Hardees, drank 17 beers and went out with her friends to bars down at the beach every night. I babysat for her. I also cooked, cleaned her house, taught Fallon how to talk without a speech impediment, pulled ticks off her dogs and snails off her plants and kept the fragile chaos that was Aunt Kiki's household from coming irreparably undone, at least until Labor Day. The biggest thing I did for her was to do the grocery shopping while she sat in the car because she was too embarrassed to pay with food stamps.

In return for my services, Aunt Kiki drove me anywhere I asked without question. She took me to the beach whenever I asked. I could have asked her at 3 in the morning and she would have gotten up and started the car. She also stayed out of my life, never read my extensive collection of journals, and introduced me to the joy of a chocolate malted milkshake. You really have to appreciate a person who would do all that for you, especially as a teenager.

The problem was, we didn’t have any money. I mean none. My parents couldn’t afford to give me money to last the entire summer and Aunt Kiki had no source of income. We made a game out of trying to find money. We collected cans sometimes, but that was boring. Often, we just tried to get other people to GIVE us money, though this would involve hours of driving around between the trailers of Aunt Kiki's various paramours and hitting them up. We tried to plant some pot seeds in the garden, but they took too long to grow, so I resorted to selling paper bags of blackberries on the side of the road. There were blackberry brambles tangled up all over Aunt Kiki's property and I imagined these to be my personal, untapped goldmine. I must have picked 15,000 brown paper lunch bags of blackberries every summer. I would pile them up in a cardboard box and drag them to the corner of the street that led to the country club, not a big glitzy one like we have around here, but a smaller, hokier, red-necked version.

The reason for the strategic placement of my business endeavor, was that I was in love with a boy. The boy was wealthy and rode his ten speed past this corner two times every day on the way to and from his tennis lessons. I made sure I was always there at the right time so that I could see him zip past in his pink Izod shirt and green OP shorts. In some 14 year old delusion, I thought he would stop to purchase some blackberries and fall madly in love with me and we'd run off to azaleas and mint juleps ever after. I don’t have to tell you how this worked out, do I?
What might surprise you, dear readers, is that I did make money on my blackberry business. I’m not talking buy a car money, but money enough to go to the Dairy Queen and purchase a new journal when I needed one, which was often (can you see why?)

One day a mutual friend of mine and The Boy's tried to fix us up. She made him go on a date with me. I thought, this was going to be it. I even put on red lipstick and made myself a pair of cut off jean shorts because I had just seen Dirty Dancing.

The Boy picked me up in his car, because he was older and rich and actually had one. I was thrilled. We went to McDonalds because in this town there was nowhere else to go and since The Boy didn’t want to be on a date with me, he was not willing to drive out of Millpond. I was so nervous that I couldn't eat in front of him. Since I had never been on a date before, and since I wanted The Boy to like me, I paid for his Quarter Pounder, Fries, Sprite and Apple Pie, and HE LET ME. He let me pay for his dinner with my blackberry money while I sat there and didn’t eat anything, when he knew I was poor. He then proceeded to demean my entrepreneurial enterprise, noting how my fingers were stained permanently purple. The Boy took me home and went on and on during the whole ride about how he was in love with my friend, but by then my heart was already about as broken as it was going to get.

I told Aunt Kiki the whole story and she replied that The Boy was an asshole, like most boys are, and that he would have been a waste of my time. She then tossed me a Bartles & James pina colada wine cooler and we spent the night looking at stars, laughing on the back porch and trying to scare the kids.

And I know I wouldn't exchange these memories, food stamps and filth included, for a month of first class plane rides to overscheduled, post card destinations. There is no five star hotel that could have inspired the same independent creativity in my teenage spirit, than that overgrown garden, beside the paint-flaking farmhouse with its ragged cats and leaking roofs.


Green said...

I did a teen tour thing the summer I was 13 for seven weeks but we didn't leave the US, except to go to Canada.

Somehow I missed this story of yours the first time around. Glad you reposted.

Anonymous said...

"fragile chaos"

What an inspired wordsmith you are.

Mim said...

Yay, McDonald's story!

Thank you for reposting. Did I ever tell you that I was reading all of your posts from the beginning and was about halfway through when you left Wide Lawns behind? I was sad. But at least you're still posting!

Faithful Reader Guy said...

I'm conflicted. I guess being so busy must mean significant things are happening in your life but that also means much less posting.

Love your writing.

MP said...

Please come by..I have a little award for you!

Sauntering Soul said...

"I even put on red lipstick and made myself a pair of cut off jean shorts because I had just seen Dirty Dancing."

I love that line!

I think I would have liked spending summers at Aunt Kiki's house too.

secretmom said...

wow, just stumbled across your site, and glad i did. very nice writing! i'll definitely back.

Anonymous said...

I read this story for the fourth time and loved every word again. I could envision every little detail due to your exquisite weaving of stories tidbits.

Phil said...

I grew up in Michigan not having jack for money also. Both parents working, and plenty of alone time for moi. Didn't worry about having nothing because nothing was what it was going to be. Even after I started working on one of the local farms I didn't have a clue what to do with my paycheck. Clueless Michiganders.



MP said...

OMG..what an ass. You bought him food, he LET you..and you didn't have anything for yourself?? Unreal.
I think I'm blessed..I've never not had money.

FYI: Teen trip on a bus when I was was a Catholic trip from a summer camp. Where did we go; Florida..and we camped out. The only hotel we had was in Ft Lauderdale. I remember camping out in St Augustine and there was a hurricane coming. We prayed and held the tent down. Good times...

Miss Kitty said...

Damn, I love this one. It's even funnier the second tiome around.

Keep up the writing work/practice. Your craft is getting better all the time, me on that one.

redb said...

Thank you, that was awesome.

I got to "Alexis and Fallon" and had to take a moment. I was giggling so hard my yogert was in danger of coming out my nose.

Leonesse said...

Mine was Aunt Kelli.

I love her very much.

MsCatCalls said...

What a great way you tell a story ... I love it . will work backwards through your blog I think !

annie said...

I love Aunt Kiki !! XXOO

BunGirl said...

I had some sommers like that as a kid....

Thanks for reminding me!

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