I thought I was going to have a lot of trouble with the Sandbox Writing Challenge 18 this week, but it turned out to be an interesting prompt. Fim assured me I’d KNOW who I was supposed to write about when I sat down to do it. I thought and thought all day. I realized that, for the most part, I’m pretty upfront with everyone I know about how I feel about them. I try to be, anyway. I love people in general. So I wasn’t coming up with anyone. Then while watching TV last night, I got it. (There WAS an apparent connection to the show we were watching.) Though she is someone who passed on many years ago now, I have a feeling she played a bigger part in my life than I realized. I think she has been fighting behind the scenes for me since I was very young…
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Her name was Frieda. She was the youngest of my mother’s siblings. The proverbial baby of the family. The black sheep of the family. She married an alcoholic and gave birth to four kids before her husband took off, not wanting to be saddled by a big family. While things were getting better for most families in the wake of WWII, they didn’t for her. As a single mom, she did what she had to do to survive. Though a well-built, stalky woman on the heavy side, she exuded sexuality. She was gregarious and interesting and always collected people around her.
So Frieda did what came natural to her, she opened a restaurant/bar (several of them over the years, in fact). She was there all the time, so suffice it to say, she wasn’t the best of mothers. Her kids were in and out of trouble continually. But she could handle herself well on the bar scene. She got beat up a couple times over the years, and shot once! Her family was appalled. Their opinion of her was very low.
But eventually she met and fell in love with a regular at the bar. His name was Bill. He was married also (she never divorced my uncle), with one daughter. But for over 20 years Bill spent time at her house and helped to support her. Helped to raise her kids. Then he died of a heart attack. She had her feet under her by then, and had traded in the bar for a truck-stop type restaurant. Her life had gotten a whole lot better.
Then Frieda’s husband Nunny turned up again. That was a frightening night. My cousins were at our house for the evening and Frieda, knowing that he was in town, had told grandma if he came around not to let him take the kids. He did. She didn’t. She called Frieda at the restaurant and she came. I remember standing in the window watching her in the back yard with him. He was drunker than a skunk. She outweighed that skinny little beggar by a LOT. She had him pinned up against the fence with the pole from the clothes line. And any ideas he had of making off with the kids were out the window! Eventually Frieda took him back because he had emphysema and was dying. About three years later she passed away from complications of heart disease.
I remember the last time I was at her house when we had traveled back to Ohio for vacation. She wanted very much to give me some clothes — even some beautiful sleep lingerie. Lordy! It looked like a Victoria’s Secret in her closet. But I was in high school and mom felt it was highly inappropriate. Frieda was disappointed, and so was I.
So what’s the reason she was so special to me? Simply because she accepted me the way I was, chubby bits and all. Including my brassy red hair. She was the only person in my life who ever called me by a nickname — Cherry. Being hugged by her was like being swallowed up in a big soft pillow. Interestingly, I was told all my life that my temperament was “just like Frieda’s”. And it wasn’t meant in a good way. It always made ME feel like a bit of the black sheep in OUR family. But as I sit here thinking about it after all these years, I’m beginning to feel I should have accepted it as a compliment.
And what would I say to Aunt Frieda if she were sitting in that chair? I would tell her that I consider it a great loss that I didn’t get to spend more time with her; that I think had I done so I would have come to realize that what everyone else saw in her as weaknesses were probably her greatest strengths. I’m beginning to feel like the same can be said of me.
I’d tell her that I wished I’d paid closer attention to what it meant to her to be a woman, that femininity has a lot more to do with how you view, treat, and comport yourself than whether you look like Barbie.
And finally, I’d tell her that I’m beginning to see there’s nothing wrong with being a strong woman, that you can be strong and feminine at the same time. And I would thank her for loving me just like I was and calling me Cherry.
I’ve joked around a lot the last ten years or so about how I thought I must have been a bar maid by day, pirate by night in a past life. But I reckon that idea must have come from what I knew of Frieda and her bar. Even last night as Drollery and I were watching NCIS: New Orleans where the characters were gathered in King’s bar for a gift exchange I repeated for the umpteenth time he and I should open our own Irish bar/Italian restaurant when he retires! I’d make a hell of a waitress, and he’s an accountant. We’d make a good team — well, if one of us could actually cook! 😀
I love you, Aunt Frieda, where ever you are! I love that no matter how many problems life threw at you, you always smiled and were happy. Never once did I ever see any bitterness in you. You’re my hero!