Aunt Melissa

The internet is full of memes about the ‘cool aunt’ and the ‘crazy aunt’, but what if it were the same person? To this day I am both a little intimidated and a little in awe of my Aunt Melissa.

Aunt Melissa is my grandmother’s older sister. When I was a child, she lived with her mother on the old farm in Cornwall. When we went back east to visit Mom’s family, we’d often take a day trip there for lunch. Aunt Melissa’s lunches were memorable. Some dishes I recall are tomato aspic and sugar-free pie – she’d often try to experiment and wasn’t always successful. I remember my mom being horrified once when I spit something back onto my plate. I think I was 5 or 6 years old.

My great-grandmother would slip my father money and tell him to stop at the hamburger joint (aka. McDonald’s) when we left. 

She’d have the wonderful stories as we’d walk around the place, telling me tales about my grandmother. They’d grown up on that farm and the entire family lived there through the Depression. Neighbors worked the land by the time I was around, but some the old outbuildings were mostly still there. I remember once we buried Greek worry beads under running water at the fresh water spring, although I don’t remember why. 

Her brother died in WW2. She didn’t talk about the war much. 

Aunt Melissa and Uncle Ernest, April 1918

She died April 12, 1991. We lost my grandfather that spring, too.  It was a sad time for all of us – especially my grandmother.

After Aunt Melissa died, I was given some of her household items. I would be moving out on my own soon and it seemed that no one else in the family needed a hand mixer or a baking pan. I still have that hand mixer – it’s a Westinghouse and is older than I am.  I’m tempted to utter the phrase “they built things to last back then” which is how I know that I’m related to…well, everyone I’m related to… but especially Aunt Melissa. 

Thirty years later, my family still talks about her. We tell the same stories over and over again – the one about her shooting a raccoon, the one about her cooking, the one about her service in WWII.   

Aunt Melissa, “in service” was written on the back, location unknown

This past year, I’ve had more family memorabilia make its way to me – including letters and records Aunt Melissa kept from her time during the war. Some I had seen before, some I had not. This is the initial spark that inspired this project I’m doing here. Her story was nearly lost.  

Aunt Melissa, late 1950’s/early 1960’s

She didn’t marry. She didn’t have children of her own. Too long we have been mislead in thinking those where the keys to women being remembered when they’re gone. How many obituaries still note women in relation to others – “a loving wife” or “a caring mother” – instead of a life review based on their own accomplishments. Compare how men’s lives are remembered and you’ll see what I’m talking about. With or without a spouse or children, Aunt Melissa’s life was important. 

I am well aware that this resonates with me as I have also chosen not to marry, not to have children. And I will repeat that – because this is important to point out – I chose. I do not regret my choice. Did Aunt Melissa choose? It’s hard to tell. Some family members think she had a sweetheart in the war.  Maybe in all the letters, I’ll find some clues. Maybe it’ll remain a mystery. Maybe it wasn’t the point of her life.   

Me standing behind Aunt Melissa on my grandmother’s porch, June 1984

Welcome to linesacrossmyface

Have you ever had an idea for a project sort of snowball on you?  The kind of project that starts out as replacing a fixture in a bathroom and ends up with a complete remodel.

How does it get from simple to complex? What do you do when you’ve already carved a hole out of the wall for a different set of upgrades all together? How do you wrestle your new space and all your ideas into something manageable? It can feel as overwhelming as herding cats.

That’s the sort of story behind this blog. 

Herding cats in Grandma’s backyard, summer 1978

The very first idea for the project was simple. I was going to gather up material about a female relative who served in WWII, digitize it – take pictures of old newspaper articles, transcribe letters, etc. – and share with other family members.  The rest is a series of ‘then’s’. 

  • Then there was more material available than expected, enough to fill a book (which felt overwhelming).
  • Then I ran across a poem written by my mother and stories of other women were brought up.
  • Then I thought of all the stories about women who aren’t related to me that could be told – women who inspire, who forge new paths, who lead quiet lives of courage. 
  • Then there’s all the fictional stories about women that help shape how our society thinks of women.
  • Then, then, then…

So here I am, hoping this blog becomes the manageable.  

My goal is to start with a variety of posts that cover the broad themes I touched on above. The common thread will be that they are about women. So often our narratives are framed by the patriarchal nature of our society, and I’m thankful that has begun to change.  Does the internet need another blog about women’s stories?  I’m not sure about the internet, but I wanted a space to share. 

Looking to the future, my goal for this blog is to continue to share stories about women I find interesting. And, if this space resonates with others, perhaps it could become a place for others to share as well. 

For more on the genesis of this project, please see the tag blog inspirations