A visit from Lida

By Lela Jorgensen Wade

“Gram had a letter from her this morning,” Mama told us that evening at supper. It was the first Monday in June. My sister, brothers and I had the whole summer ahead, free from school.

Mama continued, “She’s coming Friday on ‘The Chief’ so we’ll meet her at the depot and then have lunch at the hotel.”

This was doubly exciting news! We loved our Aunt Lida, and saw her only once a year because she lived in Missouri. Daddy couldn’t spare several days away from our farm to travel. Mama didn’t want to, with four children in tow. Our grandparents didn’t take long trips anymore. Plus we’d get an up-close look at the huge train again. The engineer always had a friendly grin, and got a big kick out of treating children to whistle blasts.

Aunt Lida was principal of a normal school, so she too was free all summer. Her older brother, who was my Poppaw, had explained that this was where young ladies learned how to teach in elementary schools.

Though we were anxiously awaiting the special day, there was always farm work to be done. Back then, by the time children were in first grade they were helping in the garden and tending animals. Of course the girls helped Mama with housework too. Oh how I hated dusting furniture and ironing!

The big day finally arrived. Mama made sure we brushed our teeth and wore our next-to-best clothes. Our best ones were saved for church. Then we all piled into our Buick and drove the short distance to our maternal grandparents’ house. Little brother and I got to ride in their Pontiac.

We arrived early. Daddy always insisted on being early for everything, but getting Mama ready was like herding cats. We learned to tell her we were expected somewhere at nine if something started at ten. So we got to sit on the depot’s porch for twenty minutes because it was too hot in our cars. Then the train came chugging slowly along with the engineer blowing short whistle warnings to motorists and pedestrians.

The conductor stood by in case a passenger needed help down the steps. A good idea, because Aunt Lida always wore high heels. She was tall and stout, with a round, pretty face that always wore a smile.

And soon there she was on the pavement beside the tracks with us, hugging and kissing everyone. Poppaw loaded her bags into his car’s enormous trunk. Then we all rode to the top of the hill, parking at the hotel.
The front room of the big antebellum-style building was a large dining area. All nine of us sat at one round table and soon were enjoying a Southern-style hot lunch.

Later, at Poppaw & Gram’s house, Aunt Lida handed out little gifts she’d brought for all us children. She was a maiden aunt, Mama had explained to us earlier. She now lived alone in the two-story farmhouse where she and her three brothers had grown up. So she doted on her nieces and nephews. Mama had shown us a snapshot of that house so we’d know what it looked like.

I clearly remember sitting on Poppaw & Gram’s big front porch that Sunday afternoon. The grown-ups were chatting happily about everyone they knew and who was doing what. Poppaw sat on a stool a few feet away tending his favorite rose – the rare yellow one. We kids fought over the comics page of the Atlanta Journal & Constitution and drank homemade lemonade from tall, icy glasses.

I think it was the day before Aunt Lida went back home when I sneaked off to my grandparents’ house just after an early breakfast. Gram was not pleased to see me. They were still in their nightgowns and robes preparing breakfast, though I’d seen Poppaw at work in his orchard. But nobody was in a mood to scold when Lida was around. I happened to look down at her feet and saw that, sure enough, even her bedroom slippers had high, spiky heels!