We children, sharing one mother, had two aunties about whom we were never quite sure. Auntie Bella and Auntie Mary were both maiden ladies, but otherwise curiously different. I now know that Auntie Annabelle McLeod was a Skye Scot and my grandmother's sister, my mother's aunt. Auntie Mary was my mother's half-sister and no relative whatever to Auntie Annabelle. Both, however, were employed in Brookline, Mass., as executive housekeepers.
I never saw Auntie Annabelle in her business posture, but several times I visited Auntie Mary in her office. As a housekeeper, she did no housework. Admitted (let in, that is) by a maid in apron and cap, I came (with Mother) along an expensive corridor to find Auntie Mary at a vast desk, attended by a secretary, and efficiently handling the domestic details of a home that employed 17 servants.
Both these aunties would come now and then to visit us, never together, and I liked Auntie Mary the better. She was demure, petite, and brought me some animal crackers. Auntie Bella was overbearing, brought me nothing, and looked much like a moose. But we four children had no recognized preference; we were well fetched up and properly loved both of them.
There came a day when we moved to another house, and as my mother would be busy with that, Auntie Bella offered to come and "sit" with us children, which would include making supper while Mom was gone. We played in the dooryard some, and when it came time, Auntie Bella called us in to get smartied up for supper. The dear lady had a plate of hors d'oeuvres for us to enjoy. She even read us a choice chapter from "Anne of Green Gables" and told us about Anne's wee house on "Thee-Island." We young-uns discovered another Auntie, one we didn't know was there. She had always seemed forbidding, but now she was cuddly and fun. Supper was a joy, and we bairns were impressed and amazed when Auntie Bella offered her grace in a strange and awesome Highland tongue. Auntie Bella said, "Now ye eat, and we're to have cream puffs after."
Our mother was late coming home. We had finished supper and had eaten our cream puffs. They were beautiful: flaky and serene. They were huge and fun to eat, and we polished them off without hesitation. And we lingered, ready all the same to clear the table and take our dishes to the sink. Then Auntie Annabelle said, "That's it, children, now you may remove."
And I, being the oldest, offered my thought. "I was hoping we might have another cream puff!"
Some deep-lying negation leaped to attention inside our Auntie Bella at that. Stiffening in her chair, she almost snapped at me, "You've had all you'll get! Nobody needs two! Now, to it at once, supper's over!"
My suggestion had pleased my sisters and brother, and while they had not been thinking about a second puff, now they wanted another very much. Auntie Bella's abrupt repulse was unpopular. We could see a pan of untouched puffs on the kitchen shelf. Feeling, as the oldest, an obligation to be spokesman, I (perhaps timidly) said, "I think you made too many. What are they good for if we don't eat them?"
When Mother came home, we four children, rebuffed, were sitting quietly waiting for her, doing not a thing. Auntie Annabelle was in the rocking chair by the kitchen window looking at nothing. It was a strained silence. The pan of spare cream puffs had been removed to the pantry and put in the breadbox. The only sound was the kettle simmering, a muted hum proving the pot was ready if wanted. We had done the supper dishes as we always did, and put them away. All under the supervision of one of the highest-paid executive housekeepers in Brookline, known internationally as the pad of the filthy rich. Was she having a touch of conscience?
She scarcely spoke to our mother. Our mother embraced us one by one, asked if we'd had a good time with Auntie Bella, and wanted to know if our supper was good. Oh, yes, we agreed. "And we all had a cream puff!" Then Auntie Bella made her adieu and started back to Brookline. It was a family joke that she always got lost at the Dudley Street Station of the Boston L, and several times had gone right back into Boston, from whence she came. The guard at Dudley Street had come to know her well.
THEN my mother wanted to know what was the matter with us, anyway. "Why are you all clammed up?" she demanded. As spokesman, I had to start somewhere. "The cream puffs," I said, "were awful good!"
"That's nice," said Mother. "And...?"
"Auntie Bella wouldn't give us but one."
"Did you ask for two?"
"Not really, but in a way. She said one was enough and was all we'd get."
"You must have r'iled her somehow, what did you say?"
"I guess I asked her why she baked so many."
"Sounds like a reasonable question. What did she say?"
"Gee, Mom! I don't know. They were awful good."
It was getting on toward bedtime for us, and since our father worked nights, it was time for him to get up and have breakfast. Usually he'd be coming down and we'd be going up. But tonight we were still down when he joined us. Mom fixed us each another of Auntie Bella's cream puffs, and then ate one herself. Dad ate two. "Those are some good!" he said. And my mother grinned at us as she said, "Would you like another? Auntie Bella made them to be et."