Shortly after my cousin Julie’s marriage, Aunt Sue’s family moved to a bigger home on Texas Street about a mile away. The home had a granny flat out front, which was basically a studio apartment with living/sleeping area, kitchenette and small bathroom. That’s where Julie and Mike lived for a while.
On one of our first visits to the new home, my mother and I were greeted by Aunt Sue, who excitedly put a new 45 record on the turntable and began dancing to Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White. She also had a new exercise device in the form of a 14″-square wood platform that you stepped on and did “The Twist,” which focused on whittling down your midsection. Having never even seen my own mother dance, it was surprising, yet refreshing to see such a free spirit in this aunt who was eleven years my mother’s senior.
I once wore to Aunt Sue’s a pair of black shorts with white polka-dots on it, matching it up with a black tank top with even smaller polka-dots. “I like it,” Aunt Sue affirmed, “You look very mod.” Later, when I relayed what my aunt said about my outfit to some catty girlfriends, one snarled, “Your aunt doesn’t know what she’s talking about. ‘Mod.’ You look stupid.” It felt like a gut punch, and I never wore that combo again.
When I was the announcer for the Christmas play that my 5th grade class put on for Kimball Elementary School, Mom and Aunt Sue both came to the evening performance. I stood up front on that stage and, by heart, belted out, “Room 13, 5th Grade presents, ‘The Spirit of Christmas,'” then I went on to announce the cast of (10-or-so) characters. It had taken a lot of practice to memorize this role that I hadn’t even auditioned for. Later, after the show, Mom and Aunt Sue praised my performance, and my aunt beamed, adding, “I heard the man behind me say, ‘Wow, that was a lot to memorize!'”
I have not many memories of Aunt Sue’s kids back then, except perhaps her two youngest, Chrissy, 17, and David, 15. The memories I have aren’t really fond ones, as they were both surly, rambunctious teenagers who could be rude to me at times. Chrissy had insinuated a couple times that I was stupid, and David was such the brat that even my mother didn’t really want my older brother Tom (who was the same age) hanging out with him too much.
One early evening when I was staying at Aunt Sue’s, a group of teens showed up at the house to pick Chrissy up for an evening out. I remember Aunt Sue saying to them as they left, “Be careful — and no bad stuff!”
Later that evening I was awakened by the sound of Chrissy crying in pain. She had just gotten home, and I could hear Aunt Sue in her room comforting her. The next morning I noticed Aunt Sue in the living room having a very serious talk with Chrissy. Somewhat curious, I grabbed a book (more than likely The Bobbsey Twins) and plopped down in a chair nearby.
Aunt Sue stopped speaking for a moment and turned to me and said, “Kelly, Chrissy and I are having a talk. I need for you to please go in the other room.” Of course I obliged, but instinct told me that Chrissy had more than likely been up to some bad stuff the night before, and — if my aunt’s solemn tone was any indication — it was of a sexual nature.
I don’t believe Aunt Sue’s family lived in the Texas St. house for more than a year-or-so, as next thing I knew, they were in a townhouse on Lemontree Court a little over a mile away. Back then I wasn’t sure of why the move took place, except with only one kid (David) home, perhaps they didn’t need all that space. I was too young to be concerned with any financial issues family members might be having; besides, Aunt Sue and Uncle John seemed pretty content.
I do know that by this time my relationship with Aunt Sue didn’t possess quite the closeness it once had. One factor was that she was no longer my babysitter; at age ten I didn’t really need one, but I did have a new baby brother, Brian, who required care, but that was mostly at our house. My cousin Bettye Sue, her grandmother Mrs. Hargis, neighbors Debbie Valentine and Linda Tilley all took turns sitting with us, but it was mainly for Brian.
Another major factor was that Aunt Sue’s full-time job at Glass Containers, Inc. — that huge menacing factory topped with what looked like a giant magnet — kept her as busy as she wanted to be. I know she had worked there for a long time, but back when I was in her care, there didn’t seem to be any conflicts.
From a very young age I would exclaim, “There’s Aunt Sue’s work,” as the “magnet” came into view anytime we were in the downtown area.
None of us had any idea at the time that Glass Containers, Inc. would one day be the setting of an event that would forever change our lives.
To be continued.