The other day I was in my office at home and my daughter Julia came in and asked me if I'd like to see where she hid her dollar. I stopped long enough to look up and notice that she was standing near my bookcase. She stuck her hand into the bookcase and pulled out her dollar and I had her freeze until I got my camera, remembering an old great aunt of whom many stories were told of her hiding all her wealth inside books. And the story goes...
Summer jobs for 13 year old girls were scarce in our neighborhood when I was young. The boys grabbed all the lawn jobs early and parents chose the older girls for babysitting. My dad's mention of my great aunt's need for a house cleaner once a week was immediately appealing. Well, it was until my brother Mike heard and started telling me that Aunt Nell was scary. He talked of a house filled with cats and bookcases loaded with books where she hid all her money because she didn't trust the banks. I was petrified and tried to break the deal but my dad would never go back on his word to Aunt Nell. Maybe he too was afraid of her.
Each week that summer my dad dropped me off and my sister or my mom picked me up 4 hours later. Each week Aunt Nell begged me to sit and talk instead of clean and so I tried to squeeze in a little work between our spending time together. She was quite a sight, I must say. Her wiry, burning red hair, her extremely long fingernails and her bulging eyeballs were hard to look at. She smacked her lips together when she spoke like she was trying to hold on to her teeth and every time I'd rise to go do something she'd ask me what I was doing. Trips to the kitchen to put her "Meals on Wheels" lunch together included cleaning and putting away dishes and wiping out the oven and the fridge. When the postman came to the window to deliver her mail and to talk, I escaped to dust the bookshelves and the end tables. Bookcases did line her walls and I couldn't help but wonder if there was truly money stashed in the pages. We spoke many times about books and she'd occasionally have me pull a title and bring it to her. I couldn't believe when I checked out her bedroom and found more bookcases with the "bulkier" titles so to speak. I promised myself I'd never tell everything about my visits with Aunt Nell; not what we talked about and not what I found in those bookcases. But, I did repeat what I learned from her about her Baptist background and Bible stories and her cat Jezebel. The lessons that complimented my visit and my time. That gift of time was all she wanted.
Aunt Nell was a character; a wild, flaming red-headed, untamed, say anything chick. She didn't care what people thought or said about her. The less they knew, the better, except that she hated to be alone. She kept the house and the chores and the gooseneck rocker so people would need to visit and those who did were pleasantly surprised. I even received a book that summer which I still have in tact with all the content. It's a constant reminder of the wealth found in reading and the importance of taking time with one another.