I ought to pause here to say a word or two on the subject of aunts. I have any number of them. If you laid them all out on a line, a sort of aunt spectrum, as it were, with Aunt Iris Shrop Winthorp way, way over to the good aunt side, then you’d have to place another of my aunts, Aunt Gazel Shrop Vanderlay (or Gazilla, as I call her), way, way, way over at the extreme end of the bad aunt side.
Not to say she’s ferocious, but if you were to tell me that the woman snacks on lightly-salted radial tires, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.
The reason I mention my various aunts is that this Gazilla, who lives in Boston, had called me several months earlier and mentioned in passing that she and hers would not be going to North Cliff for the holidays. They had decided to go to Cancún, arriving before Thanksgiving and staying through New Year’s Day.
To say I was astonished by this news would be an understatement. An entire holiday season at North Cliff, completely Gazilla-free, was almost beyond imagining. I couldn’t wait to tell Fillmore.
His reaction caught me off guard.
“Many people do enjoy tropical vacations during the holiday season, Miss. I’ve been meaning to suggest that you might consider spending a few days at Miss Dalrymple’s house in Costa Rica this year.”
I was stunned. I said, “But you know we’re going back east. We always go back east.”
He said, “Yes, Miss. I meant to suggest that sometime during our stay in Ohio, we might fly to Costa Rica for a few days.”
I said, “No, Fillmore. Some other time, sure, but flying back east for the holidays is more than enough holiday traveling for me.”
“I only thought,” he said casually, “that a few days in Costa Rica might make a nice break from the ice and snow, Miss.”
I said, “No, Fillmore.” Sometimes you have to be firm, even if it makes for unpleasantness. “What’s so big about Costa Rica, anyway?”
“I find Costa Rica to be very agreeable, Miss. Also, I’m eager to re-visit the Twoaday Stables.”
“You got a large charge out of visiting those stables, didn’t you?”
“It was most interesting, Miss. I’ve always had a fondness for horses.”
“I remember how much you enjoyed our visit to Senator Wordsworth’s horse farm in Kentucky.”
“I enjoyed that very much, Miss. And I found it interesting to compare Mr. Twoaday’s operation in Costa Rica to the senator’s.”
“Yes, well. I’m sure there’ll be other opportunities to visit Costa Rica. Maybe sometime when Gloria’s going to be there. But not during the holidays, Fillmore.”
“But Miss . . . ”
“No, Fillmore. Not during the holidays.”
The conversation ended on a sour note, which I felt bad about. And, unless I was imagining things, Fillmore was just the tiniest bit distant for several days thereafter.
So you can see why I specifically remembered that conversation, and the content of Aunt Gazel’s phone call which had precipitated the trouble, as well. It came as quite a shock to hear that the witch was coming to North Cliff for the holidays after all.
I said, “What? I don’t understand. Aunt Gazel told me they were going to Cancún this year.”
Aunt Iris said, “Gazel’s coming for Christmas, Ham. I told you that. Gazel and Adelaide will miss each other by weeks.”
I said, “Aunt Iris . . . ”
She turned her attention to me. “They were going to Cancún, but they changed their plans at the last minute because of the swine flu. Now they’re . . . ”
I said, “But I don’t understand. Why would some kind of pig disease force them to . . . ”
Aunt Iris gaped at me. “Oh my God. You really don’t have any idea what goes on in the world, do you, young Melly?”
U H said, “Well, I’m relieved to hear they’re coming at different times. If they were both here at the same time, they’d have each other by the throats.”
Gloria said, “Don’t they get along?”
Uncle Ham snickered. I took that as a no.
I looked from A to U. “So your sister and your sister hate each other?”
Aunt Iris said, “My, how quickly you grasp things, young Melly. Actually, most of the Winthorps dislike most of the Shrops, and vice versa.”
“But this is all new to me. It reminds me of something Fillmore said once about the Ankleworts. What was that? Fillmore,” I yelled toward the kitchen. “What was that jingle you said that time?”
Fillmore reappeared in the doorway. “Miss?”
“What was that thing you said that time about the Ankleworts? Hiz’n and hiz’n, blah-blahdy blah-blah.”
“Oh. It’s a poem by Mr. Benjamin Franklin King, Jr., Miss:
Her folks an’ hiz’n
An’ hiz’n an’ her’n
Never speak to each other
From what I can learn.”
“That’s the one. Thanks, Fillmore. I’ll try not to bother you again.”
“I live to serve, Miss,” he said, and disappeared from sight.
I said, “Aunt Iris. I just thought of something. You have Aunt Gazel coming for Christmas at the same time this Paulette Peabody of CACA will be here? What if Gazilla and Paulette Peabody don’t get along?”
Uncle Ham said, “That’s a good question, and apt to be the case, since Gazel doesn’t get along with anybody. And I gather from what you’ve told me, Iris, my life’s blood, that this Peabody has a strong personality, to put it kindly.”
Aunt I said, “So I understand. But Gazel and Paulette already know each other, and they’re friends. Anyway, the Vanderlays came late to the guest list this year, so they’ll be staying at the House, of course.”
“What?” To say I was stunned doesn’t begin to cover what I was.
“The Hall will be full to the rafters, so the Vanderlays will stay with you at the House.”
“The Vanderlays? Plural?” Realization hit me like a bucket of ice water. “Are you saying I have to have that little monster, Arthur Jr., in my beautiful new House? No. I won’t do it. No.”
Aunt I gave me her patented Aunt I look. “You will do it, young Melly.”
“No I won’t. No.”
Aunt I smiled. “Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I don’t expect them for nearly a month. Anything can happen between now and then.”