The Uphill Slide

There is always something.



There was this crazy story of my great-aunt that someone told me years ago. According to the storyteller, Aunt Celeste’s underwear dropped to the floor as she stood in front of a classroom full of students; she calmly picked them up and put them in the desk drawer. Thinking of the fit of modern-day underwear, you might ask how such a thing could happen. When my maternal grandmother visited, I watched in awe as she fastened a torso length of hooks and eyes up the side of a corset garter contraption and then put on a pair of baggy panties over it all (Thank goodness women are free of such constriction now.) If the elastic in those underwear was a little past its life of stretch, then….her underwear might have fallen at her tiny size four feet. So how should someone react to that? Ignore the elephant in the room lying at your feet? Pull up your dress in front of children to put them back on? Or just pick them up and put your drawers in the drawer? No one can confirm the authenticity of this story. I know I would be mortified to have something like that happen to me, but I would have done just what she did. Kudos to her for handling it and living through people telling the story!

Celeste was my paternal grandmother’s sister. Spinster. Old maid. Why do those descriptions of an unmarried woman seem so sad and even cruel, as if she had done something wrong? Were there terms for men who never married other than a bachelor, the term that has taken on glamor through television? Aunt Celeste lived with her mother and brother in the family home on Ross Street; she outlived them both. She taught school in Ford City in the building that later became the administration building for the Armstrong School District.

Celeste once had a widower suitor with a daughter so I was told. She probably wanted to marry like all her siblings, except for Uncle Dale who lived with her. He was born with a veil over his face. I always assumed that meant part of the placenta and maybe he hadn’t gotten that first breath soon enough. But my googling suggested that the veil was a sign of good luck and fortune for the baby and easily removed. Anyway, the old maid and the bachelor lived their lives with each other for company. Obviously, her suitor never offered marriage, or if he did, she refused him. Supposedly, the daughter didn’t approve of Celeste or she did not want her father to remarry. That happens. This person also described Celeste as man-hungry, a term suggesting that we are starving without a man in our lives. I really have trouble seeing Aunt Celeste as man-hungry, yet perhaps she felt like an outsider as an unmarried woman.

Every Sunday, my grandmother spent the day with her sister after services at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Worthington. Grandma stayed until evening when my father picked her up on his way to do the evening farm chores. My grandmother ate Sunday dinner with Celeste and Dale despite her irritation or even disgust at the free roam of Celeste’s cats over kitchen counters. Perhaps Celeste might also be called the cat lady. When she died, her carpets were pulled up and the house cleaned to remove the smell of cat urine from her pets that acted like strays pissing in corners.

I wrote in Simply Black and White that Aunt Celeste had a back yard planted with her flowers and gave bouquets for the church altar vases. And there she is in the photo with a bouquet, probably her own Celeste-grown. Well, someone else told me the story of a young neighborhood boy whose backyard was catty-corner to Aunt Celeste’s flower garden. The boy secretly picked bouquets for his mother from that garden. Even my husband appreciated Celeste’s green thumb.

There might not be any truth to those stories others told me. The only truth may be the things that I remember. I once had a Great-Aunt Celeste who never married, taught school, loved flowers, and lived out her life in the family home.

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