Aunt Millie – a writing prompt from Christy Anna Beguins

The piece below is something I wrote for Christy Anna Beguin’s November writing prompt. Anyone is free to join and you can find the prompts for this month and how to submit here. Any excuse to write, you know?


“She could start an argument in an empty house,” goes one Southern expression, and that about describes Aunt Millie to a tee. Once, she even wore pajamas to dinner because she couldn’t admit she had incorrectly mistaken them for a silky pantsuit. Earl and I could tell right away when we arrived to pick her up for her big birthday dinner.

“Why on earth aren’t you dressed yet?” I asked. Earl examined an invisible spot on the rug.

“This is what I’m wearing,” Millie said. “Frank sent me this beautiful silk set all the way from San Franciso.” She twirled around like that would fool anyone.

“Lands sake, Millie,” I said.  “Those are pajamas!”

Millie stopped twirling and stuck out her chin and said “You’re a fool, Dottie. Now let’s get to dinner.”

The pajamas were right pretty, cloudy pink satin with silk rosebuds at the collar. They were pajamas just the same. Millie held her head high at the Chinese restaurant and ignored stares or pretended everyone was admiring her high fashion. The embarrassment at having to eat with someone in their pajamas was almost unbearable, but at least I  had a story to tell. Millie may have been the most difficult person I knew, but she was always entertaining.

Last summer a bus filled with mental patients coming back from heaven knows where tipped right over on Millie’s front lawn. Her neighbor said one of the patients attacked the driver and he lost control, but I heard he fell asleep and given the hour, it seems more likely. When Earl and I turned on the late news, the last thing we expected to see was Millie in the background, arms waving and hair curlers askew and, come to think of it, in a familiar pink satin bathrobe her brother Frank sent over last birthday. If you’d seen the news, you might have guessed Millie tipped the bus over herself, but it turned out she was giving the officer an earful because the bus happened to crush one of her flower beds. Thank goodness no one was seriously hurt, but can you imagine her making all that fuss over flowers? Oh Millie.

Thanksgiving sure will be quiet this year without her. Her daughter, Sandra, found her the day after Halloween splayed face down near the sugar maple, a fallen ladder and rake. Mind you, all the leaves weren’t down yet, so we could only guess Millie climbed up to shake them down herself. She broke her neck and would have gone quick, the doctor said. Sandra just said “Huh” and looked at the doctor and then at Earl and me like she knew it was too soon to appear relieved.

In another lifetime, Millie was married to a sweet man named Hank who was so young then, he was really more a boy. Millie and Hank, they were quite a pair. I have a distinct memory of them walking arm in arm at the Clay County Fair, Millie’s head thrown back and her laughter not quite as braying as usual. Hank was the only one who softened Millie, but then he went off to war months before Sandra was born and never came back. I was closer to Millie’s age than Sandra’s, so I remember Millie’s heartbreak and how we hoped she’d find someone else, and then how Millie it was of her that she didn’t even try.

After Millie’s funeral, Sandra found a stack of letters from Hank while we were going through her personal belongings to see who wanted what. I joked we should burn them, that Millie would never want us reading those, but Sandra and Earl thought different and insisted I take them home for safekeeping.

I couldn’t help myself, drawn like a bug to the porch light, and that night I sat at the kitchen table and read and cried well past midnight. Hank was still doting at the start, but his last couple letters mentioned some English woman he’d met wherever he was. He was in love, apparently. His last note, dated a week before his ship went down, made reference to Millie’s “hard head and even harder heart” which is an apt description as any, but in the closing paragraph he asked her to please send more candy and gum. And I guess that’s how it was with Millie. You could never please her, but she never expected you to. All those years and we never realized it was really her putting up with us.

I told Earl about Hank’s letters and his mouth dropped but he didn’t say a word. Tomorrow we’ll use Millie’s good turkey platter and set a place for her at the table. I asked Sandra to bring a salad and not dessert since last time she brought some awful gelatin mess. Millie jabbed it with her finger so that it wobbled and shook and said “Oh look, even dessert can’t stop laughing at how ridiculous it looks.” Sandra was crestfallen but it perked me right up. Earl better not be his mopey, lost self he’s been lately. This is a holiday and no time to feel sorry for ourselves. Millie wouldn’t have wanted that.

 

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25 thoughts on “Aunt Millie – a writing prompt from Christy Anna Beguins

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  1. I like the different voice it seems you’re teasing out here, that’s you but a bit more than you at the same time. Was that deliberate? Or you just experimenting?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love the freedom of a good writing prompt and seeing what comes out. I pulled things from a side of the family where they talked like this (not saying I nailed it) and had feisty names and attitudes and hosted the best meals I would eat in my life. If I could set a time machine to thanksgiving 1982, they’d all still be in their prime and I could get two holiday meals out of it. I’ll bring you back a plate.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Nice, here’s to that freedom. And funny we forget it’s always ours, waiting there for us to do something with it.

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  2. I hesitated to read this because I’m working on something for the same prompt and didn’t want your effort to affect mine. So I skimmed the beginning and didn’t finish it. I liked what I saw and look forward to coming back when my piece is done.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Now that I’ve read the whole thing … I really enjoyed this. The nice little twist with Hank that has another twist within it. And well-drawn characters in such a short piece.

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  3. I like it a lot.
    I find I repeat myself comment to comment, so forgive me if this is one of those times. Alice Munro? Have you read her short stories? I was late to the party — as in only in the past year. The husband’s affair reminds me of her, the utter banality of life-changing moments when viewed through the lens of the past.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Alice Munro…yes. Kristen’s voice is like a blend of Alice Munro meets Lemony Snicket. So poignant and touching, yet often with humor and silliness, and always approachable.

      I loved Runaway by Munro and the interesting female characters within. I only hope she’s not done for good. Somewhere I heard that she was done writing, but can’t remember where I heard that, maybe from Atwood’s Twitter feed, which is an absurd place to remember so it MUST be where I read it.

      Here’s a listing of her short-stories you can read online:
      http://www.openculture.com/2013/10/read-14-short-stories-from-nobel-prize-winning-writer-alice-munro-free-online.html

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read a collection this summer after Ross mentioned Munro. My favorite was a story about a young soldier returning home who hops off a train and starts over on a dilapidated farm. Her stories are plentiful and varied enough that hopefully we can stretch them out. I may have heard that too about retirement or it may have been Anne Tyler, who I believe changed her mind (so maybe Munro will too).

        Liked by 1 person

    2. You did get me into her writing after a comment here. I have no idea how she writes like that, like where do the ideas come from, so varied and detailed and believable, and she’s so prolific too. We’re never too late to discover Alice Munro.

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  4. I’ve been saving this all week for a quiet moment (and after writing mine). I KNEW you’d have something fun, wicked and fabulous. We should all be so lucky to have a Millie in our life.
    I gotta say…the green jello and Millie’s fingerpoke had me rolling.
    Loved this!!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Oh Kristen, I just love this. I love the depth you gave Aunt Millie and the multiple examples…I laughed out loud at the LANDS SAKE, MILLIE! (Reminded me of Raising Arizona when the guy in the pickup says to Nick Cage, who has just robbed a 7-11 for diapers: “Son…you have a panty on your head.” Which he did, a pair of pantyhose ala Coolio back in the day.

    (I told Ross above your writing reminded me of a mix of Munro and Lemony Snicket, but I think I need to add a dash of Coen Brothers too.)

    And the scene with the bus crash in her front yard and there’s Millie on the tv waving her arms and fuming over her flower garden. Genius.

    But I especially loved the ending. Most hard people weren’t born hard; they were made hard by life. Discovering what caused her hardness (or a good chunk of it) is such a strong story-telling device, not to mention a hell of an emotional punch.

    I hope Millie will be back in a future story. You really made me fall in love with her. Outstanding.

    Liked by 1 person

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