March was women’s history month and we were supposed to remember women who were important in our lives that gave us insight, love and support. The most natural ones would be your mom or grams, but that is a given. So I am going to write about someone else who gave me a different look on life than I had known as a child.
We were not rich, to say the least. In those days almost everyone was poor, as it was coming off of a depression and going into a war. We did not know we were poor. We only noticed people that had more than we did, and wondered what that would be like.
By the time I was a teenager, I was given the chance to visit my Aunt Thelma in California. She had been the talk of the family for years. Wealthy, once a movie star and dancer for the Ziegfeld Follies. It was unheard of in those days, and the whispers about her were constant. She wanted me to come out and spend the summer. I was so excited.
When I walked into her beautiful home in North Hollywood, I was so impressed. She had everything anyone could want. Uncle Fred idolized her, and kept her on a pedestal. My bedroom was so fancy, I was afraid to sit on the bed. But it was exciting.
Aunt Thelma very slowly started prepping me. First my manners. When we went out to dinner, she made me wear my gloves and hat to go out. I had to learn the right way to set the table, and how to start with the silverware when we were out to dinner. She taught me how to eat lobster, crab, and even to butter my bread a bite at a time. She corrected my language so that I had perfect grammar.
But she was a thrifty person, too. I remember we had to make our paper napkin last for all three meals every day. Her reason was if we are not sloppy, we don’t need more than one. So I learned by that rule. She took me places I would never have had a chance to see before. And I got the inside tour. I met several movie stars, including Bob Hope, and you know, they are just people like us. We went to the Brown Derby and we met a couple more there. So exciting for a teenager.
I realized later in life how much she had influenced me. I was never afraid to go out to nice restaurants, meet important people, and I think her training even helped me be a writer. She was able to fill in a few of the gaps my mom could not. It may not seem much to the ordinary person, but we are sadly judged by whom we are and what we do in life. She gave me the confidence to be the best I could be in my lifetime, whatever my choice. And I passed that on to my kids, that with a little grace and good luck, you can do just about anything you want to. Your goal doesn’t have to be out of reach, but you have to know what it is you are shooting for. Aunt Thelma was a dancer when it was sinful to her family, but she was good and wanted to try and become a successful one. She did. Against all odds. I admire her for her courage.
I remember her fondly, even if she was so strict with me. She loved me, and wanted me to be comfortable where ever I found myself in life. All that she taught me has been a guideline my whole life. Some things just stick, and I can still hear her say, “Do not put at on the end of a sentence, and quit popping your gum!” I miss you Auntie. (She hated for me to call her that!)
We used finger bowls at the nicer restaurants?
No elbows on the table?
With silverware, you start from the outside and work yourself in?
Never put lipstick on at the table? And most of all, don’t pick your teeth in public?
Carole Diehl is the president of the Strawberry Hill Neighborhood Association.