Often I hear and receive the question of “who is Memi?” Visiting my dearest Aunt Nellie in New Hampshire last weekend was a most treasured time. She is 94. We can never really say how many more visits we will have with someone who is 94. I really have always held Aunt Nellie in the highest esteem. My goal is to reach her age someday in the same proud and dignified manner. She was someone I looked up to for my entire life. We lived in the same town when I was growing up. I saw her often and was lucky for that. Over my years I called on her wisdom and strength as I was transitioning through my own journey from young adulthood with dating and decisions on where to live, whether to go to graduate school, to new jobs and to being newly married, to becoming a new mom, and now the other side of the journey in being a mom with freedom as my children are making their own way and me having time back to write and reflect and connect with old friends and to just be and breathe!
Aunt Nellie is in many ways a very big part of the character of Memi in TEAPOTS. Memi’s thoughts on life and the passage through all that we do and encounter are rooted back to Aunt Nellie. I have blended my dear Grandmother Rosie and Aunt Nellie to create Memi. It’s crystal clear how and why this happened. Talking to Nellie last weekend there were many times when I’d nod my head and say to myself, sure that’s why that scene in the book was so prominent…Over the years I heard the stories of her childhood and my father’s over and over. The stories took root and waited to have a page to splash on to. The Fruit Market on Pine Street. The trip to New York with the dresses. An independent woman she was…long before women could even dare to be independent. She was born in 1920. Think of it — what freedoms did women really have in those early years of the 1900’s? But she was married very late for a girl in her times. She was 27. While women were marrying early and having babies and babies and more babies, Aunt Nellie worked professionally in offices and did bookkeeping. It was that trade that kept her fluent in the business world for all the years to follow. And it was her business sense that allowed her husband, Lou to prosper in his own trade as an electrician. She was the machine behind it all. The business transactions with banks and lawyers…hers!
So, although she baked cakes and did needlepoint (still does) and used her sewing machine like a baby grand piano — creating a masterpiece out of any fabric…Aunt Nellie was a pioneer of sorts for her time. She was independent. She still is. In a few weeks she will move in with her daughter Liz and begin her winter of nesting at home watching the snow fall and pile up in the woods of New Hampshire In talking to her privately on the breezeway before dinner she shared that after her husband died in June, she just needed to be alone and quiet. She went from her mother’s home to her brother and wife’s home and then to her home with her husband of 66 years. And for a very long time her mother lived with Aunt Nellie and her family in her aging years. She literally was never alone. She just spent from June to October alone. But not lonely. She makes her own breakfast. Reads her books. Spends time with needlepoint. She sits in the quiet. She reflects and remembers.
Before my departure she handed me a little purple pouch. I poured it open into my palm and there was the thimble. Just as I remembered it. Bumpy and tarnished. A tiny bit of a thing. But so important to her. And to me. She taught me to sew. She shared her time without ever making me feel young or silly for asking questions and questions and more questions. We did not say much on the thimble. I couldn’t …too choked up and not able to speak. But even still, words were not really needed. All the years were mine and hers in the hollow of that thimble and will always be.