By: Karla Sullivan
I was shocked as I slowly pulled in front… only bits and pieces of the house could be seen. Not even a front or side door was visible. The over grown trees that threatened to crush the tiny home and shrubs would have never been allowed to ramble in all directions 40 years ago. A torn up car sat in front of nature’s debris and bicycles were thrown about. There was only one area of the house on the side that displayed yellowed siding and one window. In fact, the majority of the homes in the forgotten town of 200, had deteriorated more than I had noticed before; a result of the dyeing farmer and staggering recession.
Kempton was always known as the small town with the big heart; the town of my mother’s family beginnings; her grandparents, my grandmother who had passed away in 1958, aunts, uncles and my great aunt, Lulu Pearl. My earliest memories of Kempton were on Thanksgiving Day at Aunt Lu’s two bedroom corner, blue cottage neatly painted in white trim. A vegetable garden was meticulously maintained in the back with her specialties of beets and tomatoes while well-trimmed shrubs surrounded the foundation of the home.
Coming from the city, my immediate family was always the first to arrive while Aunt Lu called the others to join us on her believe it or not box phone with crank and real receptionist named Jenny. That gave me plenty of time to cut out the latest Betsy McCall and her clothes. After the rest of the family arrived, we took our places behind the long table in the dining room eating from her blue willow dishes. Pumpkin pie was always her winning recipe.
Though she never learned to drive, Aunt Lu would find her way to our house in the city every summer and though she did not show much emotion or sense of humor, I could always count on a game of Yahtzee every time I offered and she always made the best fried potatoes in town. Because of unpredictable weather, the winter months were generally confined to her little town in Kempton but one year she came to stay and had arrived two days after Christmas. It was unusual for her to venture out in the cold months but my father was in the hospital. Children were not allowed to visit during the 1960’s and Aunt Lu felt she could help.
During her first night’s visit, the phone had disturbed our usual game of Yahtzee and after that I found that Aunt Lu could offer so much more than games. It was a nurse from the hospital that my father had passed away. Though I was 12 and tried to be adult, Aunt Lu let me cry as long as it took, keeping her arms around me, never tiring or disturbing me from my tears. What incredible timing for Aunt Lu’s calming patience in such a terrible storm though I just couldn’t handle her potatoes which added to my continuous upset stomach.
Ten years later, Aunt Lu passed away after passionately celebrating her 90th birthday with her family. I never appreciated the towering strength she provided that day and the strenuous days that followed in 1967; never perceiving the no pomp and circumstance woman as one of the most salient women I was blessed to know.
While gazing at the smothered home because of nature’s chaos and human neglect, I guess it was fitting instead to see the house in disarray. Without her strength, patience, and respect, the Kempton corner just couldn’t survive without her.