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Uncle Tom's Hat

by Maurice Harvey

I have 5 aunties with ages ranging from 80 towards to 90. They are all in good condition but unfortunately all widows. However they remain cheerful and live with happy memories amongst their respective families. Like most folk one has a favourite aunt. I happen to have two favourites - one lovely, utterly devoted to her sons and their wives and of course grand children. The other is similarly adoring, but different. She is bright, educated, eccentric and so very interesting. Occasionally she will ring and tell us that she is coming to lunch! I have to accept this demand whether convenient or not "of course you will be at home, I don't see you very often and you must make the effort to receive me." What can one do but obey?

She arrives, full of energy, expectant and initially demands coffee! "I've been line dancing and brought my tapes with me. I entertain the elderly at so and so house, an old folks home, would you like me to demonstrate." Not really, I prayed, but how can you not allow the lady full use of the lounge? I watch patiently and tactfully congratulate her on her lightness of foot, swirls and jaunty rhythm. She's happy. It's lunch time and my wife has prepared a sumptuous meal. She eats like there's no tomorrow. It's nice to get out, enjoy company and reminisce. "How's Emily? Is John still working? Joe had a stroke!" We settle for a while after lunch and then she wants to read me some of her poetry. It's not bad but rather sad and indeed even morbid in part. It all revolves around Uncle Tom, my uncle, her former husband, and devoted partner.

Uncle Tom died a few years ago and she is still besotted with him. Her love for Tom and their children knows no bounds. I have to listen to all of her loving memories of Tom and family until I almost break down and sob bitterly. However, I do recover and in fact feel so much admiration for her and the wonderful loving family life she enjoyed with Tom and the children. Then she tells me that she still has Tom's old felt cap. This she holds fondly and unbelievably takes it to bed with her every night.

"I put it next to my pillow. It gives me comfort and I imagine that Tom is still there with me. I couldn't sleep without that cap - oh why did Tom have to die and leave me?" I am now so conditioned that I feel another sob coming along. Pull yourself together man!

My wife announces that tea is ready. Thank goodness. Aunty again consumes large quantities of food and says how nice it is to come out and be entertained.

After tea we continue to talk and again Aunty commands the scene. She tells us how wonderful it is to belong to her Chapel and all her friendly folk there. She often gives a talk or lecture on some aspect of religious thought and accordingly is well received.

I am grateful for such a lovely aunt, who, although demanding and explicit in all her interests, gives me and my wife such an intriguing day but one which we shall always cherish.

She eventually decides to go home and informs us that she will expect to come again when she is able to do so - regardless of our commitments! I love her, she is forthright, honest and endearing. She goes, and says, "I will pray for you both tonight when I say Good Night to Tom."