Shared Stories: My Aunt Helen

Cynthia Vanasse recalls a special summer as a young child with a special aunt.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Cynthia Vanasse

Do you have a favorite relative? Most of us do, I think. Mine was Aunt Helen, my father’s sister. I was lucky to have spent a summer with her and her family when I was about ten years old.

My parents, younger sister, and I lived in Missouri and were moving to Long Beach. My father had been hired as one of 10 professors to start a new state college there. While they got settled, I stayed in Palo Alto with Aunt Helen, Uncle Ivan, and family.

I missed my family, but being with Aunt Helen was a treat! My mother was a brilliant, good-looking, well-dressed, lovely woman. She would have been happy to have had the services of a professional cook and housekeeper.

Our home was always clean and organized, but meals were not glorious affairs. Dinners consisted mostly of hamburger patties, tuna on toast, or liver and onions.  

Imagine my delighted tummy when it was filled with Aunt Helen’s spaghetti, meatloaf, pies, and so many other culinary treats! As to Aunt Helen’s housekeeping ability, that left room for improvement. Who cares about that at age 10?

Aunt Helen’s casual house was similar to her parenting skills. Her four children and I enjoyed more freedom than I had previously known. Almost every day we would walk unescorted to the neighborhood swimming hole and stay to our endless delight. I now realize that Palo Alto, near the Stanford, campus, was semi-rural, a safe environment compared to crowded city living.

This new-found freedom was doubly enjoyed because of Carl, Helen’s only boy. She and Ivan, her husband, gave him every opportunity to learn practical skills like carpentry. I had not been exposed to these abilities and was intrigued. My only sibling was a “useless” sister who was six years younger and always sick.

It was with conflicting feelings that I greeted my family when they arrived to take me to our new home in Long Beach. Seeing my mother brought me great joy. She has always been number one with my affection. My sister remained a “pain in the rear,” and Daddy seemed pleased with his new position.

Leaving Aunt Helen and family, however, was sad. She taught me that all mothers are not the same. Each has her own personality that determines, to a large degree, how she relates to her children.