Aunt Olla's OK

Last night, my 92-year-old Aunt Olive called just after supper. Ten minutes before, I had finished off some meatballs she had given me a month ago which were in my freezer, so we marveled over that coincidence, since she doesn’t call that often.

Olla was telling me about a bread pudding she had made two days ago which was, in her estimation, although she admitted some bias, the best bread pudding she had ever made. Sadly, she did it without a recipe, just like Mama (my great-grandmother) used to do, so the chances of her ever duplicating the feat were slim.

In the middle of the bread pudding discussion, the phone buzzed violently, and wouldn’t stop. I hung up, and called Olla back. Busy. I waited a minute and called again. Still busy. Same result for ten minutes.

What is one to do? Did Olla fall? How was I do know? I couldn’t remember the name of any of the women in her apartment building, and Olla wouldn’t want to cause a stir anyway, so I decided I had better drive down there and see if she was okay.

Had to go to town for gas first, since it is 20 miles to Twin Valley and my gas gauge was on E. I wasn’t in any hurry because I was pretty sure Olla was fine and it was just the phone--but then I thought, I had better hustle, because if she actually fell, and I dawdled, I would feel terrible.

The whole way down, I called Olla’s number on the cell phone. It was always busy. When I got to the door and knocked, there was no answer. I went in to find Olla chatting away on the phone to cousin Illene. She was fine, and ready for bed, but of course you can’t drive that far and turn around and go home, so I asked her for a taste of the bread pudding.

Olla heated a big bowl of the pudding, put some rich cream over it, and we sat down for a visit. I told her I was reading David Copperfield, and she said that was the book her Papa had read aloud to Mama when they first got married, in an effort to improve Mama’s English. More reason for me to enjoy David Copperfield!

Olla told about the books on Papa’s shelf: many volumes of a series devoted to “character building,” many books by the reknowned 19th-century agnostic Robert Ingersoll, as well as books by the preacher Charles Spurgeon. Papa was an educated man, but impractical. He died young, when Olla was eight. Hard times hit just after, and Mama, who was a businesswoman, managed to save the farm. If Papa had lived, who knows.

Papa bought Olla and the girls some very expensive china dolls. After he died and hard times hit, Mama sold the dolls to pay bills. Except for the heads. The girls kept the doll heads, and that was the extent of their dolls after Papa died.

Lest I make Mama sound like a tyrant, I should mention that she has been revered by all the remaining children. She got them through the Depression. Her word was as good as gold at the bank, even during the worst of times. She was, by all accounts, a grand woman. She just saw no need for china dolls when food was scarce.

OLLA WENT ON TO TELL OF HER LATEST adventure with her friend Florence. Florence is an fiery 88-year-old, less than 100 lbs soaking wet, the scourge of Ada. You don’t mess with Florence or she’ll have you in court, or in front of the county commissioners. Or she’ll she’ll hang you out to dry in one of her letters to the Norman County Index, expletives deleted. When those same county commissioners finally evicted Florence from senior housing by midnight the first of the month, she wrote them a letter warning them that she intended to wrap her cane around the neck of anybody who tried to enter her apartment. Nobody showed. She moved in her own good time.

But Florence has a soft spot for Olla, and when she needs to escape from her controversial life in Ada, she and Olla go on one of their drives to “the woods.”

The woods, to Olla and Florence, is anything east of Highway 59. For those unfamiliar with local geography, Highway 59, which runs north and south, forms a dividing line between the prairie, where the roads are straight, and the lakes, where they run crooked. Olla and Florence, on their outings, head into the woods until they get very lost, and then find their way out. This takes them all day. It is their favorite pastime, one which often causes them to get home well after midnight, completely spent.

Florence mortifies Olla with her habits. If they need directions, she’ll honk at pedestrians until one comes over. If they get in a fender bender, which they have, Florence will threaten the cops.

This trip, they drove fifty miles south on Highway 59 before veering east on some county road. When they stopped to let Florence’s dog FuFu run a bit, they saw, up on a nearby hill, an old one-room schoolhouse.

The schoolhouse was brick, a rarity. The cornerstone said it was built in 1905. Florence and Olla walked in the tall grass around the building. Off to the side was a gnarled old apple tree. Olla imagined the kids looking out the window to see the apple tree bloom in spring, and then imagined them eating the apples in the fall. The schoolyard was full of ghosts, Olla said.

Florence went over to the tree and saw that the ground beneath it was covered with apples. She stirred around with her cane. Some of them looked good. So, they picked up enough for a pie.

At this point in her story, Olla struggled to her feet, went to the kitchen, and brought back a bowl of the beautiful orange apples. We sliced one up. It was a little mealy, but sweet.

Picking up those apples did in both Olla and Florence. The next day, Olla hurt in places she’d never hurt before, and Florence was practically bedridden. But tomorrow, Olla reports, they are going back on the road to scour the second hand stores for a hutch.