Wednesday, September 5, 2012

entertaining aunt hattie

Television coverage of the national political conventions, whether I watch them or not in these days of 'scripted' presentations, always brings back fond memories of my great great aunt Hattie, who spent a couple of weeks with us in the summer of 1952. She was my maternal grandmother's 'maiden' aunt, and lived right across the Ohio River from my grandparents, so I knew her well. As far as I know, however, this was the only time she ever visited California.

Aunt Hattie was renowned as a pianist, organist, and music teacher.  She had studied in New York during her formative years and then returned to the Ohio Valley where she had introduced my mother, Charlotte, to the keyboard at an early age. It was rumored that if Aunt Hattie appeared to be dead, the presence of a train ticket to New York would make her rise right up out of her coffin.

Charlotte regarded hosting Aunt Hattie as more of a duty than a pleasure, and she was obsessed with the question of what Aunt Hattie would DO during her visit. I remember that we visited the historic Farmer's Market at 3rd and Fairfax (a favorite destination of mine), and spent some time in Hollywood: Grauman's Chinese for the footprints, of course, and possibly a first-run movie or two.

In 1952 we had lived in La Canada for two years. At Christmas of 1951 we had acquired our first television set -- a naked chassis, as my parents did not believe TV deserved the status of furniture. It was relegated to the guest house (one large room with half bath) built onto the back of our garage. We ventured out there on a strictly limited schedule, to watch special events including Ohio State football and the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, series such as Crusader Rabbit, Time for Beany, and The Lone Ranger, plus variety shows like Spade Cooley and Your Hit Parade.

Naturally Aunt Hattie stayed in our guesthouse, where television was a great novelty for her, and where the Republican Convention was 'playing' for several days. Charlotte was relieved to recall (with some disdain) that "Aunt Hattie loves politics!" and I received a special dispensation to watch along with her, though Charlotte considered political discourse to be unfit for civilized company.

I was hooked on politics after the experience of watching a convention with Aunt Hattie. I don't think I got to see the Democratic Convention that year, as Aunt Hattie would have gone home, but I watched both conventions faithfully for many years though they never measured up to the excitement of 1952's television premiere. And Aunt Hattie's absence was always felt.

I last saw Aunt Hattie in the summer of 1960 at her home in Sistersville, West Virginia. People, including my grandmother, were venturing to talk about the 1960 election but it never became a focal point for our visit.

Aunt Hattie was 76 years old in the summer of 1952, but she lived on into my college years. I sent her a program from one of my choral concerts (probably from 1962) and she wrote back that "young voices can sound lovely together, if they are in tune."

I think Aunt Hattie would have approved my joining the League of Women Voters back in 1994. Charlotte, however, is still shocked by that lapse in my behavior.

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License