LITTLE THINGS MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE
A tribute to my Aunt Ethel - October, 1997
Ever since my husband Larry and I have been married, I have hosted Thanksgiving at my house. That’s because when I was little, I loved Thanksgiving. We celebrated the holiday at Aunt Ethel’s and Uncle Lester’s. Ethel took special care with the table - using the finest china and crystal. She carefully ironed her best table cloth, lit some candles, and placed the cornucopia on the table as a centerpiece. On either side of the basket of fruit there were the turkey salt and pepper shakers. I had never seen shakers like these and, if truth be known, I was a little envious of them. She then presented the big bird done to perfection and her trademark Waldorf salad.
After we feasted, the grown-ups sat around the fire that Uncle Les started, and they played parlor games like charades. The younger crowd would take over the kitchen table and play Tripoli into the night. We’d finally leave after the last piece of pumpkin pie was gone.
If this sounds a little like a Norman Rockwell picture, well, it was. A picture painted in my mind by my Aunt Ethel. She had an eye for detail. She knew that it was the small things that made a difference. I guess she learned that from her mother, Hedwig Kramer.
Ethel ‘s parents were Julius and Hedwig K...... She was born on October 24th in 1914 and raised in St. Louis with her two bothers Vic and Art and her sister, Helen. She went to the local schools and proved to be an excellent student.
One day while working at the Central Electric Company, she began talking to a young man named Roland K..... He surreptitiously asked her to join him to play tennis. It just so happened that his brother, Lester, needed a tennis partner that day. And since Ethel was there. Well, a perfect “match” ensued with a love game that lasted a lifetime.
Because of World War II, Les found himself on a distant shore. Ethel waited for her postal carrier. He arrived special delivery, First Class the minute the war ended.
It wasn’t long after that Ethel had a special delivery herself, on Valentine’s Day no less, when she gave birth to her son, Donald.
In the early 50’s the young Klein family moved to a new house on St. Clair Rd. This was when I made my way into the story - for their house was right next door to mine. To say I made myself an extended member of the family is not an exaggeration. I have always considered Ethel and Les my second mom and dad.
I was always there - playing canasta with Don on Friday nights, spending the night in the spare bedroom, watching Saturday morning cartoons on their old black and white Motorola TV. Don and I were the same age and we had some great adventures in the woods. Sometime, during the day we'd come in and raid the brown cookie jar that was always filled with Ethel's secret recipe cookies. I remember one day I was there later in the day. Ethel was in the bathroom combing her hair and applying fresh lipstick. "What you doing?" I asked in my annoying, imperative voice. Ethel replied that she was getting ready for her sweetheart. "Your sweetheart!" I blurted out. "Who's your sweetheart?" I demanded. She just smiled and said...why your Uncle Lester!.
Les and Ethel had a full life together. They loved to go square dancing on Saturday nights. Ethel was a wonderful seamstress and made herself a frilly-frally dress that whirled when Uncle Les do-si-doed her around the dance floor. They were avid campers and often went away for the weekend to their favorite camping grounds. Ethel was active in community groups and lent her voice to the St. John's choir. They remained active into their senior years. It was my pleasure to tell a story at their 50th wedding anniversary.
Eventually, Ethel's health took a turn for the worse and she went to be cared for at a local nursing home. For the first time in over 50 years, Les and Ethel were separated. Yet, every day...every day until Ethel passed. Uncle Les was there with her. There's was a true love to the very end...I guess that lipstick trick she used really worked!
When Les and Ethel decided to leave the house that they built so many years before, they asked the relatives to come in and take what they wanted. Ethel had so many beautiful things - china, crystal, silver. Well, I hurried on over because I knew exactly what I wanted, and I wanted to be sure that no one got to it before me. It was…..the turkey salt and pepper shakers.
Thanksgiving will have an empty chair this year, but Our Lord’s banquet table will be fuller. And even though Ethel won’t be there, she will have left behind a cornucopia full of memories of all those little things she did to make a big difference in all our lives.
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