Goldie….My aunt Goldie. It’s very hard to write about her…
I was always much closer to Goldie and my grandmother Sigmon than I was to my parents. I’m not quite sure why…
But Goldie was probably the most important relative in my life…
Goldie was different. She loved the sun. When she spent a lot of time in the sun, she looked just like Lena Horne. She was earthy, but elegant. She always kind of made me think of Barbara Stanwyck. She never forgot where she came from, but she was always trying to do better and to move forward. She was grounded.
She was an ambitious woman when ambitious women were not fashionable….
She never, ever treated me as less than an equal. From as far back as I can remember, she always talked to me like I was a friend and an adult- even when I was 5 years old.
Goldie shouldered the responsibility of supporting my Grandmother and several other crazy relatives. She was the de facto Matriarch of my Mother’s family. My Mother may have married and distanced herself from them, but Goldie never did.
My Mother and Goldie always seemed to differentiate themselves by thinking Lou, my Mother, was the pretty one and Goldie was the smart one. In those Mad Men days of the 1950’s and 1960’s, for women, pretty always trumped smart.
Goldie was a career woman-when most other women thought that meant you just couldn’t get a man.
Goldie could be the most elegant woman you could imagine. The woman could dress to kill. She was tall, thin and Lena Horne tanned, but that was not a fashionable look at that time…she was tall, edgy and angular, not soft and conventionally pretty. She loved clothes and had some great ones, but could dress down with the best. My Mother used to get her left over formal gowns and have them altered to fit. When Goldie died, she spent months plotting how to get her fur coat…
And she always treated me as a friend more than a nephew.
One of my first memories of her is being with her in Ballou Park while she was waxing her car. Goldie was wearing a man’s Brooks Brother’s Oxford shirt, capri pants and penny loafers…her usual uniform when not working or going out socially.
Cars were important to that generation. Both Goldie and my Father had to have a new car every other year. That was one of their many points of competition. One year, they actually ordered the same Ford LTD in the same color and fought about who got the idea first for the next two years….They both almost died.
That day, when I was 6 or 7. I was in Ballou Park with Goldie while she was waxing her Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and she was talking to me. She always called me “Monk”, short for Monkey, for some reason…Maybe because she always said all small children always looked liked monkeys….
She was saying: “Monk, I’m going to quit night school. It just doesn’t matter if I get my college degree from Stratford College. No matter how hard I work and what degree I might get, I’ll aways be a secretary or, at best, an Office Manager. Because I’m not a man. I was valedictorian of my High School Class and I might be smarter than any man, but I’m still a woman and my options are limited. I hate to quit anything, but I know when I’m beat.”
And she and my Father fought constantly. Goldie was one of the very few people who would stand up to him. There was a unique dynamic there….
My Father always hinted that Goldie was a Lesbian and she always hinted he was Gay. It was subtle and took me many years to realize this was going on, but it was a constant undercurrent to their battles….
My Father used to say to her: “Are you going to the beach again with that bunch of loud women? Have you all given up on getting any man? You might get one if you weren’t all so loud and vulgar”
She would tell me: ” I was so shocked when your Father married Lou. I mean, he always hung out with the girls, but I never thought he would marry one. I was eavesdropping the night he proposed to your mother. I came out to the porch afterwards and ask him if he was sure he wanted to take on that much trouble…”
Usually, their battles were more symbolic. They once had a fight about whether paper napkins or paper towels were more expensive and did not speak for 6 months.
And my Father always had distinct ideas of how Ladies should behave. To him, my Mother was a Lady and Goldie was a Broad.
Ladies never went to bars or drank beer. Goldie used to meet the boys at Earl’s Bar and Grill on Riverside Drive after work and drink all the boys under the table. She handled the boys in ways they were not trained to manage….
In the mid-1960’s, she was offered a very nice job promotion and a transfer to Charlotte. My Mother’s immediate reaction was “How can you move somewhere you don’t know anyone? I don’t understand.” My Father said: “Hell, she is 37, what else does she have to look forward to?”
She sat down with me at her apartment on West Main Street and told the 6 year old me:
“Monk, I’m going to take the job. There is nothing here for me. I can go to work and put on my hat and gloves and play bridge with the Old Guard at the Ballou Park Nature Center each week until I’m dead, but I’ll always be poor Goldie, the uppity old maid from the mill village here. And I have to support your Granny and Wiseman. This will always be home, but I have to take this….I have to leave. And leaving you is the hardest. But you have to know when to leave. Remember that….Part of fighting is knowing when to just quit the field and move on-no matter what is pulling you back.”
More to come….