My great-aunt was an elfin creature and most probably fey, like my mom. She had a tinkling laugh that went up and down the scale. Our family is fond of our Irish heritage and Auntie Del and her sister Dorie, my grandma, were the standard bearers. How many urchins of similar stripe must have lived in Butte, Montana during its heydey? I remember a story about them chucking stones at the butler as they ran past the Clark mansion. Children of first generation Irish immigrants living in one of the biggest mining boom towns in the U.S. Big. Big immigrant population, big vaudeville acts, Big Money, big disparity between rich and poor. Auntie Del was the frailer of the two and she was taken to Missoula, where she lived with her grandparents. I got to know Auntie Del when we moved to the Garden City when I was in 5th grade. She and her family lived in a lovely heritage house on the south side of the Clark Fork River. Later, when I was a teenager, we lived in Spokane, and visited mom’s family often, three state borders away. It was all sort of novel, since my developmental years were spent far away from any family. It was during those years that attention was called to Auntie Del’s antiques. I remember mom pointing out her aunt’s hat pins. Long things that would have adorned the hats of women at the turn of the century. The heads were highly decorated, fearsome things. Her daughter, my cousin Kelley, had an exquisite mineral collection. I think it was on the landing of the staircase, in a cabinet. Gorgeous stuff! I got to know Auntie Del better when I stayed at my grandma’s in the 80s for a spell, recuperating from a serious illness. She was the best storyteller and loved to reminisce. She was like a tiny bird, very perky, with the most amazing blue eyes that literally sparkled, no cliché. I got to spend even more time around her in the 90s when I attended grad school in Missoula at the U of M. I had seen her living in three different places at that point, down by the river, out in Orchard Homes off 3rd Street, not that far from the family home, and then at an assisted living facility up on the northeast side of town, up the Rattlesnake. One of the things Auntie Del collected were pig figurines and she had some of them in her room. Cute pigs, realistic pigs, you name it…she just loved little piggies. I have one of them now…a little bronze sow with piglets that I keep on the bookcase next to my bed. Even when Auntie Del was poorly, she was always happy to see me and I miss her terribly. She passed away years ago now and not being able to attend her funeral is one of my great sorrows. This summer, though, I was able to see her son, my cousin Charlie, when Mark and I took mom to Montana for vacation. Charlie and my mom resemble her, so it was as if Auntie Del was at the table, too, during lunch. Mom and Charlie swapped stories, we hooted and had loads of fun. Yesterday, I started putting china and crystal in the new china cabinet. One of the things I couldn’t wait to place in it was Auntie Del’s soup tureen. It was given to me back in 1999. I met Kel and my cousin Sam at a storage facility in Missoula. There, we loaded an antique record player into my car. Auntie Del had wanted my brother Alan to have it. I think there was a stack of 78 records, too. At that same time, Kelley gave me the soup tureen you see in the photos. It was one of my aunt’s many antiques… I had never seen it before, it wasn’t part of my history in any way, but it is a beautiful piece. Over the years, it has really bothered me that it was stuck in a dark cupboard where I could never see it. Not anymore, though. Auntie Del lives on and her lovely Czechoslovakian soup tureen does, too. And it is now most definitely part of my history. I have yet to use it but, by George, I’m going to and tout de suite!
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