Florine and Me
Aunt Florine and I first met when I had just turned three. My parents and I flew to Philadelphia from Boston and then were driven on to Millville to visit the relatives. We were staying with Florine and Is, and the next morning, early, I was alone in the kitchen with my aunt, and she asked me, “What do they call you?’ Florine was my middle name, and though I had never once been called that, I answered, without hesitation, “Florine.” And with that was formed a lifelong bond.
On that first visit, Florine delighted in teaching me little rhymes with hand motions: “There was a little turtle…” and “Once I saw a little bird…” She told me the story of “Epaminondas,” also with hand motions. I would ask for that story over and over through the years, and when I taught second and third grade, I would tell it to my students who, like me, would ask for it again and again. And then there was a favorite tongue twister: A flea and a fly were trapped in the flue. Said the flea to the fly, “Oh what shall we do?” Said the fly, “Let us flee.” Said the flee, “Let us fly” And they flew through a flaw in the flue.
In the years that followed, there were visits back and forth, a dress for each birthday, a box of presents at Christmas, and a card, money tucked inside, for Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Halloween.
The summer after fourth grade, Florine came up to Boston on the train and took me back to Millville, NJ, to visit with her and Uncle Is for the month of July. We were at their summer home on Union Lake, and while I scared myself out of swimming lessons, I did learn to row a boat, and I loved to sit on the glider on the screened porch that ran along one whole side of the house. My aunt and I would chat, just sit and read, or watch a rainstorm come across the lake. As I’ve looked back, I’ve realized how many things my Aunt Florine taught me: how to play several types of Solitaire as well as Canasta and later Samba; how to play Scrabble as she had one of the first games; how to knit; how, unlikely as it seems, to speak Pig Latin. More importantly, she taught me to make lists and to not only plan, but to have a contingency plan. And she made sure I knew that “If ifs ‘n’ ands were pots and pans, there’d be no call for tinsmiths.” (var. tinkers)
I had been a bit apprehensive about being away from home for the first time, especially since Aunt Florine was a no-nonsense person. I knew there would be no arguing, no talking back. In addition, she was very neat, the kind of person who put the book back on the shelf if you left it out, even though you were in the process of reading it. I had more than a few days of homesickness scattered throughout my stay, but in general it is a time I remember with pleasure.
Florine definitely mellowed with age, as they say, and the clearest indication of this was the following: My kids were about 2, 4, and 6 when we went to visit Florine and Tom at Christmas. On the end tables she had out bowls of a pink- coated popcorn (which we’ve never been able to find since), a special hard candy made in Millville, and other goodies. Florine called me a few days later, and she, who always cleaned and straightened immediately, told me, “I didn’t wipe off the fingerprints on the end tables because I like to look at them and picture those dear children!”
© Dorothy Florine Corson Judd
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