In the summer, when the air was warm and my skinny nine-year old legs were brown and bare, I swung impatiently on the garden gate. My belly tingled in anticipation and every time I heard a car coming down the road, my heart pounded so fast and so loud I thought the whole world could hear it.
When the weather was too cold to be outside or if it was raining (quite frequently in England!), I sat with my nose pressed up against the window pane in the living room, fogging up the glass with each breath I exhaled. Eventually the shiny black car would swing around the corner and come to a halt in front of the “prefab” where I lived, and I would fly to the front door.
My parents had married during the second world war and, until I was about five years old, they had shared a tiny, two-bedroom apartment with my mother’s older sister and her husband. After the war, the British government erected hundreds of prefabricated homes (prefabs) to house all those who had lost their homes during the war, and we qualified.
Ours was a typical lower income, middle class working family. Both my parents worked but it was always a struggle for them to just cover the basic needs. My mother miraculously juggled the shillings and the pennies and made ends meet. I have a very clear mental picture of her sitting at the kitchen table with her little accounts book open and the long green metal box with the labeled slots (rent, gas, electricity, insurance, etc.) on the table beside her.
But Sundays were different. Sundays were magical and the magic always began with my childish anticipation of Aunty Polly’s arrival. Her husband, my Uncle Gordon, always accompanied her but I never really paid him much attention. He was a very quiet unassuming man who, once they arrived, would sit in a corner and read the Sunday newspaper from cover to cover, drinking the endless cups of tea that my mother made. I think he saved the paper especially for this occasion. But he was never the cause of my excitement. He was just the driver; a means to an end.
I suppose I could describe Aunty Polly in several different ways. Physically she was strikingly beautiful with her short, rippling black hair and vibrant red lips – such a dramatic contrast to her dark features. (I found out later that her features and coloring came from her Jewish background.) And – oh how she dressed! She never wore anything “ordinary” and everything matched.
She was elegant, refined and expensive looking, but not in an untouchable way. I think fashion critics would have labeled her as “quietly chic” and as having that indefinable something called “style” and “class”. And she had a vivacity about her that made the whole world come to life.
Aunty Polly was my real life “Fairy Godmother” who brought so much joy into my life. She waved her wand over my childhood and candy and ice cream appeared every Sunday as if by magic. I’m sure that much of my excitement and anticipation was based on the mouth-watering sensations produced by my taste buds as I waited impatiently on the gate or at the window. Aunty Polly was also a superb seamstress, so often there was the added joy of a new dress in the latest style, made beautiful fabric in the most perfect of colors.
On the very rare occasion, we would make the trip to her house which was a veritable adventure in and of itself. When she lived in one house this would entail two different bus rides and a long walk in a very posh part of town. After moving to a different house, which was actually an enormous apartment, the journey included a train ride which was probably the most exciting thing we had done all year!
Visiting Polly’s house was like going to Aladdin’s cave. Her home was large and spacious and full of so many interesting things. There were many pictures on the walls, ornaments on coffee tables (probably very expensive curios and “objets d’art”), and fresh flowers filled vases in every room – even the bathrooms. The furniture was the kind you saw in magazines or drooled over in showrooms, and there was always music playing. Our prefab was very dull and bare by comparison. I hated going home.
But Aunty Polly was more to me than all of this. When she put her arms around me it was the sweetest, the most heavenly sensation I ever experienced. I didn’t want it to end. I felt loved and wanted just exactly as I was and it felt so good to be inside the circle of her loving arms. And, oh how she smelled! She always wore the most exquisite perfume that made me want to bury my face in her neck and never let go again.
She never tried to change me or tell me how I should or should not be or how to act. She just accepted and loved me for who I was. She actually listened to me and always seemed interested in everything I had to say. Even as I grew older and became a troubled and rebellious teenager, Aunty Polly continued to love me and hug me and to honor me as my own person. Her home was always open to me no matter what.
She was the oasis in my childhood years and through my teens. If I had understood that at the time I’m sure I would have said many prayers of gratitude to God for her presence in my life. I always found refuge and refreshment with her. But most of all I received an unconditional love that formed the basis of my survival and eventual “return to life” in later years. Thank you Aunty Polly.