When I was young I had two aunts in my life on a very regular basis. I saw them for sure every Tuesday night for dinner and every Saturday for shopping. Neither of the aunts were married and neither drove a car. Arvilla was my grandmother’s sister and Hilma was my grandmother’s aunt. So they we my great aunt and my great great aunt. Since I spent every Tuesday and Saturday with my grandma we also spent part of that time with them.
Hilma was very eccentric. In the 1960’s she stood out in her leopard prints and her big hats. She worked at Auerbach’s department store on the corner of State Street and Broadway in Salt Lake City. One of the perks of her working there was watching the Christmas parade from the store windows. Hilma’s day off was Tuesday and so she cooked. She would ride the bus up to Wainwright Bakery for roll dough and then shop at Buyrite Grocery for whatever she felt like cooking that night. Always, the best things for dinner were her rolls. Hilma was not a good cook. One night she decided to cook rabbit. I had heard the aunts and grandma talking about it in the kitchen so I refused to eat it. They told Susan it was chicken and she ate it. Later, when grandma told her it was rabbit she vomited all over me and the bed. I guess that’s what I deserved for not telling her she was eating a bunny, before she ate it.
Whenever, my dad told us to try a new food at home and we said we didn’t like it. He would say, “You’ve never tried it.” Our reply was always, “Yes, we have! We tried it at Hilma’s!” Amazingly, it worked every time.
We drank a lot of iced tea at Hilma’s we put at least two tablespoons of sugar in it and a lot of lemon juice. It was more like a little tea with our lemonade. (Disclaimer-No one in my family attended church when I was young and no one was teaching me about the Word of Wisdom). Hilma loved to garden and back then we thought her back yard was huge and amazing. She had a fish pond, lots of white wrought iron chairs and benches to sit on, and lots of paving stone paths to follow. She also had several pink flamingos way before they were cool. Susan and I loved playing back there during the summer months and dinner was always outside enhanced by the smell of citronella candles to keep the mosquitoes away.
At Christmas, because she was Swedish she always planned a smorgasbord. The dining room table was laden with cold cuts, deviled eggs, rolls, pickles, boiled shrimp and a variety of sweets. Mom and grandma always warned us away from anything but the sweets since Hilma kept this spread out all day long. That way she was prepared in case anyone dropped by with Christmas greetings and all the relatives did come. My favorite Christmas sweets then were the Mexican Wedding cookies coated in powdered sugar. They were messy, but yummy.
I heard that Hilma had a beau once. I’m not sure why she never married.
Arvilla Kathleen Brown
Arvilla lived with Hilma in my great grandparents house. Although the house had two bedrooms, they chose to sleep in twin beds in the same room for as long as I can remember. They both had quite a collection of dolls and stuffed animals that they arranged every morning and took off every night.
Arvilla worked as a librarian at West High School. She wore her long waved auburn hair back in tight bun. She was very stern. I both admired her and feared her. She believed that children should be seen and not heard. I adhered to that whenever I was at her house except when I was in the backyard. Susan and I spent as much time as we could outside. From time to time she would read us a new book. The one I have always remembered was, “Patty’s Moon.” It was about a girl and the crescent moon. Whenever Susan and I saw a crescent moon we would say, “Oh look! It’s Patty’s Moon!
Every Saturday we would drive up to the east side of Auerbach’s to pick Hilma up from work. Then we would go and get Arvilla at home. Grandma took them shopping every week and every week she bribed us with a Little Golden Book if we were good. You must understand that this was excessive shopping for two little children. We spent every Saturday morning shopping with grandma and every Saturday evening shopping with the aunts. We survived, had quite a collection of Golden Books and I don’t ever remember getting in trouble.
When I was ten and Susan was nine Arvilla decided to take us on a trip to Disneyland. We were part of a group tour that took the train. It was fun and we made some new friends. Arvilla is credited with bringing any culture and refinement I possess into my life. She took us to concerts, plays and the ballet. Each of these events usually involved a new dress made by my grandmother and lunch before or after the concert at a nice restaurant, usually the Hotel Utah.
The aunts were quirky and eccentric, but I think they loved us and we loved them.