WHERE THERE’S A WILL THERE’S A WAY
By Lavinia M. Hughes
BROCKTON, MASSACHUSETTS: 1989.
My name is Eva Wingfield and I’m glad to be able to tell my story. I am often marginalized as the spinster in the family.
“Oh, Aunt Eva has nothing better to do. I’m sure she won’t mind babysitting for the kids.” (Five!)
“Aunt Eva’s a little eccentric, don’t you think?” (within my earshot at the last family reunion)
“I wonder why she never married. I heard she was engaged during WWII but his plane got shot down, she went crazy, and never got over it.” (also within my earshot but they got the facts wrong.)
I had one brother, James, who was, to put it bluntly, a drunk. He married Edna and whilst making her miserable in so many ways, they had three children, James Jr., Louisa, and Carolyn. Even though I chose to remain single (the word spinster is so Victorian), I was delighted at first to be aunt to three adorable children. James and Louisa were good kids, but Carolyn was, as they used to say in a politically incorrect way back then, “not right in the head.” My brother’s family was always religious, attending the local Lutheran church regularly. However, Carolyn was so overly religious, she was like a Russian before the Bolsheviks took over. She prayed before meals, during meals, and after meals. She prayed in the morning, afternoon, and before bed. She prayed while walking down the street. She had no sense of humor when teased about it, informing the family that it was most likely that they would all go to hell. When I’d invite Carolyn to tea, inevitably the tea grew stone cold while she prayed at the table. Well, her tea grew cold. I drank mine “spittin hot” like God intended. (see what I did there?) Carolyn had dated a young man named Frank, who was just as odd as she was. But the romance fizzled, as Carolyn became attracted to Frank’s dad, an invalid 30 years her senior, and ended up marrying him. I tried calling her occasionally to stay in touch, but there was always some crisis in her life at that moment, accompanied by her yelling at her husband about some petty issue while I was on the phone. She never called me.
James Jr. was a grocery store manager who worked his way up the chain from bagger to Store Manager in one of the tonier towns on Cape Cod. He begged his wife to move to the tony town with their five kids, but she refused. So James was forced to drive over an hour each way to work. Their five kids were completely out of control, destroying everything in their path, wherever that path may be, and making enough noise to break the sound barrier. I locked up my valuables and fine china when they descended (“arrived” is too nice a word) on me under some vague obligation that they needed to develop a relationship with me. Kids often have big mouths and it slipped out that they were under the impression that I was flush with cash, hence the sucking up. Objectively, no one would think that if they saw how I lived. My 3-bedroom, 1 bath cape-style house was 100 years old, in pretty good repair, but not fancy. I have the same furniture I had in the 1940s, as it is still good, so why would I replace it? When I bought the house, it was a nice part of town, even though it’s right next to the train tracks (South Shore to Boston line). Maybe that’s why I got a good price on it. I don’t mind the sound of the trains roaring by. I find it comforting, knowing that people are swiftly getting where they are going. But, yes, commercial activity has sprung up a bit in my neighborhood and it is no longer the quiet leafy suburb it was back in the 1940s.
But to get back to the five Wingfield kids; I used to joke that their feet took wings the minute they came inside my house. And even though I tried to calm them down and get to know them, they were just too antsy. Plus I’d always find things broken or missing after one of their visits. Let’s be honest. They weren’t here to get to know their aunt. They were dumped on me, the assumed babysitter, by wife-who-refused-to-move-to-ease-her-husband’s burden. OK, I know her name—it’s Geraldine. I never did have much use for her and her lax parenting. Now that the five kids are all young adults, I don’t see hide or hair of ‘em.
Next, we have Louisa, who is a lovely woman. She always seems sad and withdrawn. I think her husband takes her for granted, but I guess that’s her business and I certainly never questioned her about that. Her four kids are all very different. The oldest, Denise, is a gem. She visits me—really visits me by herself or with her best friend—who is a fun conversationalist—and it is always a nice time. Every time they come, they bring pastries from the local Lithuanian bakery because they know I love sweets—delicious butter cookies and the most beautiful tortes in various flavors. I make tea to go with the goodies and we talk about everything—current events, entertainment, art, even me personally—which is a lot more interesting than fending off attacks by the Wing children.
Denise’s younger brother Jack, the baby of the lot, was just the sweetest cutest baby. He became an electrician and as a young man re-wired my house and fixed anything else in his power (pun intended) around the homestead. I made his favorite dinner on repair days, which he appreciated and I appreciated that he appreciated my cooking. I also slipped him some cash while he was in technical school just to help out the kid. Denise’s and Jack’s two sisters pretty much ignored me. Oh, they cashed the birthday checks I sent them, but after a few years of never getting a thank you note for them, I stopped sending them. I heard some grumbling about that on the grapevine, but I always believed you reap what you sow. I continue to send birthday checks to Jack and to Denise, who never failed to thank me, take me out for lunch and a nice ride in the country, and help me with small tasks at home. I do mow my own lawn, though. I don’t need help with that. That’s probably why I’m still fit at age 82. It’s a push mower and works just fine. No need for those fancy gas mowers.
There are a few other cousins in the family tree. They never bother with me either even when I invite them over for tea and my homemade strawberry shortcake, my specialty. They’re always too busy. I thought when they got their driver’s licenses they could drive over in the cars their dad bought them. My house is just across town, about a 10-minute drive, but it never happened.
So I got to thinking. I should write my will. I don’t have a ton of liquid assets. Just this old house, filled with antiques, and one 2-carat diamond ring from my former fiancé. By the way, he didn’t die in a tragic plane crash. He married some Frenchwoman, whom he had gotten pregnant, after the war ended. Even though my heart was broken, the ring was a nice consolation prize. I never married because I wanted to be independent, an unusual thing for women of my generation. I didn’t want to be a nurse, secretary, or school teacher. Instead, I chose to learn about investments, taking classes at the night school and reading all I could on making my money work for me.
You may have gathered that I am the quintessential cheap Yankee and you would be correct. But it’s like a game. How can I make something big out of something small? One of my activities is I collect bottles and cans from the roadway and turn them in for the deposits. Of course the neighbors roll their eyes when they see me and say something passive-aggressive like “Are things that bad, Eva?” to which I reply “Yes, but at least I can eat meat tonight.” The family, of course, hears about my “eccentric” habits and says similar snarky/pitying things to me. I take no notice.
The fact is, I save up the bottles and cans money, granted, a modest amount. I have a stockbroker/financial advisor I work with. I give the money to him, and he invests it in mutual funds. I’ve been doing this for 6 years, ever since the bottle bill went into law. So far, my investment for just that one “eccentric” activity has grown to $3,000. And I have other investments that have grown exponentially from income from the part-time jobs I had. I live simply, exercise patience with a mix of low-risk and high-risk investments, and “live off the interest” as my grandfather used to say. I have plenty of time to bake, read books, and travel—my passions. My way of doing things has allowed me to travel to Sweden, Iceland, China, Italy, and Scotland. I stayed away from France as I don’t want to run into the old fiancé. I plan to see Thailand next year if I’m still here.
I have contacted a lawyer and she is drawing up my will as we speak. Between my investments—estimated worth $800,000—and my house, it should be a tidy sum. I’m sure someone can get something for the antique furniture if they don’t sell them to the greediest carpetbagger antique dealer they meet. Since my house is now commercially zoned, I have sold it to the drugstore chain CVS; I have a life estate in the house, which means CVS won’t actually have it until I die. When the closing happens, the income from the house, $500,000, will go into a trust for Denise and Jack to be split equally. All of my investments plus the trust will go to Denise and Jack, who are the only people in my entire dysfunctional family to bother with me. I so enjoy their company, their laughter, and our tea and pastry parties. I have listed the rest of the previously-mentioned family members by name in the will. They will each get $1—you know, just so they know they’re not forgotten. I can hear the screaming already.
# END #