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Memories of Little Women
Whenever I think of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, I am reminded of my thirteenth summer when I went to stay with my great-aunt Mills for a month. I don't know why the one makes me think of the other. The events of that summer in no way paralleled the tale of the March sisters. The only thing in common was that I happened to start reading Little Women the first night at Aunt Mills' and finished it on the way home at the end of my summer with her.
Aunt Mills was a petite woman, who had aged gracefully. The years had spun her long hair into silver and had gently weathered her skin. She lived in a bungalow with a long boardwalk that stretched out to the edge of the marsh. The house was covered with chipping white paint, and pale blue shutters framed the windows. It was a less than ten minute walk to the beach, five if it was high tide and we took the boat out, which we did one afternoon. Her boat was called The Sea-Lady and we took it out to where the dolphins swam. They played and laughed around us, flirting when we tried to reach out and stroke them. I could never tire of watching them and wished that I could swim among them.
I remember the first night I was there when they cut off the electricity. We were eating tuna fish out of the can and all of sudden it went black. I let out a little shriek.
"Don't worry Sugar," my aunt said, "They probably just shut it off because I didn't pay last monthís bill. I could never find my reading glasses."
She motioned for me to join her. "Come on! Let's go outside and take advantage of no lights."
Outside, everything was so dark that your eyes automatically looked upwards. The sky was covered with thousands of stars. It looked as if God had spilled glitter across the heavens. Aunt Mills put her arm around me and pointed to a blank space among the stars.
"See that blank spot?" she asked. I nodded, not thinking there was a cloud there. "That's where the stars moved over and made room for you. They left that space open so that you could find your place in the world." I believed her and have never forgotten that. I hoped that one day I was an old, wise woman who had become a part of the world like she had.
Aunt Mills went off to bed, leaving me with no company, no light and nothing to do. So I lit a candle, and chewed through the first hundred pages of Little Women before the candle burned out. Needless to say, the next morning I found the electric bill...and her reading glasses, which were left in the lawn chair on the dock, and had her write the check.
I remember that afternoon when the bulldozers came and they tried to get Aunt Mills to leave and sell her bungalow and the acres of marsh she owned around it. She refused and defiantely stayed in her house for four full days. Instead, we repainted the house. In fact, it was my suggestion. Of course, I had to run to the store and get the paint, since Aunt Mills couldn't leave. We painted it a fresh shade of peach and ended up getting paint all over ourselves too. It looked so beautiful when we were finished. We thought the men with the bulldozers would leave, because they wouldn't be able to destroy such a fine-looking house. When they didnít leave right away, we sat on the porch and talked for hours or read. She taught me how to make sweet grass baskets, which she had learned from an African woman over 40 years ago. Eventually, they gave up and left. But they did get that house and marshland, though it was not till Aunt Mills died several years later. They covered it with condos and beach houses. I would never know that it was the same place.
At the end of the month, on the way home from Aunt Mills', I finished reading Little Women. I closed the book as I closed that summer vacation. I put the book on the shelf in my room as I filed the memories away in my mind, and then I returned to my normal routine of life.
Years later, I saw that book on my shelf on a cold, sunless day in February. When I opened it to read its pages, I was transported back to the marsh and beach with Aunt Mills. To my teenage self, reading on the beach as the water lapped at my feet. Where my normally straight blond hair reflected the oceanís waves by being constantly bathed by seawater and dried by the breeze. I heard the slow, southern drawl of my aunt calling me "sugar" echo in my mind like the sound of the waves that still echo in a seashell far away from the shore. Then I closed the book and returned it to the shelf.