Aunt Tee was not a nice person. Life’s trials and tribulations had only served to make her more and more bitter. She didn’t have a kind word to say about anything or anybody.
In her youth, she had been in love with only one man, but he had betrayed her.
Whatever kindness might have blossomed in a loving relationship had been trampled.
Now, in her old age, Aunt Tee had no friends. The few people who had dared to risk associating with her throughout the years had died. Aunt Tee was now crippled by arthritis or rheumatism. She didn’t much care what the diagnosis was. She only knew that she could hardly walk and was always in pain.
The only person who visited Aunt Tee was her niece, Ivy, who Aunt Tee felt did so only to inherit her money when she died. She wouldn’t even leave her money to Ivy if she believed in charities.
Ivy went to Aunt Tee’s house every day and encouraged her to take her medicine, rubbed her joints, cleaned her house, and cooked dinner for her even though Ivy held a job, had her own house to look after, three kids and a husband Aunt Tee considered “not worth mentioning.” Aunt Tee didn’t give Ivy a cent for all her trouble, but Ivy rested on her religion.
She and her kids went to church every Sunday unless illness kept them away. When Aunt Tee called Ivy a religious fool, Ivy didn’t seem bothered. Ivy simply said, “The devil is always busy. We’ll understand it better by and by.” Perhaps Ivy considered Aunt Tee to be a devil in disguise and a test of her faith. In spite of Aunt Tee’s attitude (or because of it), Ivy continued to ask Aunt Tee to go to church with her.
After church on Sundays, Ivy and her kids went over to Aunt Tee’s to say hello and take her dinner. Ivy’s kids were terrified of Aunt Tee, with the exception of Flora. Aunt Tee screamed at the kids for every breath and movement they made or she thought they were going to make. The kids’ faces revealed their fear and desire to leave – with the exception of Flora. Flora was very much like Ivy and didn’t seem to take Aunt Tee’s foul disposition seriously. When Aunt Tee fussed at Flora, Flora appeared undaunted and at peace with herself. It frustrated Aunt Tee that she didn’t fluster Flora, but at the same time, she admired Flora’s strength.
One evening when Ivy stopped by Aunt Tee’s after work, she asked Aunt Tee to go to church with her the next Sunday, when Flora would be baptized. Aunt Tee called Ivy a fool for thinking she would go to church just to see a child duped into becoming a member of a church. Ivy was visibly shaken by Aunt Tee’s words, and her face filled with anger.
“Old lady,” Ivy screamed at Aunt Tee, “I have loved you and loved you all these years, and I have struggled to encourage my children to love you. I don’t come over here to see about you because I have nothing else to do. And I’ve been poor all my life, so the possibility of inheriting your money after you die doesn’t mean a damn thing to me.” Aunt Tee flinched. She couldn’t believe her ears. Ivy had cursed.
‘”Today,” Ivy continued, “you have made me toss my religion in a freezer. Flora loves you, although I can’t for the sake of me figure out why. Flora asked me to ask you to come to see her baptized. I could care less if you come. I knew it would be a waste of breath to invite you. Well, don’t come. Keep sitting here being hateful. The Lord will make His judgment, not me.”
Ivy stormed out of the living room and into the kitchen. Aunt Tee could hear Ivy slamming drawers and pots and pans. Aunt Tee said nothing. She had never seen Ivy angry before.
When Aunt Tee’s dinner was done, Ivy fixed Aunt Tee’s plate and with a calm voice beckoned Aunt Tee to the kitchen. As Aunt Tee struggled to sit down, Ivy reminded her to take her medicine. This time, Aunt Tee did not go into a tirade about the medicine not doing anything and being a waste of money. She swallowed the medicine without a word. When she had finished her meal and Ivy had cleaned up and made sure Aunt Tee didn’t need anything else, Aunt Tee, for the first time, told Ivy, “Thank you.”
Ivy kissed Aunt Tee goodnight on her forehead as she usually did and left.
For the rest of the week, Ivy came by Aunt Tee’s every night and neither she nor Aunt Tee brought up that stormy night. Ivy did not mention church anymore.
When Sunday morning came, Ivy and her kids went to church and took their seats near the front. Flora kept asking Ivy if Aunt Tee was coming, and Ivy kept saying, “Stop asking.”
But something had happened to Aunt Tee when Ivy got angry with her. For the first time, Aunt Tee admitted to herself that she was afraid. Ivy was all she had, and she realized how precious Ivy was to her. Why had she always thought Ivy had no feelings? Why had she always assumed that Ivy was her personal property to insult and abuse at will?
On this Sunday, with much effort and pain, Aunt Tee dressed herself in some Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and put on a hat. She called a cab, grabbed her cane and purse and waited on her porch. With difficulty, Aunt Tee limped to the cab, and with even more difficulty, she got out and climbed the steps of the church. She took a seat in the back, aware of the surprised looks on those who saw her. Neither Ivy nor her kids knew Aunt Tee was there.
The minister preached about change, that it was never too late to change, that “our Maker” embraced change, that the church welcomed those who changed and church members and others stood waiting to offer love. The sermon ended, and the doors of the church opened. The congregation stood and joined the choir singing, “I ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.” When they sang the line, “I would not live a sinner, and I’ll tell you why / If the good Lord calls my name, I wouldn’t be ready to die,” feeble Aunt Tee stood up. Slowly, she limped to the front of the church. When Flora looked back and saw her, she left her seat and took Aunt Tee’s arm to help her the rest of the way.
Ivy sat down when she saw Aunt Tee. She felt weak and could not move. She stared at Aunt Tee as though Aunt Tee was an apparition.
Aunt Tee told the minister she wanted to join the church, and then, as painful as it was, bent down and kissed Flora’s cheek. Flora was still holding on to Aunt Tee’s arm and never stopped grinning. This was her Aunt Tee, and today was their day.
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