by Miv Schaaf
"OH, MINNO -- YOU DIDN'T!"
Before anyone could stop her, our oldest aunt, Minno, had put all the money her short-lived husband left her in a yellow brick ark of a rooming house in Detroit. It was done. She was extremely proud of this lightning stroke of business acumen.
Setty, our youngest and only unmarried aunt, moved there with Minno to try to keep her from further financial disasters. Setty worked at the Detroit Board of Education, and when she was away Minno rented rooms to whomever she liked. Minno liked everyone. Anyone.
"Minno, why is Mr. Farrell sending you this bill for March?"
"That's the upstairs bath, don't you know, Lucette. The cold water faucet."
"But you paid that in January."
"Did I? Did I tell you poor Mr. Farrell's arthritis is coming back. Well, there's just a little confusion there."
There was more than just a little confusion there whenever Setty tried to take a hand in Minno's business. "Minno, do you realize Mrs. Jewel hasn't paid her rent in four months?"
"Yes, Lucette, and her daughter hasn't written her in six months."
"That has nothing to do with not paying rent."
"It makes her very unhappy, don't you know. Lucette, poor Mr. Mack took a fare in his cab all the way from the Fisher Building through the tunnel to Windsor and then the man found he had lost his wallet and poor Mr. Mack had gone all that way for nothing, don't you know."
Setty pressed her lips firmly together and retreated to her room upstairs. It was large and elegant, completely unlike any other room in that three-story hideousity. It masqueraded as a luxurious apartment; it had a couch instead of a bed, tapestries, an Oriental rug, ivory inlaid boxes, a tiny cloisonne ashtry that might have been made from crushed rubies and a crystal chandelier that Setty, standing on a stepladder, cleaned with ammonia every Saturday.
Everyone tried to reason with Minno but Father. Father would listen with the rest of us to Minno's logic, light his short pipe, pick up a newspaper (there were three-foot-high stacks of them all over Minno's room containing "really very lovely articles, I'm going to read sometime, don't you know") and disappear. When absolutely cornered by irrefutable statements, log jams of logic, Minno would give a coquettish shake of her curls and a pleasant silvery arpeggio of laughter -- end of argument.
Minno lived in a different world; she refused to be unhappy. Setty did not. It was exciting, meeting the Detroit bus when it came, aunt-bearing, to Lansing.
There was one time when Minno was not quite as other-worldly as we had thought. "Dah-lings," she said to us (from her three-year marriage in Alabama Minno yearly improved her Southern accent), "Dahlings, would you do something for me?" (My twin brother and I would have done anything for Minno.) "When you run to meet us at the bus would you be sure to hug and kiss Lucette first?"
Dinners at Minno's were something; she was the only real cook in the family. They even offset her miserable "genuine gate-leg Windsor table." That table had more legs than a centipede.
Once, during dinner, Minno got up to answer the phone in the hall. "The fifth time?" we heard her say. "Well, suh, you suttinly may leave him there till the menning."
"Leave who where?" asked Mother.
Minno gave her silvery little laugh and, ever experimental as good cooks are, shook a little nutmeg into her soup. "They thought I was some other Mrs. Hanson, don't you know, and the police sergeant wanted to know if I would come down to get my drunken husband tonight or tomorrow."
"Oh, Minno -- you didn't!" Miv Schaaf, a resident of Fieldbrook, is a former columnist for the L.A. Times.