My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction, awarded the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction, and awarded the 2016 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon.
One of my Aunt Hilde’s favorite epithets for people she did not like was, “He (or she) has no taste whatsoever!” I always went along with her opinions because I idolized her. She was the German war bride of my favorite uncle, William Junkins. She was ambitious, self confident, and to her country Georgia in-laws, always seemed to have plenty of money. To me and my family at that time, just having enough clothes to cover ourselves, and to keep warm in winter was the best you could hope for. Basic furniture for sleeping, cooking, eating, and storage on top of that was pure bounty. Good taste simply wasn’t a part of the equation.
When Hilde first came to mountain Georgia after World War II, she lived pretty much like the rest of the Junkins clan—for a short while. But she quickly moved on and up. She began polishing her language skills and typing speed, aiming for an office job with visions of promotion. So she and William moved to Dalton, where he got a job as a mechanic at a car dealership. Hilde got her office job and thereby impressed the heck out of her family-by-marriage. She soon bought a used car—a woman, driving! “What in the land is this world coming to?” my grandmother Junkins asked. “ Well I’ll not ride with her.” And she didn’t—not until her other rides dried up and it was frequently her only transportation.
Hilde got a television set in 1952 and learned good taste from “I Love Lucy”! She dressed in heels every day, bought taffeta dresses and matching costume jewelry. Even her hair was styled like Lucy’s. On weekends, she wore shorts! “Lord, have mercy?” Maw Junkins said the first time she saw her son’s wife in such scandalous attire. I was shocked myself, but if Hilde wore it, it must be in good taste, I told myself. My mother wasn’t quite so generous, but what did she know! Turns out, she probably knew more than I gave her credit for. She had another family role model.
Mama’s Aunt Mattie Searcy did not get her ideas of style from “I Love Lucy.” In my memories, her style seemed modeled on the Duchess of Windsor, whose fashions she followed in magazines like Vogue. She had the figure to wear clothes well too—even into her older years. Of course, she couldn’t afford Paris couture, but she could get the same basic styles in the better stores where she shopped. Sometimes when her closets were overflowing she would give-or more often sell-Mama a dress or a pair of shoes she’d gotten tired of. Mama was very selective with these proffered bargains. One dress and pair of shoes could be her best outfit for a long time. I especially remember a black crepe dress and suede pumps that she wore for years to any dress-up event she attended. She added a string of dime store pearls and matching earrings and she was dressed to kill.
It wasn’t until after college that I had the money or interest in being stylish myself. Fortunately, the Jackie Kennedy look was in by then, and it was flattering to just about everybody. By this time Aunt Hilda had left Lucy Ricardo behind and had adopted the Jackie look too. She had also upgraded her taste in furniture. Gone were the I love Lucy spindly tables and tacky couches. Hilde had moved on up to “Danish Modern” and gradually filled her house with it. I didn’t like it, but what did I know? I still don’t like it, only now I trust my judgment more. I guess Danish Modern isn’t for everyone.
One Sunday, right after she finally completed filling her dining/living areas with Danish Modern Aunt Hilda looked around complacently and said, “I wish Abbie could see this!” Abbie was a sister-in-law she did not like. “Abbie has no taste what-so-ever.” Soft spoken Uncle William was sleeping off a Sunday night binge on the living room floor, but apparently had roused up at the sound of his sister’s name. “What Abbie don’t have is money,” he said. “If I didn’t have that good job at Hub Ford and you didn’t have your big job at that construction company, you wouldn’t have good taste either.”
I don’t recall Hilde’s response, but his words certainly gave me plenty to think about. Not everybody with money has good taste, of course, but being really stylish takes a certain amount of money beyond basic living expenses. But maybe not too much. Recently, when I looked through some old family photos, I saw my mother, a couple of aunts, and several cousins with fresh eyes. In spite of low income, some of them had good taste in clothing and several even looked stylish.
I guess it just goes to prove you don’t have to be rich to have good taste, and, thank goodness you don’t have to have Danish modern!
By the way, Hilde, if you’re hearing me from the great beyond, you’re still my favorite aunt. And love trumps good taste every time.