It has been a long time since my Aunt Stella passed away. It was probably 40 years ago, give or take.
But today I was thinking about her. I can see her in my mind's eye. She was petite, probably not more than 5 feet tall. I see her smiling or her head thrown back laughing at something some family member said.
But her most striking feature was her flame red hair. It was natural, not from a bottle. Two of her sisters were red heads, too, including my mother. My uncle Louis, known as "Red" in his hometown, had bright red hair.
Aunt Stella singled me out as her favorite niece, for whatever reason. Maybe she felt sorry for me because I was so shy, bashful around a room full of grown ups. My younger red-haired sister always seemed to be center stage with her natural Shirley Temple curls. My hair was stringy, thin and mousy, not a tinge of red.
On occasion my aunt would invite me to spend the night with her and my older cousin. She always made me feel special. She would pin curl my hair, then brush it out so it had fullness. She would brag on me and usually gave me one of my cousin's pretty hand me downs.
"Let's find you something," she'd say as she rummaged through a closet.
One of her favorite questions to me was, "What would you like for supper?"
She already knew the answer because it was always the same.
"Pork and beans," I'd answer.
Canned pork and beans was a treat to me. At home, Mom usually cooked dry white beans or butterbeans. Canned beans wouldn't have been economical.
I would help Aunt Stella with her wash. She would brag about what a good helper I was, then she'd slip a quarter into my pocket, for my service.
I had a secret that I was daresome to share with anyone. I was a bed wetter. There would be accidents in the night because I couldn't wake up. The next morning my Aunt Stella would hum and strip the bed, change the sheets, without a word of reprimand. No big deal was her attitude.
Once, after I spent the afternoon at my aunt's house, I set out for home which was just a few blocks away.
I assured her that I knew the way home. But after I had gone a few blocks, nothing seemed familiar.
I was lost.
I wandered the streets trying to locate the ones that led to my street. It was getting dusky dark and fear set in. I was afraid of the dark.
What would I do? What if I didn't find my house?
Then I remembered a picture that hung on the wall at my Aunt Stella's house.
The picture depicted two small children, a girl and a younger boy, walking across a narrow broken bridge. Lightning was flashing in the sky and there was rushing water below the bridge.
But the thing that I noticed most was a beautiful angel in a flowing white robe. She was hovering over the two children, protecting them. Her wings were spread and her hands outstretched toward the innocent children.
Later I learned that she is called a guardian angel.
So while I was searching for my house, I thought about that picture. I imagined that an angel was looking out for me, just as that angel in the picture was watching over the children.
Soon, I found familiar surroundings, then the street where I lived. I was so relieved. I had made it home before real darkness settled in.
I never told anyone that I was lost.
Every child needs an Aunt Stella.
And a guardian angel.