My Great Aunt Annie



                                                                                 Annie Niemann circa 1896

My Great Aunt Annie was a traveling relative. She lived with my Grandpa Niemann, my dad's father, after my Grandma died. But after Grandpa died, she was...alone. We had her stay at our house for a couple of months and then shipped her off to another relative. And, when her ornery ways drove that family a tad batty...she was shipped off to another family. She was a spinster in the truest sense of the word -  probably 90 lbs. soaking wet, white thinning hair, sharp, coal-black eyes that always seemed to be watching me, and as deaf as a post - when she wanted to be!

Back in the fifties they had what was called "The Old Folks Home." It was a dark, musty building, with the odd smell  of cabbage mixed with a piquant of Ben-gay. These old homes were where folks put their aged relatives back then. The family tried to place Aunt Annie in a home a couple of times, but inevitably my father got the call that Aunt Annie had bolted. He got in the car and hit the streets of East St. Louis until he found her. We took her back in for another couple of months. She was a cantankerous spitfire that scared the beejeebees out of me. She sat in front of the old black and white TV set with her good ear cupped to the speaker. She thought hearing aids made one look old so she refused to wear them (ahem).

She was the youngest of the Niemann family born in the late 1800s, and she was born very early. She was so small they placed her in a shoe box and used the bottom dresser drawer for her cradle. She attended St. Elizabeth of Hungry parish and school in East St. Louis and received her first Holy Communion when she was 10 years old.  


                                               This is difficult to read, but the words are in German as

                                                      St. Elizabeth was a "German" parish. circa 1896

 Later in life she worked at the Brown Shoe Company. My father told me that she was once the "belle of the ball." Yeah, right! She had (according to family lore) many "suitors," but the love of her life drank whiskey. She gave him the ultimatum - "me or the bottle" - and he chose to wed himself to the bottle. Broken-hearted she never married, but she outlived all her brothers and sisters.

I never quite believed that Aunt Annie was the belle of the ball until after she died. I found a shoebox filled with old postcards from the early 1900's. They were from every holiday throughout the year. Each was signed by a different man's signature and each professed his undying love for the fair Annie.


In some ways I admire my Great Aunt Annie...she had chutzpah! Today, I have Aunt Annie's First Communion Picture surrounded by some of those postcards hanging in my living room. Her sharp, coal black eyes still seem to be watching me - challenging me.

I am thankful for the gifts she gave me - patience, stamina, conviction, assertiveness. But the biggest gift of all - don't judge her book by its well-worn, dusty, frayed, frail, scary, smelly cover. Open the pages and read about an interesting, young, good-looking, hardworking gal who was the belle of the ball - my Great Aunt Annie!