Aunt Laura worked the crossword puzzle every morning, after breakfast. It took her one cup of coffee percolated on the stove top and two Lucky Strikes Monday through Wednesday. The rest of the week took another cup of coffee and maybe another cigarette before she folded up the completed work and put her pen away.
Aunt Laura was the sister closest in age to our Dad, and his favorite. She absorbed the same childhood knocks of abandonment as her two older brothers, and survived with the same tough spirit of getting on. Unlike Dad’s other two sisters, Aunt Laura held our Mom at a slight distance.
Mom exuded a kind of family glue that kept all her sisters-in-law connected. The others were more humble, and accepted everything about Mom. But Aunt Laura was a little wary. There was a kind of unspoken rivalry concerning everything they had in common, from quilting to crossword puzzles.
Each of them produced delicate, beautiful needlework; each pieced and quilted exquisite quilts. But for Mom there was always an undercurrent of competition and nowhere more than the daily crossword puzzle.
Now, they lived twenty five miles apart, so it’s not like Mom could nip next door and see if Aunt Laura had finished the crossword. But Mom visited around among her sisters-in-law often and two or three times a month she could see the folded paper on the corner of the table, the finished crossword exposed. Well before lunch.
Back in her home Mom had the very same Akron Beacon Journal crossword to complete. The puzzles were less difficult at the beginning of the week, but the difficulty ramped up as the days went on. Mom had a dictionary to check her spelling, a thesaurus to find words and a couple of books that claimed to contain every crossword word in the universe.
These well thumbed books found their home here when we set up housekeeping in 1988. Mom still visited her sisters-in-law, and still fretted that Laura would be having no problem with the day’s puzzle. It was her challenge to herself to keep up. She was the sister-in-law still driving and travelling, still sewing, who had learned to weave, but who must still compete and hope to do the crossword as quickly, completely and accurately as her sister-in-law.
In the six years between Aunt Laura’s death in 1991 and Mom’s in ‘97, our mother never gave up her daily crossword puzzle. Perhaps the competition would continue in the hereafter! She certainly kept it alive in the here and now. To celebrate Mom’s quiet competition, Jan, Beth and Mark completed the Sunday crossword and slipped it into the casket for Mom to show to Aunt Laura. It took them all day. They not only sent her off with the crossword; they gave her a pencil and her tea cup, too. She spent way too many minutes each day looking for the cup and they wanted her to know where it was.
Jan and Tom, Mom, Mark, Me
Beth, who must be the photographer above