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Aunt Pisces and the Brain Trust:

From where I was standing, my Aunt Pisces — Uncle Bronty’s wife— was a paradigm of feminine mystique-era womanliness. She seemed to me all that we had been traditionally revered for, and much of what stand-up comics have ridiculed for decades.

Never mind that my perception was distinctly off target. My primary point of comparison was Ma. Next to Ma almost anybody would have come across as gentle and feminine.

Which perspective was further colored by Ma’s determination to paint nearly everyone else in the family (certainly all of the females of her own generation) as fools.

But even to all outside appearances, Aunt Pisces was sweet, modest, gentle, fragile, and undemanding company for any man, however intellectually limited he may be — which, give him his due, Uncle Bronty was not.

That was the image, however inaccurate, that I ended up with of Aunt Pisces.

Unfortunately, as I remember her from my childhood, Aunt Pisces seemed to have never learned to gauge and arrange the degree to which she ought to conform to the über-pattern for herself, but allowed her peers and supposed superiors to set the levels for her well before she ever met my uncle. I could easily imagine her as a “good little girl” throughout her childhood. The one who always met expectations. Beginning with dutifully parroting back information about names, dates, numbers, and points of grammar for twelve years of the local public school system, and having appeased the powers that be, being awarded her high-school diploma. (Class of ‘44, I think.)

Then, having demonstrated that her brains were of acceptable quality, she seemed to have put them into a genetic trust for the benefit of her descendants and tried to function on the interest forever after. (Very much, now that I think of it, as had my father.)

The socially prescribed two years between High School and marriage (serving as the formulaically recommended by mid-century society demonstration that she wasn’t “rushing into” anything) were evidently taken up with church attendance and other socially-approved girlish pursuits, or in putting a somewhat less childish gloss upon her prettiness — Aunt Pisces was a very pretty young woman. (“Pretty” = “a decorative beauty without grandeur” — Webster).

And, of course volunteer war work. It was still during WWII, after all.

Kind, rather retiring, and (next to Ma) quiveringly feminine, Aunt Pisces would have been a tough act to follow. She seemed everything that her daughters and I were being exhorted to make of ourselves by every aspect of the popular media and the great social conscience of the mid-20th century. She was everything that was designated to be treasured and adored.

And I wouldn’t have wanted to be like her for all the tea and embroidery in China.

The rewards and approval for Aunt Pisces’s virtues were many, and obvious, but so were the drawbacks of trying to live within such unforgiving parameters. The long and short-range effects of attempting to function without a brain should be apparent to even the most cursory examination, and until later events intervened with a situation that forced her to knock it off, were a continuing inconvenience to people who ever had to deal with her.

For one thing, it rendered her nearly unfit to deal with a world which was rife with machinery. Actually, from what my cousins have since told me she was a “corrected” left-hander. It sounds like she was lucky to have not ended up totally dyslexic instead of just rather sloppily ambidexterous.

For another, switching off her brain appeared to render her virtually incapable of drawing an informed conclusion, due to an artificially impaired capacity for relating one piece of information to another. I have since realized that my view of the issue was as limited as it was biased (well, consider my source). No one could have really been that naïve.

Still, all in all, Aunt Pisces went through altogether too many years perfectly disguised as one of those women who really do appear to need to be guided and protected by a strong (which Uncle Bronty was), patient (which he was not, I’m sorry to say), man, or, alternately, some more competent woman. But then, that was what all the messages that she had ever been given had told her that she was “supposed” to do. And, I gather she had essentially vowed to “obey” long before she did so publicly in the front of a church at Uncle Bronty’s side.

Besides, there was really only room for one opinion in Uncle Bronty’s household, and that was his.

But really, sometimes Aunt Pisces’s unconquerable naïveté was on such a level as to make one seriously question whether she was ever fit breeding stock in the first place.

On the other hand, her eldest daughter, having parlayed a degree from Art Center into a job as a filing clerk, opted for the traditional marriage-and-family track and went on to successfully home-school three unquestionably bright offspring in the wilds of Orange county. Her second daughter was a fully tenured professor (of Agricultural Science and Economics, I think) in a Manitoba University before she was 40. And the eldest of the three grandchildren started off to (part-time) college at the advanced age of 15. And I’m inclined to doubt that any of them got all of that from Uncle Bronty.