Auntie Mae’s Various Ramblings on Life in a Small Town

Ida Mae Nowes

Nubbins Special Correspondent 

When I first started tutoring my neighbor Johnny Mac in reading and writing, he was in fifth grade. Now he’s in eighth grade and as tall as a sapling with glasses, and braces on his teeth. 

His language skills have greatly improved during the years we’ve been getting together, and he doesn’t really need my input any more. But amazingly, he still comes by once in a while so we can read together, eat cookies, and talk about whatever is on our minds.

He also still lets me read his journal from time to time. The first day I tutored Johnny Mac those years ago, I gave him a journal and asked him to write in it everyday. I told him he could write anything he wanted, but to remember that I would be reading it. I made a promise to him that I wouldn’t share any of the information in the journal. I’ll be the first to admit that promise has been mighty hard to keep at times!

He took to writing like a duck to water. In the beginning he wrote a lot about what he saw going on in the neighborhood and about his constant wish for a dog. I’m happy to report that this particular wish came true a year or so ago when he and I rescued a dog that had been hit by a car. Johnny Mac ended up keeping her (and naming her “Mae” after me, I might add). Mae comes to our get-togethers too.

Johnny Mac no longer writes daily snippets of his life – or at least, not that he lets me see. But he does let me read his school essays and creative writing ventures like stories and even poetry. A lot of it refers to science fiction characters or rock bands I’ve never heard of, but I still hear Johnny Mac’s voice in there. What a thrill it is to peek inside the mind of a young man responding to this crazy world we all find ourselves in, and growing into the adult he’s soon to be. He has no idea what a gift this is to me.

But the time has come to let this ritual go. Johnny Mac knows how my life has changed now that my husband Merl and I are taking care of Merl’s mother, Floreen. And Johnny Mac’s life is changing too. He’ll be going to high school next year and doesn’t need a tutor any more. Last week was our last “formal” tutoring session.

“Johnny Mac, you’ve grown into an excellent reader and writer, and I’m so very proud of you,” I told him. “But you don’t need an old lady like me tutoring you any more. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be reading one of your books one of these days, and you’re going to be telling me a thing or two.”

He blushed and said, “Oh, I don’t know about that,” but he seemed pleased. Then I gave him a gift of two of my favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird and Tom Sawyer, and he seemed touched.

“Now, you know, Johnny Mac,” I said as we got ready to part. “You’re welcome to come by here at any time for any reason – to share what you’re writing or just to visit. You know I’d love that, don’t you?” All of a sudden I felt as if I was going to burst out crying, and that took me by surprise. But I swallowed hard and made myself stop. I didn’t want to go overboard in front of him, for heaven’s sake – he might never come back! He smiled at me and gave me a quick hug, saying, “Thanks, Aunt Ida Mae,” and went on his way with Mae.

So, that’s that, I thought to myself with a sigh, but it turns out there was a little bit more.

This morning I found on my doorstep a handmade card from Johnny Mac with a note written in his still little-boyish handwriting: Thank you for all the time you’ve spent with me Aunt Ida Mae. You are AWESOME!!! Love, Johnny Mac. 

Underneath the card was a booklet of his own writings typed on the computer and stapled together on the side. On the front it said “THE WRITINGS OF JOHNNY MAC” and inside were several of the stories and poems he had shared with me over the years, plus a few new ones. I thought back to the little boy who could barely write a sentence when he first began visiting me, and I felt amazed at how life unfolds – always, always differently than we imagine it’s going to.

Then I noticed the dedication on the first page: “This book is dedicated to Ms. Aunt Ida Mae Nowes, who taught me to love words.”

If you think I wasn’t boo-hooing into my hankie after reading that, you’ve got another thing coming. In the end, tears will have the last word.