Many years ago while visiting Scotland, an older relative by marriage, Fran, related a situation that had become family lore. She wanted to share it with me. It seemed that Uncle Cy, God rest his soul, had lived a happy and carefree life. He had been a pleasant fellow, well-liked, a raconteur at gatherings and a generous friend at the local pub. A bit of a ladies' man, as they called it in those days, he was chivalrous despite a fondness for practical jokes. He remained a bachelor all his life and enjoyed annual sojourns to Spain during Scotland's brutal winters. Towards the end of his life, some health issues forced him into a seniors' care home. There he continued to charm the ladies, the staff as well as visitors for a further seven years until his peaceful end. "We should all be so fortunate," was how the situation was summed up.
Then, there was Aunt Mabel. She was cut from a different cloth. Somewhat shy, a bit of an introvert; life had made her fearful somehow, but she faced it with quiet determination. Always expecting the worst, she starting saving for a rainy day long before her age-mates would give the future much thought. She was careful with money, was how the relative described her, and, of course, she was Scotch so that came naturally. She always paid her bills on time and no one could accuse her of not paying her share on the rare occasions when she attended a social function. Her small house was well polished and Aunt Mabel was always pleased to provide a home for cast-off furniture from more well off relations. She worked all her life except for the decade when she was married. 'At least she had that', was how it was described. Her husband died of natural causes and Mabel had been alone again. No children. She knew Uncle Cy, of course, but except for semi-annual family gatherings, they moved in different circles.
Now, Fran's voice rose a tone. It seems Aunt Mabel, in due course, and it being a small town, ended up in the same senior's care home as Uncle Cy. I had listened patiently to the story, interested to hear some details of how life had been during and after the War. Scotland had been so affected by it, the River Clyde bombed incessantly. But Fran's rising indignation concerned other matters. It had somehow been discovered by the family that Uncle Cy had entered the government established and funded home with not much more than a smile and the clothes on his back. Aunt Mabel, penny pincher that she was, had amassed a considerable amount, closer to a million pounds than a half million, was how it was described. The relations were all agog. Both enjoyed equally the care, medical, social and emotional, that the home provided. Uncle Cy was entirely funded by the state and Aunt Mabel paid the full monthly amount prescribed, for those with personal means. Fran was pleased to tell me that Aunt Mabel could have, had her health allowed, gone on a never-ending cruise for the same price.
Aunt Mabel outlived Uncle Cy by nearly a decade, making it to ninety-eight. What remained of her carefully scraped together fortune paid for a nice funeral.
"What do you think of that?" my husband's aunt enquired. She didn't wait for an answer, me being a foreigner, but gave her own response. "We've all learned from that, let me tell you." She didn't elaborate.