Aunt Tennie: A Short Story

Dec 23, 2020 | 2020 Articles, Terrific Tales

by Gary Hoffman

Sadly Gary Hoffman passed away earlier this year, but his family asked if we would help them fulfill his goal of having 500 stories published so we will be publishing several of his stories over the next few months. This story has never before been published.

Her name was Tennie Cloer, but I always called her Aunt Tennie. Did from the first day I met her. When she would go downtown, folks called her Mrs. Cloer. One of the first things I noticed about her was how short she was and how when she wasn’t around, people referred to her as the Widow Cloer.

My daddy took a teaching job in small town in northern Missouri just three months past my tenth birthday. We moved there in the summer, just two doors down from Aunt Tennie. The house in-between us was vacant, and from its ratty looks, it had been for some time.

Two weeks after we moved, I saw Aunt Tennie working out in her garden. She was digging carrots and was having a difficult time because the ground was hard and dry. I wandered over to her yard and asked if I could help. She gratefully accepted the offer. Now this was not just a nice gesture on my part. Here was a widow woman, and I had never met one before. I wondered how being a widow changed a person.

“My name’s Janet,” I told her.

“Ah, one of my new neighbors. Well, Janet, I’m Tennie Cloer. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too, Mrs. Cloer.”

She wrinkled her nose. “That sounds awfully formal. Guess you could call me Grandma Tennie.”

I explained my parents had each been divorced once, so I all ready had four sets of grandparents. Another one would add to the confusion.

“Well, then why don’t you just call me Aunt Tennie if you want.”

That sounded like a pretty good idea to me. I had some real aunts, but they lived a long ways away.

We dug for maybe half an hour, and she suggested we go up on her back porch and have some sweet tea and cookies. This sounded like a great idea to me.tea

I watched as this little woman went about her business just like most other women I had ever met. She told me later she was four foot nine-and-a-half inches tall, but could stretch to four foot ten inches. Then her wiry grey hair would shake as she laughed. Her eyes seemed to sparkle. My first day being around her gave me no clue as to what made a widow any different from anyone else I knew.

As I remember it, I didn’t see her the next day, but the day after that she was out hanging clothes on her clothes line. My first thought was: that’s what made her different—she hung her clothes on a line rather than using a dryer like we had. Maybe that was a widow thing. I moseyed over to ask how she was doing.

“Oh, I’m just fine, Janet. And how are you this fine day?”

“Okay.” I tilted my head to one side. “You always hang your clothes out on a line?”

“If I can. Does several things for me. First, it gives me exercise. Second, I do have a dryer, but this saves me money on electricity. And third, the clothes smell so much better. Nothing like climbing into bed at night on sheets that have been dried in the sun.”

I couldn’t argue that point ‘cause I wasn’t sure I’d ever slept on sheets like that.

She suddenly stopped hanging her clothes and looked at me. “Do you think your parents would let you come to Sunday dinner at my house? I get very tired of eating alone all the time.”

I really didn’t know what to say except that I would ask. It would also give me a chance to do more research on how widows acted.

After talking to my mom about Sunday dinner, she walked down to Aunt Tennie’s house and talked directly to her. It was decided I would show up at one o’clock.toasting brown house

Every Sunday, Aunt Tennie would walk four blocks to the Methodist church. Their services started at eleven and she was usually home by noon. That gave her an hour to finish getting dinner ready. And it was dinner. Supper was in the evening, according to Aunt Tennie. Period.

Our first dinner together was fried chicken, mashed potatoes with white gravy, sliced tomatoes, and fresh cucumbers. I wasn’t crazy about the cucumbers, but I ate a couple of slices just to be nice. I thought maybe that’s what widow women expected people to do. This was the first of our weekly Sunday dinners together, and many of those included fried chicken.

The next day I was out bouncing a basketball around on the sidewalk, which was difficult to do. They were all cracked up and at crazy angles in some places. Aunt Tennie sat on her front porch and watched me for a while. When I got tired, I went and sat on her

“You ever play Canasta, Janet?”

I wasn’t even sure what that was, but it might have been another one of those widow women things. “Can’t say that I have.”

“Would you like to learn?”

“Sure. Why not?”

Well, that began a long string of card games. It seemed we played when either of us had a spare moment. The first day, we spent a long time going over the rules and then we played a game where she had her hand laid up so I could see it and learn what she did and why.

The next game, we both hid our cards, but she would always tell me if I made a mistake or how I should have played to my advantage. After about a month, her advice stopped coming—I was on my own, but after the game she would tell me what I might have done different. As far as I could tell, she never let me win—I had to earn that right. It was almost two months before I finally won a game. She hugged me and said it called for a celebration. I’m not sure which one of us was

Everything else came to a halt as we mixed up a batch of chocolate chip cookies and made chocolate malts.

Well into the fall, there came a Sunday when Aunt Tennie’s son and his family were driving down from someplace in Iowa for a visit. When I told my mom and dad about it, they said I shouldn’t go for dinner that day so she could spend time with her family.

I wasn’t happy, but I understood. It was a big deal when someone from our family came to visit. I went to tell Aunt Tennie I couldn’t come Sunday. She didn’t say anything, but went to her phone and called my house. I could only hear one end of the conversation, but I went to dinner at her house that Sunday.

That winter, days when school closed because of snow were glorious for me. Aunt Tennie and I played Canasta and drank hot chocolate. Most of my friends played in the snow, but I was content where I was.snow

On my birthday in April, Aunt Tennie knitted me a neck scarf for a present, but a new revelation came into my life. I was standing in Aunt Tennie’s kitchen after helping her plant some lettuce and radish seeds in her garden. I realized I was just slightly taller than she was. I was now taller than an adult! That was the best birthday present I could have ever gotten. We again celebrated.

Later that spring, school let out for the summer on a Wednesday at noon. I ate a quick lunch at my house and then headed for Aunt Tennie’s for a game of Canasta. Her front door was open, but I could see through the screen door. She was sitting in her favorite rocker in her front room, sound asleep. I could see through to the kitchen where the cards, coasters, scoring pad, and a pencil were laid out on the table waiting for me to get there.notebook

Her knitting was still in her lap. She used to laugh and say someday she was going to stab herself on a knitting needle when she fell asleep that way. I went in to wake her up, but there was something wrong. I didn’t know for sure what it was, but she just looked different. I ran to my house as fast as I could.

Aunt Tennie’s funeral was two days later. It was the first funeral I could ever remember going to, and I didn’t much care for it. The Methodist church had a big lunch for everyone in their fellowship hall afterwards, and all my family was invited to go. My parents didn’t really want to go, but said I could if I wanted. I passed. I knew there would be lots of fried chicken there, but none like Aunt Tennie cooked.

After we got back to our house, I changed into my old clothes, put the scarf around my neck—even though it wasn’t cold outside—and went to sit on Aunt Tennie’s back steps. As I was looking out over her garden spot, it occurred to me I might know a small fraction of what made widows different. I knew I looked the same on the outside, but my insides sure felt different.

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Gary R. Hoffman has published nearly 500 short stories, non-fiction articles, poetry, and essays in various publications. He has placed over one-hundred and fifty items in contests. He taught school for twenty-five years and lived on the road in a motor home for fourteen years.


  1. What a wonderful story! So sorry Gary isn’t here to see it get published. Thanks for sharing it, Lori!

  2. What a wonderful story! I’m glad you’ll be publishing more of these.

  3. I feel wiser after the short moments spent with this sweet shot of joy.

  4. Such a sweet, tender story. I look forward to more of Gary’s stories as you present them. My condolences to his family.


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