Aunt Genie Forehand taught kindergarten for many years in Vienna. She was a very proper lady. Her classroom lectures and formal manner were beyond what might be expected of a small-town teacher of young charges.
Aunt Genie’s stature was extremely erect, her hair always neatly coiffured. Everything from her shoes up had to be in perfect order before she would venture outside her home. She never laughed at anything that could possibly be construed as crude. It didn’t matter if it was funny or harmless. It had to meet her strict standards of acceptability.
It was a Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1962, a busy time at Stephens Grocery. Aunt Genie walked gracefully through the door. She politely greeted friends and workers. Her grammar was so perfect that Emmett Stephens once quipped he needed an interpreter to understand her.
“Something I can help you with today, Aunt Genie?” asked Emmett Stephens.
“Indeed, there is, Mr. Stephens,” she responded with typical formality. “A literary friend from Atlanta will be visiting this week. Would you select for me an appropriate fare for a beef entrée?”
“How’s that, Aunt Genie?” asked Emmett Stephens, wondering what she meant.
“Meat, Mr. Stephens!” she said with a tone of exasperation. “I want meat!”
“Well follow me, Aunt Genie. I got just the thing for you.” Emmett Stephens turned to walk back to the meat counter.
“Mr. Stephens!” Aunt Genie called out, waiting for him to turn around. “Manners, Mr. Stephens, manners!”
“Oh, yes ma’am, I forgot. Ladies first.” He bowed artfully and motioned with his arms, like they were making a ballroom entrance. He knew it was an excessive gesture for walking a few steps across an old wooden floor, but Aunt Genie gave a nod of approval. She walked confidently towards the back of the store, stopping dead center in the meat section.
“You may proceed, Mr. Stephens. What is your suggestion?”
“Aunt Genie, if I was having really special company, like a literary friend from Atlanta, I would give them something they probably can’t find up there.”
“Excellent thought, Mr. Stephens,” she said. “What specifically might that be?”
Emmett Stephens reached way back in the corner of the meat cooler. He unfolded the white waxed paper and held it so she could take a close look.
“I would cook them up some of this fresh cow tongue. I don’t know as you can even buy that in Atlanta.”
Aunt Genie was not disposed toward such humor. “Mr. Stephens,” she sternly mustered, “Your suggestion is despicable! I would never eat anything that came from the mouth of a cow!”
“Well then,” said Emmett Stephens, without any hesitation, “how about a dozen of these fresh hen eggs?”
Aunt Genie furrowed her brow, but then she placed one hand over her mouth. She turned her head slightly to the side. Emmett Stephens said that he could not be absolutely certain, but he thought he saw the slight hint of a stifled smile. He politely suggested an eye of round roast for her dinner guest.
“That will be fine, Mr. Stephens,” said Aunt Genie. She left Stephens Grocery holding her wrapped package of roast beef in one hand, still using the other to cover her mouth.
Aunt Genie always played the role of the teacher, a role that she handled quite well. But that Saturday afternoon at Stephens Grocery, she was, for a brief moment, a student. Emmett Stephens had taught a lesson in humor that day, a lesson he was almost sure had made Aunt Genie smile.