Things That Matter: Aunt Em’s Blue Bottles

My great aunt Em lived beside Bayou Texar (pronounced Te-HAR) in East Pensacola, Florida. My mother grew up only a few blocks away from her, and she and her brother Ted spent a lot of time with Aunt Em when they were growing up. I only met Aunt Em a few times, but those experiences left a strong impression on me. My strongest impression was that she adored children. As much as she enjoyed adult company, she clearly got a kick out of children and had a gift for making them feel welcome. She was called “Aunt Em” by everyone, including neighborhood children, her family, and friends. This caused confusion at times, but Aunt Em was never one to worry about what others thought, and I suspect she delighted in baffling people.

She was also known by all as “The aunt who lived in her barn.” The mystery of why she lived in her barn, rather than the lovely house that was closer to the water, was explained to me several years ago.

Aunt Em bore a daughter, Jane, many years after her other children. The baby of the family, Jane was a sort of beloved “pet” to one and all, looked after, coddled, and generally adored. She died at age twelve from some disease—perhaps measles—I’ve never been clear about that. In her grief, Aunt Em refused to live in her house after Jane’s death and moved to her barn where she lived for the rest of her life. How she chose to live was part of the delightful strangeness of Aunt Em.

Aunt Em’s eccentricities extended to the property around her home. She had lined paths around the property with blue Milk of Magnesia bottles, turned upside down and buried in the sandy soil, showing only the bottoms of their cobalt-blue glass. My father always got a kick out of this. Dad would shake his head sadly, but then with a glint in his eye he’d say, “I feel for the poor fellow who had to drink all that Milk of Magnesia.”

I visited her house a few years ago on a trip to Pensacola and met her grandson and granddaughter-in-law, who told me the sad story of Jane’s death. They also offered to give me one of Aunt Em’s blue bottles, which of course I eagerly accepted. I learned that Aunt Em went to the dump to collect these bottles. I can only imagine her picking through the debris to find her treasures. It is a treasured possession to me now, beautiful in its own right, but the story behind the bottle, the woman who carefully retrieved it from the dump and planted it in her yard beside Bayou Texar? That woman and her story have an allure that I keep returning to.

~APH: Life, Stories, People~


About today’s contributor: Marjorie Turner-Hollman grew up in Florida but has lived in Massachusetts for more than thirty years. A freelance writer, she has had bylines in the Christian Science Monitor and regional publications. As a personal historian, she has completed three memoirs. She is the producer of the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s Oral History Project, is an active member of the Association of Personal Historians, and serves as APH chapter coordinator for MA-RI-CT.

Credit for Bayou Texar postcard: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Editor’s Note: “Things That Matter” is an ongoing series that illustrates the importance of remembering the story behind everyday items in our lives. Something might be important because it was used and loved by someone important to us. Maybe the story of how the owner came to acquire  an item is significant. But when the person who knows the story is no longer around, these items are in danger of being discarded—of going to garage sales or the trash—and how sad that would be! Many members of APH work with clients to help save the stories of the important ‘things’ in their lives. What stories would YOU like to save?

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8 Responses to Things That Matter: Aunt Em’s Blue Bottles

  1. cj Madigan says:

    Lovely story, Marjorie. It’s interesting how such ordinary “things” can hold such meaning and memory. Some of my favorite things: a vegetable peeler, a drinking cup, a chair.

    • Marjorie says:

      And I would LOVE to hear about that interesting vegetable peeler, CJ. In fact, I have a small brown-handled knife that is coming with me if there is ever a fire in my house…

  2. Great story, Marjorie. I have a set of rosary beads given to my great grandmother about 1900 prior to her arrival in the United States. She carried it with her here, prayed with them every day until her passing at 98. The rosary beads were given to me 40 years ago by my grandmother. Just think of all the prayers that have been said on one set of rosary beads over the last 114 years.

  3. Marjorie, I’m still smiling. Thank you for a beautiful and touching story.

  4. Ben Chitty says:

    Great-great aunt – Marmee’s sister, Po’Lady’s aunt. We spent a lot of time at her house (barn) the year we lived in Pensacola. Fished off the dock on the bayou. She sold vegetables, fruits, squabs and pigeon eggs, maybe rabbits too. Maybe you should ask Uncle Ted about how she died.

    • Marjorie says:

      Dear Ben, yes, I should have clarified that Aunt Em was actually my (our) great-great aunt. It seems to escalate the generations so quickly when talking about aunts and uncles. Being the oldest of the cousins, you have better memories than other cousins. And uncle Ted did share about Aunt Em’s death–he was with her when she died, and she was buried in her dress shirt and black slacks–never a dress for Aunt Em!

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