- Courtesy of Joseph A. Citro
Strictly speaking, Aunt Ida wasn't a relative. In my childhood, it was proper for young people to address all older women as "aunt." But she was as close as family. She was the earliest formative influence I can identify and probably the first person I met in this world after my parents brought me home from Rutland Hospital.
"Home" was Aunt Ida's house. I didn't realize until much later that we were her tenants.
Fact is, she was more like a grandmother than a landlady. She was in her seventies when I was born. The door separating our apartments was never closed.
I can remember peeking in to see her sitting in her padded rocking chair by the window, black shoes on a footstool, rectangular magnifying glass poised above her as she read — a newspaper, a letter, a book or the Bible.
She'd look up, smile and invite me to the "Davenport." We'd sit side by side while she read to me. On sunny days, we'd likely sit on the porch — the "piazza," she called it — in matching rockers. There, she taught me the names of the birds, showing me how to describe my surroundings. The birds were everywhere, like flying flowers. I remember telling her that the bluebirds looked like robins, colored wrong.
As easily as she ingrained words and stories into my life, Aunt Ida demonstrated to me what being a true Vermonter was all about.
Ida May Fuller was born in 1874 on a farm right there in Ludlow and went to school with Calvin Coolidge. She was a teacher until 1905, though she was still teaching when I knew her, politely and often humorously correcting me. ("You ought to really know grammar," she joked before giving me the scoop on split infinitives.)
With the money she saved, she went to Boston to study business. Then, from 1905 until she retired in 1939, she worked as a legal secretary for John G. Sargent, who would become attorney general in the Coolidge administration.
- Courtesy of Joseph A. Citro
- Joe Citro, as a child, with Ida May Fuller
She never touched coffee or tea, preferring a cup of hot water with her meals. She never raised her voice nor appeared to be angry or confused about anything. She could quote the Bible but didn't. Instead, she quietly lived and taught the principles of Jesus. "He's as much alive now as he ever was," she once told me.
And she never married. Those who didn't call her Aunt Ida addressed her as Miss Fuller. Everyone knew she was independent; some might have said she was ahead of her time, but she wouldn't have gone along with that.
Aunt Ida achieved some unexpected local notoriety when she was invited to appear on the television show "I've Got a Secret" with Garry Moore. Her secret? She was the first person in America to be issued a Social Security check, number 00-000-001.
She emphatically refused to be on the show, though. It wasn't that she didn't want her secret known, just that the show's sponsor was a tobacco company and smoking was against her principles. Aunt Ida never smoked nor owned a television.
She was 100 years old when she died, in 1975.
While many things led me to become a writer, Aunt Ida was a very potent part of the alchemy. She taught me about the world, a thing or two about women, and the best things about Vermont and Vermonters — principle and independence — all from her sofa, her piazza and her heart.