Undergarments and Aunt Kate

Letter U: Twenty-first of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

My dad was always ready with a story about one family member or another — that’s how I learned about undergarments and Aunt Kate.

My paternal grandmother’s sister Katherine (Owen) Negri. Aunt Kate’s career was fitting and selling women’s undergarments. I met her as a child when she visited during a business trip. Family photo courtesy of Jane (Owen) Dukovic

Her full name was Katherine (Owen) Negri. She was one of my paternal grandmother’s larger-than-life Welsh-Irish sisters from Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Md. — and I actually met her a couple of times when I was growing up.

“She came to visit us at the farm once,” Dad said. “Her voice was so loud that she scared you every time she talked.” I was a toddler at the time, so I don’t really recall that visit.

But she came to see us another time — after we moved near Binghamton, Broome County, N.Y., and she was living in New York City — and that’s the visit I remember.

Aunt Kate was tall and fashionable in a tailored dress — deep green, if I recall correctly — and I was mesmerized by her tiny folding umbrella. We always carried the big umbrellas with the hooked handle, so I stared and stared at her little umbrella hanging from the doorknob.

“Are you trying to figure out how it works?” She asked, startling me from my reverie. And before I could answer, she popped it open to full size — amazing!

Kate Martin’s career

I always wondered how she came to call. When I asked Dad he said it was because Aunt Kate’s career was selling women’s undergarments, and she was in our area on a business trip.

“She traveled from one department store to another doing fittings. She’d put an ad in the paper the week before, with her photo and everything, to announce she was coming,” he explained. “She used the name Kate Martin for business, so if somebody telephoned and asked for that name, she’d know it was a business call.”

When I moved to New York City after college, one of my paternal relatives told me, “You’re just like Kate.”

I laughed at that. But maybe there is something to it. Because soon enough I had a career and an assertive city personality to go with it. And now when it rains, I reach into my bag and take out a little folding umbrella — just like the one Aunt Kate astonished me with all those years ago.

Up next: Vincenzo Del Negro witnesses a wedding. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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15 thoughts on “Undergarments and Aunt Kate”

  1. Aunt Kate seems larger than life, and how glamorous she looked!!

    I loved the story of the umbrella and its link to the present…great storytelling.

    1. I think this may have been one of her Kate Martin publicity photos. She’ll be back on the blog in the future, now that she has made her first appearance! Nothing like aunts and uncles to spice up the family saga 🙂

  2. I laughed so much reading this as it transported me decades back to when I worked in a ladies underwear department in my school holidays. I had hoped to be sent to something nice and fashionable and instead spent weeks folding ladies underwear only for the customers to open it all out again! I remember the first time I had to actually fit a bra on someone and how embarrassed I was. I thought the manager of the department was so mean making me keep on folding, but guess what? I never forgot what she taught me and always fold my own things as she had taught me! And when I went nursing I always folded my patients’ underwear exactly as they were folded in the very upmarket department store. Thanks for making me remember something that happened about 45 years ago!

    1. What a great story, Lorraine! You have the makings of a fabulous blog post or short memoir piece in this tale. So happy to have brought back a treasured memory to you. Thanks for your visit!

  3. Just barely remember Kate, when she came to our house-warming party that my mom and dad had after building the house that Joyce and I live in now. She tried to walk out the back porch door (before the porch was there) and was promptly caught by Hubert and Norman. Do you remember Cesar? Did you ever meet him? I think they were married, but do not know for sure. Hubert told of going to their apartment in New York City upon his return from WWII. He always remarked as to how small it was.


    1. Thanks, Randy, for another Aunt Kate story! I can just see your dad and mine rushing to her rescue. Yes, she and Cesar were married. I don’t recall meeting him, but I have found some family history records pertaining to him. Hope to do a more detailed post about Aunt Kate and Cesar in the future — as well as see whether the building she lived in is still there.

  4. Nothing like a good umbrella and a fashionable outfit to make an impact on a young mind. Sounds like you inherited Aunt Kate’s personality as well as her umbrella sense.

  5. Molly, Kate is my favorite type of ancestor. I remember my grandparents sisters visiting from the UK. I loved playing with their jewels. I didn’t know it was costume jewels. Fran

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