Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Tribute to My Aunt Dorothy

Yesterday, on October 11, my favorite person in the entire world passed away. Aunt Dorothy was more like a second mom than an aunt. Below is a short writing, writteni n 2001, that began as "I Remember ....." about what I have called Aunt Dorothy Days. It's lengthy, but I can't cut a word out of it. I feel very thankful that I sent a copy of this to her some years ago, letting her know just how much I thought of her and loved her. Don't miss those moments .... be sure you tell the ones you love how important they are to you!


I remember waking up on those early Thursday mornings when I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4. I called them “Aunt Dorothy Days”.

Dorothy is my mom’s sister. Thursday was my dad’s payday, so we would be loaded up in the car at 5:30 a.m. to take him to work and we’d stay at Dorothy’s house for the morning, so my mom could pick up dad’s check at noon. I loved the early morning smell that somehow only was perceptible on those Thursdays. Maybe it was the moistness still in the air, or the coffee being perked to fill dad’s thermos. I don’t really know. I know I remember not being upset or cranky about getting up so early at such a young age and actually being excited about getting started.

Aunt Dorothy’s house was always special to me. She is my favorite aunt, my second mom. We’d get there after dropping dad off at the factory and Uncle Frank would sometimes be sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and maybe finishing up his breakfast. I remember a lot of bacon and egg aromas. Dorothy was in the corner of the kitchen, doing the ironing or dampening the clothes to prep them for ironing. She had a Coke bottle filled with water with a special cork stopper that let her sprinkle the wrinkled clothes with water to dampen them. They would be rolled up and stuffed in a basket or a plastic bag to be ironed later or the next day. That was such an Aunt Dorothy thing. She was the only person I knew who did it that way. I remember being so fascinated watching her sprinkle the clothes and wondering how she knew when it was enough water and never getting them TOO wet.

She always had a bowl of fruit on the kitchen table. It was an orange glass bowl with ridges all around the side. I learned later that this Depression Glass bowl belonged to her mother (my grandmother). We never had fruit in a bowl at our house and I always thought it made Aunt Dorothy’s kitchen look like a picture in a magazine.

After Uncle Frank would leave for work, Dorothy would wash the breakfast dishes. She never let them just sit in the side sink drainer to dry. She always dried them with a towel and put them away. Sometimes she’d let me help. I liked the rhythm she had when she dried dishes. She didn’t dry a plate and walk to the pantry to put it away. All the dishes were dried and set on the kitchen table. Then, when all were dry, she’d move them from the table to the built-in dish pantry on the other side of the kitchen. That’s when she’d let me help and I’d carefully carry one cup or one plate at a time over to her. She probably could have completed the task in half the time without my help, but I felt important and grown up putting away her dishes.

It was the greatest pantry and seemed so big. I remember the little hooks hanging from the underside of the shelves where the coffee cups would hang. All the cups matched and there were no “mugs”. These were delicate cups that matched the rest of the dishes. I remember thinking Dorothy had to be rich to have such pretty dishes and such a “fancy” way to hang the cups.

Dorothy lived in a great old brick house in the older part of town. Being 3 or 4 at the time, I remember the rooms being HUGE! I’m sure I’d be disappointed if I saw the house today, so I don’t want to see it now…or ever. I want to just remember it as the big old great house that is fixed forever in my memories. It had a black wrought iron fence around the yard and I liked playing that I was in jail behind those bars or I was a princess trapped in the evil castle, looking out of the barred window of my prison tower. I’ve always wanted a house with a fence like that. Maybe someday……

The front door had a big (brass?) …. Oh gosh, you can’t really call it a doorbell….It was in the center of the front door. A round brass circle with a handle that looked like the head of a big key. Turning the key around and around caused a bell to sound. It was really loud and I remember me and my younger sister Jean getting in trouble for playing with it too often.

The house had big wooden pocket doors between the front bedroom and the living room. I’m sure the original use of the front bedroom was not for sleeping, but it was always a bedroom when I was there. The doors were rarely shut, but I seem to remember trying to shut them once. They were very heavy and I think I got in trouble for my efforts.

During Christmas, I remember her Christmas tree sat in this front room, in front of the window that looked out on the street. She had a white artificial tree with one of those revolving lights that turned it green, red, yellow and blue. She was the only person I knew who had a white tree and I remember sitting for long periods of time in that room just watching it change colors. It was mesmerizing to me and I thought if I could ever have a tree like that when I grew up, then I’d be the luckiest person in the world. When we would drive past her house, I would crane my neck to see if she had the light on so I could see it through the window.

I was there one day when a truck pulled up and a couple of men starting carrying furniture into the house. Dorothy told me it was a new bedroom suite for the front bedroom….”it’s your bed for when you visit!” MY bed? She was getting me my own bed!! A big double bed just for me! Since I shared not only a bedroom, but also my bed with a sister, getting my own big bed (did I mention that it was “just for me”?)….well, I thought I was the Big It, let me tell ya!

Of course, it never ever occurred to me that this was the guest bedroom and who knew who else would be using this bed. Dorothy told me it was mine and that’s all I believed for a long time.

I remember this great little planter-type of flower pot she had. It sat for a long time on the dresser in the front bedroom (you know….MY bedroom dresser!). It was the head of woman with pearls around her neck. The flowers were coming out of her head. I remember staring at that planter, wondering if this ceramic beautiful woman was supposed to be Aunt Dorothy when she was young. I was probably too young to understand the Jackie Kennedy influence of wearing pearls back then, but I do remember thinking that only “Ladies” wore pearls and only “beautiful ladies” wore them well. I would gently touch the pearls, jerking my hand back if I heard anyone coming. I’ve looked at antique malls and garage sales to try to find one just like it for my home, but so far…no luck. That planter, to me, is an icon of “Aunt Dorothy’s House”.

Dorothy would let me eat raw spaghetti noodles and she’d let me play with her pans and dishes. I didn’t have to play with “toys” at her house….I got to play with “real” pans when I played House. One time, I finished my raw spaghetti and asked for more, but the rest of it was already cooking in the boiling water. Dorothy tried to salvage a strand of spaghetti out of the hot water for me before it cooked all the way down. I think I remember her getting one out and I happily munched away on my special treat.

During the summer, Beulah, her daughter-in-law, and Dorothy would lay in the backyard getting a tan. I didn’t like to sit in the sun and Dorothy set me up with crayons, coloring books, reading books, comic books and anything else she could find, in a chair in the shade. I would watch them lay in the sun, spreading the baby oil and iodine mixture all over themselves and putting wet cotton balls on their eyelids, under their sunglasses. At the end of the day, I remember wishing I looked as tan as they did, but still not willing to sit in the sun all day!

When Beulah lived there, I liked helping the two of them clean house. Of course, you couldn’t beg me to clean my own room at home, but this was different. They would start upstairs and just throw all the dirty laundry down the stairs. One day Jean was there with me. Being little girls in the early sixties, we still dressed up to “come to town”, even if that meant just going to Aunt Dorothy’s house, so we had dresses on with belts that tied in the back. Beulah let us throw the dirty clothes down the stairway, but she would stand behind us and hold our belts so we wouldn’t fall. The stairway would be littered with t-shirts, socks, underwear, towels, etc. Jean and I were helping Beulah gather the laundry off of the stairway. I was whining because Jean and Beulah were ahead of me, going up the stairs, and they were getting all the laundry, leaving none for me to pick up! Beulah started handing back a piece or two so I’d have some laundry to carry.

Wash day was always a fascinating time for me to be at Dorothy’s house. Thinking of everything they had to do back then is too overwhelming, compared to today, and I’m just thankful that I didn’t have to work that hard!! She had an old wringer washer and a big washtub. Clothes were washed in the washer and then pushed through the roller bars of the wringer washer. They were dipped in one side of the big washtub (I remember this was a floor model job with 2 BIG sections for water) and dipped (rinsed) in the second tub of clear water. It seems the clothes were ran thru the wringer 2 or 3 times between the wash and rinse process. I only remember watching Dorothy and Beulah do it together….never just one of them. And I sit here remembering it, it certainly was a 2-person job!! They had an efficient production line going and all of that laundry for 4 grown adults was always finished before it was time to start dinner.

I remember Dorothy hanging the laundry in the attic. She had lines run and a big wooden “thing” that I helped drape socks and washcloths over. It wasn’t the typical attic that had everything covered in layers of dust. I liked going to the attic but we weren’t allowed to play there. I only got to go in it on wash day.

I remember my 4th birthday. Dorothy had bought a rectangle shaped Dolly Madison type of cake. It was about 3 inches wide and 6 inches long. It was chocolate cake with white icing that had little chocolate stripes on it. Uncle Frank was there, too, so it may have been after he got home, or it could have been on a Saturday. They put 4 candles in it for me. I specifically remember it was my 4th because I told them, “I get another birthday cake when I go home. So I’ll have 2 birthday cakes. Two 4’s make me 44 years old!” (Wow. I was always good with math, huh?)

I remember watching her clean her dentures in the bathroom off of the kitchen. She always called it “washing my teeth”. I would think most 4-5 year olds might think it was a “yucky” thing, but I think I just loved anything my Aunt Dorothy did. She’d talk me through the process as she scrubbed her partial, showing me how she was getting in all the cracks so “her teeth” would be nice and clean. Her bathroom always smelled like the toilet disinfectant soap solids that she had hung inside the toilet bowl. I remember thinking that had to be one of the greatest smells in the world… was an Aunt Dorothy house smell.

I remember Dorothy walked me over to a little corner grocery just a block away. I think it was run by an old Italian man, but I’m not sure. It was in a big Victorian brick building where the shelves were still made of wood, the floors creaked and the man behind the counter called her “Mrs. Watson”.

One day Dorothy was making iced tea and was out of lemons so she let me go ALL BY MYSELF to that grocery. She watched and helped me cross 5th street but after that I was on my own. It was the first time I ever got to go somewhere by myself. The store was out of lemons, but he had a “new” kind of lemon. It was lemon juice inside a plastic lemon shaped container. I told him my Aunt Dorothy needed one lemon, not lemon juice. He said I could take the plastic lemon to my aunt and if she didn’t like the way it tasted then she didn’t have to pay for it. WOW! Not only was I allowed to go to the store by myself, but he was giving me the lemon juice without making me pay for it! AND….trusting me to pay for it if it worked out ok! Surely no 5 year old had done THAT before! Yeah….I thought I was really big.

Well, I remember Dorothy putting it in her tea and I remember some complaining about how she couldn’t tell how much she was using because it was a concentrate and heaven knows how the tea was going to taste! I have no idea if she decided it was worth paying for or not, but she didn’t send me back to the store again by myself after that.

Dorothy made the best iced tea. She had an amber colored glass ice tea pitcher and she’d cut up the lemons and they’d just float around in the tea. It was so pretty to look at. I remember marveling that for all the lemon that was in it, it never tasted sour like I expected it to. She didn’t refrigerate it. It sat on the counter, I think by the sink. My friends today compliment me that no one makes tea like I do, but I tell them, “then you’ve never tasted my Aunt Dorothy’s tea. No body makes it better.”

I remember a picture of Uncle Frank that hung in their bedroom. It was a picture of him when he was young. I think he was still in the Navy. I always thought he was the most handsome man in the world. I remember going into their bedroom and just staring at that picture for a long time. Even as a kid, I knew the man in that picture was what people called a “handsome man”. I didn’t know who Clark Gable was at the time, but looking back, that’s who Uncle Frank looked like….a young Clark Gable. He had that small pencil-mustache (I don’t ever remember seeing him without a mustache) and a rugged, strong face. In the picture, he was staring out into the distance, like he was seeing where it was he was going next.

I remember Uncle Frank would park his car across the street in the YMI parking lot, not on the street in front of the house. I can remember him coming home and watching him walk across the street. I don’t know if I had put into words to myself that he was “my hero”, but I liked watching for him. He always had a “jaunt” in his walk, a spring in his step like a man who is confident in what he is. He’d see me on the porch or in the doorway, and would break into a grin….a grin that was reflected in his eyes. And when he’d laugh, he’d laugh with his whole face.

I don’t remember what his favorite cuss words were, but I remember there were a lot of ‘em!! I’m not sure if he knew they were cuss words, they were so much a part of his vocabulary. But an Uncle Frank who didn’t cuss just wouldn’t have been my Uncle Frank. I remember hearing from others that Uncle Frank was a “tough son of a gun” but I also remember knowing that I thought he was the best, the most fun, and the gentlest uncle in the world.

I remember dancing with him. I felt so grown up. Uncle Frank would patiently humor me when I wanted to dance with him. I’m sure he thought I was a pain in the butt, but he’d turn on the radio or put on one of his and Dorothy’s favorite records and we’d dance in the living room. He had a pouchy tummy that was the perfect height for me to lay my head on while he showed me how to slow dance. I don’t’ think I stepped on his feet TOO often.

After dinner, we’d sit on the front porch. They had these great old metal chairs that Dorothy kept painted up pretty. I don’t ever remember seeing any rust on them. Even tho’ they were old, they always looked new. Frank would water the sidewalk, which I thought was a dumb thing to do. Why do you need to water a sidewalk and not the grass? It wasn’t until years later that someone explained to me how it cools the sidewalk on a hot day and makes it more comfortable to sit on the porch. (OHHHhhhhh!)

Uncle Frank had a way of clearing his throat and he would spit “whatever” out over the side of the porch into the grass. I thought he was so great because he could spit so far and hit the grass everytime!

Sometimes Frank would start singing. In a low, deep voice he would render a gospel tune or a country song. Kind of singing to himself, but loud enough so that others could hear him. I remember somehow just knowing that he wasn’t making any effort for anyone else to hear him. He was singing for himself because he liked the song and I think he just liked to sing. I remember sitting on that front porch thinking he should have been a big singing star because his voice was so deep and he sang so well. Sometimes Dorothy would sing with him and the two of them were in their own musical world, their voices mixing together in a way that wasn’t quite perfect, yet sounding so good that I didn’t want them to stop.

Listening to him sing is one of my very favorite memories.

Footnote added October 12, 2011: Aunt Dorothy died last night. I’m sure going to miss her. As much as I still miss my Uncle Frank.


Don't cry because it's over .... Smile because it happened. ---- Dr. Seuss

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