WHITNEY CAIN, PHD

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Ode to Aunt Dot

Aunt Dot just celebrated her 95th birthday.  To mark the occasion, it’s now officially tradition to revisit “Ode to Aunt Dot.”  I hope you enjoy the flashback and, most of all, I wish a  Happy Birthday to Aunt Dot.

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Everyone needs an eccentric aunt and Dot is mine.  At 19 Dot married a gorgeous, older, somewhat narcissistic air force pilot named Hank and was widowed just 7 years later.  He left her boxes of love letters, receipts for gifts to other women, and a very nice pension.  Once on her feet, Dot found single life suited her and turned to living it just as she pleased.

Dot treated me like a beloved small dog accompanying its person in a purse.  I would leave suburbia’s toiles and stripes for a night in her downtown velvets and geometric prints.  She smoked Satin brand cigarettes and let me hold one unlit until I was 10 when she let me have a puff or two.  We discussed politics, fashion, and her therapy clients. 

On her seventy-fifth birthday Aunt Dot treated herself to a loaded Grand Prix. “Pricks” according to Dot.  (“Honey, there’s an “x” on the end, isn’t there?”) Dents and dings covered it within three months.  When I asked her about them she replied, “Sugardoodle, I’ve run into some things.”  The car still looked super in the right light.

Like her Pricks, Dot has a fair number of dents and dings.  Her essential “Dot-ness” remains, but what seemed feisty and festive in her younger years looks ornery and difficult now.  She chain-smokes and won’t even pretend to use the smokeless ashtray we gave her.  During my kids’ last visit, they asked her for some M&Ms.  She barked, “Lord no!  I eat those during Jeopardy!”  This and their school’s anti-smoking indoctrination put the kibosh on their (voluntary) future visits.

Recently Dot dug out her letters to and from Hank.  She reads and rereads them, reconstructing their face-to-face marriage to match the written one. She owns this reconstruction, noting it makes her happier than what actually was and what is now.  Dot doesn’t negate her past.  She rearranges it to show off its best side, then stands back and admires her handiwork.  I don’t think we should take all of Dot’s lessons, but we might take a few.

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ClarityWhitney Cain