When you’re a flat-chested, white-skinned, ten-year-old red-head with transparent eyelashes, you really want nothing more than to grow up into a voluptuous, raven-haired beauty with skin that tans. At least, that’s all I ever wanted at that age.
Alas, redheads stay redheads – redheads who would pay any amount of money for a decent supply of melanin. And voluptuousness? While showing up in some of the female members on my mother’s side of the family, it apparently wasn’t in genes I inherited from either side.
Aunt Doris, nine years younger than my mother, was the sophisticated, single beauty I longed to be. The golden child of the five children in my mother’s family, she was beautiful, smart, savvy, eager to leave and make her fortune in the city, AND had plenty of melanin. My kind of woman.
Of course, it helped that she brought back sophisticated gifts from the city for me: a cuddly black-and-white Panda bear that played Brahm’s Lullaby; a knock-em-dead, white-fox child’s muff and stole set; and various other urbane goodies.
Obviously, I was her favorite niece. I’m not entirely sure this would’ve been true if she’d been married then and had her own children to spoil. Nevertheless, she wasn’t, I was nearby, and she spoiled me. Thus, she became my favorite aunt.
It’s odd the things
an odd child will remember.
When I think of glamorous Aunt Doris, I remember the weekend of her wedding. I was left in her Indianapolis apartment with a babysitter while the rest of the family trooped off to the evening rehearsal. This gave me plenty of time to see how city-dwellers live, while the babysitter lost herself in her juicy True Confessions magazine.
My parents, as residents of rural Indiana, were still using an antiquated oak, wall-hung telephone which could only call across a small hill to my grandparents, who had a real telephone capable of connecting to the rest of the world. You can understand, then, my fixation with sophisticated Aunt Doris’ smart black desk phone on a diminutive lady’s desk in her living room. Its numbers were crisp black on very bright white circles of what my six-year-old mind surmised to be real pearl. Ours, on the other hand, were faded black on disgustingly dirty yellow circles of who-knew-what.
I didn’t mind one bit that I’d been deemed too young to go to the rehearsal; I was staying in a place that could’ve been the movie set for any number of 1940s and 1950s movies I’d seen with my parents. Katherine Hepburn had nothing on me. I amused myself by flouncing around Aunt Doris’ city apartment awaiting Spencer Tracy’s dramatic and inevitable arrival.
Though I attended Aunt Doris’s and Uncle Ray’s wedding, I have no personal memories of it. That’s not to say I don’t know what happened and how everyone looked. I do. I know because I paid attention to the eight-by-ten wedding glossies in my grandparents’ album. Crisp black and white, they were taken by a professional photographer (not inept Great Uncle Charlie).
Thanks to the pro, I didn’t have to use much imagination; every detail was sharp and memory-making. Again and again on a steamy Indiana summer’s day, I climbed the stairs to the upstairs south bedroom of my grandparents’ 1840s red-brick home. There in the privacy of a bedroom left with only faint whisperings of classy Aunt Doris’ cologne, I’d sit on the brown-painted, wide-planked wood floors and pore over her wedding photos.
There was handsome Uncle Ray, with his new D.C. degree fresh under his belt, in his crisp black tuxedo with shiny satin lapels and Aunt Doris in a gloriously full-skirted, floor-length white gown (with the mandatory six-foot-long train). Of course, there was the rest of the wedding party, but they paled in comparison to my favorite aunt.
In the same trunk with the album, showcasing beautiful Aunt Doris and her beautiful bridesmaids, was a bridesmaid dress Aunt Doris had apparently worn in one of their weddings. It was sooo elegant – rich emerald-green satin with a V-cut neck and slender sleeves that came to a V just above the knuckles and buttoned up the wrist with painfully tiny pearl buttons.
Of course, I had to try it on.
What a disappointment: it swallowed my ten-year-old frame. It didn’t help that I was small for my age. Even enormous wads of toilet paper surreptitiously stolen from the bathroom downstairs and stuffed into the very pointy bust area (remember, this was the fifties) didn’t help.
I preened in front of the long vanity mirror, standing as tall as possible. I tried desperately to look a voluptuous, beautiful, and sophisticated 24 – the oldest I could possibly imagine myself. I so hoped that one day I really would be all those things – a younger version of glamorous Aunt Doris.
I even tried my hand at a grand bridal entrance. I’d slowly descend the 1840s, brown-and-cream-painted staircase, pausing for subtle effect on the landing, for the benefit of a bevy of imaginary family members in the hall below. Then, paying very close attention to the stairs (as I frequently tripped during this scene of the play), I slowly and carefully minced down the stairs in a dress fifteen inches too long.
It could’ve all been so grand.
Yikes. Time for a reality check. Here am I a great deal past 24, and not once has anyone ever described me as voluptuous or beautiful or sophisticated. And where did I get married? In a small, southern town’s church with nary a staircase in sight and all my relatives 500 miles away. If I’d been correctly dropped in the city by Mr. Stork, I’m certain things would have been different.
Or would they?
The Pay-Attention Bit
Speculating about how things might’ve been better if such-and-such had happened to us – pay attention – is not time well spent.
- I got on with it and gave up blaming Mr. Stork a long time ago.
- I finally came to terms with being a redhead and having the melanin-challenged skin that inevitably comes with the territory.
- I even got over my decided lack of glamour and voluptuousness.
- Getting over it and getting on with it are the only ways to make peace with “what might have been.”
- Getting over it and getting on with it are two skills that can help us laugh at ourselves and our silly notions.
- Getting over it is just about the only way we can motivate ourselves to change our thinking so that we can get on with our lives.
- Getting over it and getting on with it work waaay better than self-medication.
Good news is coming. Even if we weren’t dealt the hand we think we should’ve been dealt, most of us can look back and find examples of how things did go right. In Odd #7, you’ll read about a perfect example of that: a nostalgic story that shows even though Mr. Stork stupendously screwed up, the adults in the story performed admirably.
© 2014, Teresa Bennett
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