Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How I Want to Act When I Grow Up

Whew. I'm happy it's January and am so ready for this fresh start. My master plan for 2012 is fairly simple:

1. Get Mama Bear through a back surgery next week and quickly on the recovery road,
2. Begin writing that novel. Finish it by Memorial Day December and most importantly,
3. Live life fully. 

I'm taking number three very seriously this year. I recently attended two funerals on top of all the other hectic things December and January brought, and as a result I'm finding myself a bit wary that I'm at the age where I'm now attending more funerals than weddings in a twelve month period.

Can somebody please step up and get married? Hello, sister-in-law? Brother-in-law? And reproduce already? I'd like to be an Aunt again before I reach my own personal semi-centennial, thank you very much.

I'm feeling a bit reflective thanks to a fabulous aunt I'm blessed to have in my life. Great Aunt, actually. 

Aunt Doll.

Yes. Her name is Doll. Delia, officially. When I was a tot, my cousin called her (insert breathy, British accent with soft vowel sounds), "Ahun-tay Deel-e-yah." It stuck for me. Sometimes I call her Ahuntay Deeleyah. Or Aunt fun is that? Or plain old Aunt Doll. But I always follow my initial salutation with the same question when she arrives at my mother's house. "Would you like a cocktail?"

"Oh, no. Not really."

"You sure?"

"Well, ok. Alright. Yes, I'll have a drink."

"What would you like?"

"How about a Manhattan? And don't chintz me on the booze."

Rock on Dollie. One stiff Manhattan coming right up. You gotta love a woman at any age who knows a good libation and isn't afraid to tie one on. 

After she downs half the drink, she starts reminiscing. She takes us all back to the entertaining, nostalgic, adventuresome days of her youth. 

We all enjoy the trips down her memory lane to a much simpler time when homes were absent of technology, and cell phones and iPads were unfathomable. When ladies sat at formica-topped kitchen tables, chain smoking, cocktailing at noon and gabbing away versus relying on feel-goody Oprah for entertainment. 

When hitchhiking was a romantic mode of transportation, not a sure fire way to end up dismembered in various truck stop garbage bins across the country. She and her young husband thumbed it from Florida to California? San Francisco to Washington State? 

The departure and destination locales change occasionally with her stories, but it doesn't matter. Girlfriend lived audaciously, despite the 'normal' conventions of her day. She spent a lot of time at Arlington Racetrack where her brothers and uncles and friends were jockeys. She danced her nights away at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. She wasn't rich, but she wrote the textbook on living fully. 

Midway through her first cocktail, she gets a bit sassy with me. Saying that her husband was a bartender, you know, and back in the day a real bartender would never serve a drink like the one I just handed her. 

I feel a bit nervous. The woman is ninety-two, after all. Why did I make that drink so stiff? Why didn't I depart from the Manhattan bible and slip in a little club soda or something? What was I thinking?

"Why's that, Aunt Doll?"

"A bartender would never have poured this Manhattan over ice. Dilutes the liquor, ya know."

Duh. Shame on me. I should have asked her if she likes her drink on the rocks or up rather than assuming a little melted water wouldn't offend.

But one of my old photos catches her red handed, drinking her cocktail circa 1963 with ice present. And why is it that we downsized our Manhattan glasses over the years?  

One thing I noticed during our Thanksgiving visit with Dollie is that we cannot help but touch her, put our arms around her, hug her and sit closely to her. And she reciprocates. She literally clings to those around her. I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that she lives alone, has over nine decades of life on this Earth under her belt, and feels the desire to be physically close with the people she loves whenever she can for as long as possible. I love it.

Her hand did not leave my father's leg as she sipped her cocktail with the offensive ice cubes.

She clung to my brother's hand as he caught up with her and enjoyed being in her presence.

She embraced Jake in an extra, extra long hug that he'd typically call awkward, but with Delia, he just kept on hanging on.

Sister-in-law Kelly took a turn sitting close to Aunt Doll with the occasional pat on her leg, too. Notice Delia moved on - dinner was forthcoming, after all - to a nice Chardonnay.

And although I didn't capture a photo of it, she reached out and ran her fingers through Kahley's hair when she came in for a hug and a chat. I imagined what a 14 year old's hair must look and feel like to a 92 year old.

Spun silk. It was such a beautiful moment that I'm sure nobody else in the room noticed. But Ahuhtay Deeleyah and I did. 

In fifty years I want to emulate this woman's spirit and zest for life. I want to go for a walk every day around my little apartment complex. I want to watch golf tournaments and read trashy novels in my spare time. I want to look out the window and curse the wind for blowing a single, blasted leaf into the yard I just raked. I want to get into verbal screaming matches with my brother on which state is better - California or Wisconsin. But unlike Dollie, hopefully I'll refrain from calling him names, even though it can be hilarious to watch senior citizens in a passionate brawl. I want to go to my great nephew's home and drink Manhattans sans ice and talk about the days when Mr. Musky and I vacationed and referred to a paper map for directions with no cell phones for emergencies - how dangerous and romantic!

And when my great niece's husband drives me home, I want to exclaim, "OK, Johnny. Time to get this corpse out of here!"

I just need a few more nieces and nephews to ensure this can happen.

Get on it, family members!