My only aunt died recently at the age of ninety-two. Peculiar is how my mother describes her sister. It is a kind word choice considering, and gives my aunt personality and style, rather than label her strange.
Born on January 13, 1920, her dad, Charles Achilles DeSalvo, proudly named her Marie Antoinette, (while her mom was sedated) though she was called Carol; and legally changed her name once twenty-one.
As a twelve-year-old, I thought her a princess arranging articles of clothing (padded bras, garter belts and silk panties) on the bed, to wear after a bath. She wore high heel, open toe, sling back shoes lined with Kleenex tissues, as slippers; bathed with Palmolive soap, used a pumice stone to ward off foot callous, brushed with tooth powder and applied makeup sitting at a dressing table in a house coat. The final step once I zippered her newest dress was to take out the Bobbie-pins and comb through her hair. She did not dilly-dally wanting to be only fashionably late for cocktails.
Aunt Carol was frozen in time. Nothing changed for her since 1958 when she owned a green Buick. She had a Nancy Regan style, but never went to Washington. Her hair-do the day she died was the same as the day my parents married. She never had children and did not marry until sixty. She did not wear slacks, low shoes, socks, or sneakers. Every dress she owned was individually surrounded with plastic and stored in a closet. I still can hear her response to the mention of denim, “Only cowboys wear denim,” she said with a sharp rise in her voice, clutching a tissue.
Aunt Carol loved to shop and demonstrated peculiar behavior at the checkout. She watched carefully every item rung up as though it was her first trip to Disney then waited for the cashier to ask, “Will that be cash or charge?” which did not happen. Aunt Carol eventually said “Credit Card,” with a look of distain, opened the metal clasp on her black leather purse, and removed a zip lock bag. A wallet wrapped in Kleenex tissue; the tissue secured by a blue rubber band was inside the plastic. Unwrapping, the wallet was a slow process that suspended time for everyone around her. Eventually she removed a credit card and paid. I wonder what her life would have been as Marie Antoinette DeSalvo.