I never tasted butterscotch without thinking of Aunt Charlotte
Charlotte was an odd woman. My earliest memories of her are of us walking to the library when I visited her, Grandma and Grandpa in Tulsa. We checked out the same book every visit, and I wish I could remember what it was. She smelled clean and soapy, and she wore sensible shoes. Her burgundy late-60’s Nash Rambler smelled just like the public library and was always full of overdue books. Charlotte, Grandma and I made Cook & Serve pudding – usually butterscotch – and us 3 night owls stayed up all night, listened to The Beatles, Pink Floyd and classical records, and they watched me dance and roll around in Grandma’s colorful scarf collection until I finally passed out. Charlotte sold Tupperware for a brief period in the 80’s, and she even had a company station wagon with faux wood panels on the exterior. I still have several of those weird Tupperware gadgets, and to this day, I have no idea what most of them are for. And they all remind me of Charlotte. When I was about 8 or 9, the three of them moved back to OKC, and that’s when Charlotte went to college at OCU and graduated with honors. She lived with her parents until she finally married at 57 years old, to a man she met – where else – at the library.
I can’t believe I’ll never hear her high, soft voice again, asking me slowly, clearly, intelligently “What are you doing?” She wasn’t just making conversation, she was truly interested. As uptight as you might imagine a virgin Catholic librarian to be, she was often quite tickled by off-color jokes and jabs, and made many priceless ones herself. She moved at 1/10 the speed the rest of us did, but still managed to get things done. And she was always very kind and gentle to me, and never gave me any crap about anything. For extra pocket money during my high school years, I helped her implement a bar code system at the Catholic elementary school library she worked at. She usually had chicken salad croissant sandwiches (with crisp dill pickles on the side), waiting for us in the faculty lounge fridge when we found ourselves ravenous from hours of sticker sticking and scanning. I recently asked her if she remembered where she got those sandwiches, and to my amazement, she had forgotten, too. Food and restaurants were not something Charlotte forgot about easily. It didn’t feel right to me that she didn’t remember – and it was not a good sign of things to come.
Last Friday, Mom and I took a short road trip to Robertson’s to get our Thanksgiving ham. We had been trying to figure out how to get Charlotte with us this Thursday – we would either bring her to us for a few hours, or find a way to get some Thanksgiving goodies to her in the hospital, if it would be allowed. Earlier this evening, Mom advised me that after the crazy day Charlotte had, it was best to let her rest tonight. So I planned to go Thanksgiving shopping at the grocery and take a bath this evening, and just go see Charlotte tomorrow. Things had been so up in the air with her recovery for the last week or so, so I stayed away, to let her rest and heal … but I thought about her constantly.
We had prepared ourselves for an unusual Thanksgiving this year – one without Charlotte around for the preparation and normal conversation was going to be very unusual, indeed. I was not prepared at all for her to just be gone, forever, where none of us could get to her or talk to her any more. Not yet. I knew that a call from Mom at 1:20am couldn’t be about anything good. The most wonderful, amusing people are permanent fixtures in your life, for your entire life and then suddenly… they’re not.
Dear Charlotte, if there is anything good at all in that Catholic Heaven of yours, they will let me send one last message to you. Thanks for letting us laugh with you and at you at the same time, the books, the cookies and pies, the snail’s pace and the stacks and stacks of paper. Thanks for letting me hang out in your room, wear your Liz Claiborne, and for making me bacon sandwiches for breakfast in 4th and 5th grade. Thanks for letting me eat mustard and ketchup sandwiches, drink Tang and read books all summer in your old, tattered, squeaky rocking chair. Thanks for the pointless piddling and dilly-dallying to the point of making everyone want to rip their own hair out. Your unique, sometimes infuriating Charlotte-ness never went by without just as much fondness. You will always be one of my few favorite people. I’ll never forget you and I’ll miss you terribly. So long.
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