Saturday, May 24, 2008

Aunt Dorth

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, my Aunt Dorothy died early last month. She hadn't been in the best of health, but we hadn't expected to lose her so soon.

Like my Aunt Helen, Aunt Dorothy was a nun. (My Uncle Bob was a priest.) Aunt Dorth also had a doctorate in music education. I don't know what the salary range is for a professor with a doctorate, but I figure it amounts to a decent chunk of change, especially if the prof has tenure. Aunt Dorth was a teacher at the same college for 38 years and formerly ran its music department. (Before that, she taught at diocesan schools for 12 years.)

Because she was a nun, I believe her salary went to her order. Which, I'm sure, was fine with her. She wasn't in it for the money; the teaching -- her calling, really -- was the main thing. Two contributors to the online guest book accompanying her obituary make it clear that she "really cared about her students and made each feel special." And I'm sure you could find at least 200 other former students (maybe even 2,000) who would echo that sentiment.

I'm sorry to say I never had Aunt Dorth as a teacher. I did take piano lessons for about five years, but my teacher was a nun who had taught Aunt Dorth. After this nun left my school for another assignment, I decided to drop the lessons, and I've always remembered how disappointed my aunt was, though she didn't scold me or otherwise try to give me grief. I think she actually thought I might have a future in music, and although I still think I was right (music remains a favorite hobby, but I wouldn't enjoy having to perform for money, even if I were that good), I still feel a little bad that I disappointed her, and I feel more than a little heartened that she seemed to have so much belief in me.

A few other memories:

Once while she was visiting us, we were going to have hot dogs for dinner. "I like hot dogs, but they don't like me," she said. To literal-minded little me, this seemed absurd. How could hot dogs not like someone? I know better now, much better, and could someone please pass the bicarbonate?

(By the way, to show you how things have changed over the years, until about the mid-1960s, when my aunts came to town for a visit, they couldn't stay overnight with us; my mom had to drive them to the parish convent, a few blocks away. Yet my uncle could always stay overnight. Go figure....)

Until I was about 12, my aunts wore a traditional habit, which meant we kids didn't know what their hair looked like. No big deal, except that we knew (our mom had told us) that Aunt Dorth, who was a very young-acting thirtysomething, had hair that turned white at a very early age. (Whoa! Cue "Twilight Zone" sound effect.) When my aunts switched to a more modern habit, we were prepared for our first view of the fabled hair. But it still took some getting used to....

Aunt Dorth earned her master's degree in Boston. During that time, I think she and some other nuns briefly met JFK. I do know for sure that I would much rather have stood in the middle of an arena and waved five red flags at five different bulls than to so much as imply, in her presence, that Mr. Kennedy's feet had been at least dipped in clay.

But I think the thing I'll always treasure about Aunt Dorth -- something that I'm ashamed to say didn't occur to me while she was alive -- is that our relationship evolved over the years. This doesn't always happen with one's older relatives or family friends, who can sometimes, despite the passage of years, still see you and treat you as if you've never completely reached adulthood.

At the beginning, of course, I was the kid and Dorothy was the aunt. (I still remember how, even in recent years, she enjoyed telling people that I pronounced "Peter and the Wolf" as "Peter and the Wilf.") But after I became an adult (chronologically, at least), she treated me as an adult, which (if this logic isn't too twisted) helped me to become an adult in truth. She was an invaluable confidante -- and friend.

And at some point I hope to tell you about my Uncle Bob.

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