Saturday, November 7, 2009
Aunt Alice was my maternal grandmother's exotic glamorous sister. She was tall and thin and had long wavy hair. She wore pants. In the 60's. She had modern eyeglasses and separate prescription sunglasses. Her smallish efficient house in town was furnished in snappy new modern curving sweeping chrome and glass assemblages. It was not a particularly warm place, nor was she personally, at least not compared to my grandmother and her big house with wooden and upholstered furniture and wood floors and wide arching doorways and cooking smells that constantly radiated from Grandpa's kitchen. Aunt Alice and Uncle Melvin took exotic vacations, probably on airplanes. They talked of their children who lived far away because of exotic jobs. Uncle Melvin had slicked back hair and I remember his clothes as being rather glossy somehow. He had some of those cool shirts that you didn't have to tuck in from some exotic foreign country. Ah, yes, they were the most glamorous couple I knew. And Aunt Alice herself was the keystone of that glamor, I was certain. And one of the most glamorous things about my glamorous great aunt was that she smoked. She had crystal and chrome ash trays everywhere. Enormous wonders that were more a shrine to the glamor of smoking than functional, for she would never ever let any but the tiniest bit of ash accumulate in their massive bowls. Some had lighters build into them. Best of all, next to her sleek accent chairs, even in her kitchen next to the dining table, she had smoking stands. A little shelf or perhaps a small drawer held cigarettes and the top was solely dedicated to the holding of the resting cigarette and the collection of the ashes. I remember a chrome and black smoking stand and another that had a chrome base and chrome bowl separate by a sculptural exotic wood stand. I remember the crystal and silver bowl of another. I remember her gesturing, sometimes broadly, sometimes in little quick movements, with a cigarette in her hand, smoke curling and twisting and rising. I remember her telling some story and the measure of how upset or excited she was about the goings-on could be had by how much her hand shook when she went to flick the ashes into the ash tray. I have vague memories of my sister and I sitting cross legged on the floor, our elbows on our knees and our chins in our hands, doing nothing but watching this exotic creature do her glamorous exotic things with rapt attention, but I am sure we were never quite that blatant in our astonishment and admiration. Ah, it is a wonder I am not a smoker just to emulate Aunt Alice. What accumulation of effects in my childhood made the desire to be good and healthy, to refrain from smoking, overcome the lure of the glamor of Aunt Alice?