That’s My Cousin. Learning How to Love Life

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My cousin Dorothy was a big woman. She was loud, smart and a wonderful Southern cook. She could be wildly inappropriate.

Dorothy was our first cousin. She was my mom’s best friend since they were born. She called my mom, Nat.

Dorothy lived with us, off and on. Whenever one of her cousins did something good, Dorothy would be in the audience holding a big bunch of balloons, sitting with my mother. She would shout, “That’s my cousin!” as your name was announced. You might as well wave as she would keep shouting until you did.

When mom came home from work, Dorothy was there to share that first cold one (beer) with her. They drank too much.

It was comforting at night when we went to bed; we could hear could them talking. It was calming to know they were sitting in the kitchen playing cards, talking BS, and laughing.

Mom and Dorothy played loud music on their bad days, sometimes smoking a little pot. They danced to music whenever something good or bad happened.

Both of them loved sad, cry in your beer songs when their relationships were going well.

My mother had six bad kids; my dad did not live with us. Dorothy helped.

Mom and Dorothy loved to dress up and go out. Neither of them could drive so they were limited to walking to the corner bar. I would watch them put on their wigs and lashes. Eyeliner, lipstick and mascara followed. Add a brightly colored dress or a pants suit. They looked good.

Nat was the queen bee at 1523. Dorothy always cheered for Nat and Nat’s kids. 1523 was what my mom called our house. If there were a problem, mom would say “We are not doing that at 1523.” Once those four numbers came out of her mouth, everyone listened.

Dorothy would disappear for months, then come back as if she had never been gone, slipping seamlessly back into our lives.

We loved to upset her; she had a big “potty mouth.” Us kids loved the cursing because she had an accent. She said “R. Kelly” as “Aurrrrah Kelly. “

She gave both my toddlers chicken bones to chew on as their teeth came in. She fed them the liquor from collard greens. She was smiling as the babies slurped it up. They were her cousins, too.

Dorothy stuck a teeny tiny piece of soap up my daughter’s butt to end her constipation, then laughed at the copious amount of poo that shot out of the baby’s butt. It required a serious cleanup party. The baby had been crying for hours. My baby went to sleep in the bath during clean-up.

She threw spilled salt over her shoulder for luck. She wouldn’t walk under ladders. She burned combed hair so the birds wouldn’t take your hair to make a nest and turn you insane.

Dorothy spent most of her life living and loving with my mom and her immediate family.

She and my mother taught us about real friendship. They told each other secrets, never hiding the truth. They fought and loved across my childhood

When Dorothy died, her family wouldn’t tell us where the funeral was; my family was not welcome.

They didn’t hear her boisterous laughter or eat her homemade southern meals. We did.

They never had her reach on their plate to steal a piece of hot water cornbread and greens with her bare hands. We did.

They didn’t have her comb their hair or pick them up after a fall. We did.

They didn’t pretend to be her backup singers when we became “Dorothy and the Supremes.” We did.

Now, I understand how they felt. My family stole a treasure from them.

Dorothy showed me how to love life. She lived out loud. It didn’t matter who was in the room… Dorothy would be Dorothy. I never fully understood until I was an adult.

She was always there for our successes and failures. Big, brash and loud.

We loved Dorothy and she loved us. If she were here now, I’d buy a huge bunch of balloons, grab her, give her a tight hug and shout, “That’s my cousin!”

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Reach Toni Crowe at https://www.tonicrowewriter.com/


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