How will I ever adequately describe my Aunt Dot who was aunt, second mother, sort- of- sister, best friend, and number one fan? The thing is, I can’t. I’ve started this piece many times, written and rewritten, composed it over and over in my mind, and it just doesn’t work. It was a complicated relationship which didn’t seem at all complicated at the time. Dot was just always there for me: whatever, whenever, however. So I’ve decided to do a Jack Webb and go for “Just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts.”
Dot was born September 13, 1900, the youngest of nine children. Her father died when she was 16, and although Dot was the youngest, throughout life she was the one on whom her mother and siblings leaned. She and my mother, older by ten years, had an incredibly close bond.
Of Dot’s past before me, I know this: In high school she excelled in shorthand and typing and was a secretary to Dr. Elliot Joslin, a pioneer in diabetes. She admired him greatly, was proud of working for him, and often told stories about him and his family. In 1924 she married my Uncle Sam, and though she was married 14 years before my birth , Dot never had any children. From the moment of my birth in 1938, she was intricately involved in my life, beginning with the fact that I was named for her.
At first she and Sam were with me and my parents each Saturday and Sunday with Dot providing childcare during the week when my mother worked and was between “nannies.” When we moved to Medford, when I was just over 3 and a half, Dot became the childcare person, arriving each day from her home in Cambridge so my mother could go to work at the Paul Revere House. When my mother had a heart attack when I was seven, Dot became a daily fixture in our lives, taking care of both me and my mother. She and Sam also continued spending each Saturday and Sunday with our family.
Looking back, I realize that Dot provided most of the extras in my life. She gave me my beloved Teddy bear, my favorite doll, Diana Christine ( named for my grandmother), and the complete set of “The Book House for Children” whose stories she read to me over and over. She took me to concerts on the Esplanade and at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and in Jordan Hall. I have now figured out that she was probably the one who provided my expensive but unwanted piano lessons. She and Sam took me on vacations to Martha’s Vineyard and Maine. At home she and I would play old Maid, Authors, and Sorry, and she was often the pupil in my pretend school.
She would bake and let me help her: gingerbread, pineapple upside down cake, coconut cake, and white fruit cake. One Christmas we had a wonderful time making gingerbread men, using a very large cutter Sam fashioned from tin and wood.
Dot basically supplied all my clothes, many gleaned from her daily walk through Filene’s Basement. (At that time the slogan for the basement was “Walk Through Daily,” and Dot did just that on her way by T from Cambridge to Medford.) Luckily she had a wonderful sense of style. She also had a great talent, inherited from her mother, for altering garments and could make something new from the old. For example, one Easter she cut down a suit of hers to fit me. One thing that fascinated me was that she could undo a hem and keep the thread in one piece and reuse it. She was the one who took me for haircuts and once gave me a home permanent that made me look like Bozo.
When the Roberts Junior High paper needed to be mimeographed, Dot typed the master copy. Throughout high school and college, she typed my papers and often suffered my abuse as I said, “Hurry, hurry,” as I ran out the door, often to her car for her to drive me, once I was in college.
Dot played an important part in my mother’s life as well. Sadly I think my mother would have been satisfied to be a shut-in after her heart attack, but Dot would urge her on, accompanying her to teacher conferences, and, as my mother grew stronger and more confident, getting her involved in church activities and supporting her in Rainbow Girls’ Mother’s Club.
Sometimes the lines between aunt and mother blurred as when Dot called a guy and told him to stop dating me because he was so much older than I. (Of course I wouldn’t listen to her or my mother, so Dot took things in her own hands.) If it was a mother/daughter occasion – sorority tea, church function – it was just assumed that Dot would go too. It about broke her heart and mine when I won a trip to D.C. and only my parents could accompany me, not my aunt.
Dot was always ready to go somewhere, whether to Boston, out to lunch, out for a drive to Rockport for a lobster roll, to the beach, or even out to find a restaurant that would serve fried shrimp at 8:30 at night when, in high school, I got home from work at Filene’s. She had an infectious laugh and more than once she and my mother and I laughed until the tears rolled down our cheeks.
It was Dot who… It was Dot who… It was Dot who… People have often wondered why I don’t like to be called Dot. It’s simple: there was only ever one Dot: my Aunt Dot.
© Dorothy C. Judd
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