I don’t remember when I first met her, but I do remember when I first met her son.
I used to take my 45s up to Marilyn’s, where we would sing and dance to records in her bedroom like The Rolling Stones’, “Honky Tony Women” and The Archies’ “Sugar Sugar.” One day during the summer while the windows were open, we were debating our next musical selection when I heard a strange sound outside.
“What’s that noise?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s just Kenny,” Marilyn said nonchalantly.
“Aunt Tootie’s boy. He has something wrong with him.”
I knew Aunt Tootie’s daughter. She was gorgeous and worked downtown and wore beautiful suits and had black hair like That Girl. She had once given Marilyn a whole rainbow of mini lipstick samples from Avon that I would have traded all my issues of Tiger Beat magazine to own.
For the next several years, Kenny was sort of a Boo Radley in my life—a mystery person. Then one day when I was probably about 10 or 11 when we were out playing in Marilyn’s front yard, Aunt Tootie asked us if we wanted to come in and visit with Kenny. Marilyn had been in a number of times to see him, and she said sure so I tagged along.
Aunt Tootie took us into her small home and guided us to a first floor bedroom. There lying in a special bed dressed in kid’s pajamas was a man/child. Kenny was about the size of a 12-year-old boy, but he had the face of a young man. It was one of those moments where you stop breathing; I’d never seen someone like Kenny before.
Aunt Tootie smiled, rubbed his hair and said so lovingly, her kindness pierced my shock, “Here’s my handsome boy. Look, Kenny, Marilyn and Janice have come to visit.” He just glanced our way and made a noise. “Sit with him a minute, while I get his lunch.” She returned and spoon-fed him his meal.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve met other mother’s with children like Kenny, but Aunt Tootie stands out in my mind because of her love and pride for her son and for bearing what some would have found so burdensome with great joy, even when it seemed that life was out to break her.
Her husband, coincidentally was named Ollie, and they were madly in love. She once told Marilyn and me that the day this “handsome lumberjack walked into my high school, I knew I was going to marry him.” As long as they had each other, it seemed they could handle whatever came there way, including a profoundly handicapped child. They played games together, played their organ and bought a backyard pool so they could take stay-cations. Cruelly, Ollie, died suddenly while in his forties.
But I never once heard Aunt Tootie complain. She was funny, generous and loved a good time. She kept right on loving and caring for Kenny and seeing beauty where others may not have.
Thirty years ago this coming August, I invited her to my wedding. While most guests are concerned with receiving thank you notes for the wedding gifts they had given, not Aunt Tootie. Upon my return from my honeymoon, there was a thank you card waiting for me from her. In it she thanked me for inviting her to my wedding, said I looked beautiful, praised my parents, the food and the music and hoped that I would be as happy in marriage as she had been.
Nearly 20 years ago, my brother and his wife bought Marilyn’s old house and some years after that Aunt Tootie passed away, but not before loving and taking care of Kenny until he reached middle age and then passed away.
Her house was sold and the new owners told my sister-in-law that when they pulled up the old carpeting, they found notes under it that read: “This carpet was put in with love by Ollie and Tootie.”
Aunt Tootie need not have worried about leaving notes behind as a mark that she had lived. Her example of selfless, motherly love made a greater impression than any note or monument could ever have.