I am way overdue on writing about my Aunt Dorothy. This is her birthday present, after all. When trying to think of what to give a woman who doesn’t need anything and is probably tired of dusting all that she has, I decided to do what I would want my nephews to do for me… just do something simple. The boys are great about giving us pictures of themselves for Christmas, but I thought that seemed a little self-centered for me to give to Aunt Dorothy so I told her I would write about her.
Mom has three sisters and Daddy had one sister, so I have plenty of aunts and I love them all, but I have always been closest to Aunt Dorothy, both physically and emotionally. When I was a little girl, they moved from California back to Amarillo and so I grew up sharing most family events with the Jacksons. I think Aunt Dorothy would be surprised at how far back my memory goes. I remember when they first moved to Amarillo and lived in a house by the railroad tracks. I was confused at the time because I knew my Uncle Homer worked for the railroad and I wasn’t quite sure if maybe he just stepped outside the back gate and was at work.
They soon moved to the house that Aunt Dorothy still lives in – 45 years later. I love that house. It is about the homiest house of any house I know. It is a house where you are guaranteed the best meal of your life–even if it is only a tuna salad sandwich. When my Aunt Dorothy invites you to a meal, you better say yes.
There are many reasons to love Aunt Dorothy, but let me focus on that food for just a minute. She makes the best hot rolls in the world. Period. She makes a whipped butter than melts, well, like butter, but better, on her hot rolls. She used to make a fabulous steak sauce. She may still do it, but I haven’t had steaks at her house in a long time, but that sauce was memorable. She makes casseroles and side dishes that perfectly compliment the meal and she has never poured a can into a pan or heated up a frozen bag of vegetables and called that good enough. Everything is a recipe, a creation. She roasts ham and turkey or cooks a brisket or a fried chicken and never considers that one meat is enough. And when you think about desserts… Â Aunt Dorothy doesn’t make a pie or a cake. She makes PIES and CAKES and fruity creamy SALADS and Jello creations and real whipped cream and puddings and chocolates and candies and cookies, too. You would think a woman that can cook like this and does cook like this would be ample and wide and have lots of evidence of the calories, but Aunt Dorothy is petite and thin and fit and agile. I guess she’s always too busy jumping up from the table to get something for her guests to eat a bite and put on any weight.
I have spent the last hour looking for my favorite photo of Aunt Dorothy in her kitchen. But it is hiding from me tonight so I will move on without it. I’m sure it will appear as soon as I post this.
Aunt Dorothy has always had a wonderful garden in her backyard – as neat and clean as she keeps her house. Her cherry tree was the source of the cherries for my favorite pies and jelly. And the vegetables she canned and froze always made for better meals year round. And her pickles. Oh my. I got to bring home a jar of her sweet pickles a few years ago and I enjoyed them more than any pickle I’ve ever had. That is a lost art, I’m afraid, and not one I’m going to carry on.
Aunt Dorothy used to sit on the floor with us and play Wahoo, a board game. She made Barbie doll clothes for us. She taught Sunday School at the First Baptist Church of Amarillo for little kids for years and years so I often got to do the same craft that her kids got to do. I remember getting to paint the Japanese symbols for “God is love” in white and red paint on black construction paper. Every party at Aunt Dorothy’s involved a quiz or a treasure hunt or a game of some kind and prizes for everyone. At the family reunion at her house in 1979 I received the award for “Most Unusual Job” and still have the certificate (homemade by Aunt Dorothy) in my keepsakes.
Since we lived so close, we spent a lot of time at Aunt Dorothy’s house. One of my earlier memories was before I was 5 years old. Daddy was a surveyor and spent a lot of time out of town working. We were home one time when Amarillo was inundated with rain. Uncle Homer came over to get us and to take us to their house (just a few miles away). I remember his car floating and water rushing in the doors as we kept our feet up on the hump in the floorboard of the back seat. I don’t remember if we spent the night or if he brought us home later, but there was always a safe refuge at the Jackson’s.
Over the years, we always celebrated joint birthdays with their family. Somewhere in February or usually March there would be a big celebration meal for me, Mom, Dad, and Uncle Homer with our February and March birthdays. In June or usually July 4, we would celebrate Donna’s and Aunt Dorothy’s and Mackie’s and soon, Donna’s husband Ken’s, June and July birthdays. Judy’s birthday in December usually got lumped in Christmas, I’m afraid, and we didn’t usually have the same birthday celebration with the family for her. July 4 was always a big family event. We usually had it at our house out in the country so we could shoot fireworks. But I remember one very special July 4 when was in my 20s and lived in Amarillo and Mom and Dad were out of town for the holiday. I spent the evening at the Jacksons with all of their family. It was maybe the first time I had ever been there without my immediate family, too. I felt a little bit odd to be there “alone,” but still so glad to have their house to go to.
I lived close by to Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Homer for a few years after college. I wish I had known then what I know now (don’t we all?) and had visited them more often and spent more time there. Being an aunt now, I know how much it would have meant to them. I did know, even then, that they were folks I could lean on. I remember one time when the water in my apartment was completely shut off and I had to get ready for a wedding shower or something where I absolutely had to clean up. I called Aunt Dorothy and asked if I could use their bathtub and they, of course, welcomed me and were happy to let me rush in, take a quick bath, and rush right out again.
Since I’ve moved away from Amarillo I have seen the Jacksons less and less, especially after Mom and Dad moved away from Amarillo. But even when the visits are the simplest, they mean so much. Mark and I stopped by on our way to or from Colorado one year and had a wonderful lunch of tuna salad sandwiches. That may have been when I got to play my accordion for Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Homer and, according to them, I was as good as Lawrence Welk. No, better.
Aunt Dorothy began using the Internet and email a few years ago and I’m so glad. She writes wonderful “real” letters and I still appreciate them, but our correspondence is much more prolific now that it is spontaneous and almost instant. She has always been more than willing to tell me stories about her childhood and fill me in on the family details I need for my genealogy. And she has never hesitated to send me pictures to use in my projects and family books. That means a lot to me.
She has a streak of stubbornness and fearlessness that I have read about in the women of my family many generations before me. I know I inherited the stubbornness, as well, but I don’t quite know if I got as much of the fearlessness. Maybe it needs to develop and there will be more of it when I am older. Aunt Dorothy took her first plane trip after she was 80 years old when she flew to California to see a friend who had invited her out. There was lots of fuss and efforts to stop her from making the trip and worry over how she would do it, but she was fearless and did it and decided that flying was the way to go! Actually, I think she may have flown once in the 1940s in a small plane and that was why she had never flown since. So the age may have a bit to do with that fearlessness. She grew into it and I hope I do, too.
Uncle Homer died in the summer of 2004. They had been married for over 50 years and were a great couple. I know she misses him, we all do, but she is always cheerful and active and energetic. And always smiling and welcoming. And loving. That’s a good word to sum up my Aunt Dorothy.
Here is Uncle Homer and Aunt Dorothy in 1946 in California.
And I think this was about the summer of 2003 at their sweetÂ home in Amarillo: