Aunt Maureen had strawberry blonde hair that existed as a pile of soft curls on the top of her head. She might have worn things other than pullover sweaters and jeans but I couldn’t testify to that. When memories of people are burned into your brain when you’re tiny, things get oddly specific.
She lived with Uncle Ron and my cousin Dana in an apartment in one of the neighborhoods in the city. The apartment had yellow wallpaper and brown furniture because it was the 70s/80s and any other palette was frowned upon. She had small, dark eyes that she squinched up whenever she smiled. She smiled at me a lot.
Aunt Maureen was my babysitter on numerous occasions. Dana was a few years older than me and I think she must have been too old to play with such a little kid. Aunt Maureen wasn’t, though. She and I would spend hours playing with the Little People castle. Our favorite thing to do was to send all of the Little People down through the trap door.
When it was time to take a break, Aunt Maureen would let me get a cigarette for her. If her smoking habit was relatively light before she began babysitting me, I certainly contributed at least a little bit to its escalation. She kept her cigarettes in a dispenser that looked like an odd little bookcase. When I pushed the button on the front, a tune played and a little wooden dog appeared out of the top of the dispenser holding a cigarette. She was silly and gasped every time the dog appeared, which cracked me up.
Aunt Maureen would smoke as many cigarettes as I would fetch for her. I think we did this a million times and we had fun every time.
Her dog, Jasper, was small with curly, dingy white fur that was perpetually wet and stringy around his mouth. Maureen would imitate Jasper by crawling up to me and then brushing the top of her head against my legs. I would squeal because it tickled and because if I closed my eyes, I couldn’t tell the difference between Jasper’s soft fur and Maureen’s fluffy curls.
If Maureen was ever sad then she hid it from me. Or perhaps spending a few hours with me gave her some relief. I was always quiet and uncomfortable around most people and I think she was, too. Maybe seeing me relax and allow the goofy part of me out for an afternoon helped her to do the same. Perhaps, then, that it’s not so surprising that she grew sadder and sadder years later until she couldn’t be here anymore.
Jasper died at some point and I don’t know what ever happened to the cigarette dispenser.