Friday, February 13, 2015

I See London, I See France, I See Lolo's Underpants

Lois Rogers Cooley and Charles Cooley Way Back When

For the past month, I have been in Vermont—shoveling snow and writing about the women in my family, a bunch of exquisite ladies. My aunt Lois almost didn't survive a trip to Dartmouth-Hitchcock last November, but she managed to hang on for two more months. I paid her a final visit on Saturday; she died on Sunday. Her funeral is today, but I am back in France and will have to miss it. Aunt Lois graduated Green Mountain College with a degree in retail marketing—her collection of refrigerator doodads was actually worth studying. But instead of becoming a marketing wiz or an ad exec, she applied her considerable talents to improving the Vermont public school system through art. (Her first gift to me, incidentally, was my name, Sara Lee, which she and Mom dreamed up at her kitchen table years before it became famous as a brand of packaged desserts.) I was surprised to learn the other day that Aunt Lois was a high-school cheerleader; I never saw a shred of evidence that she loved bouncing around and doing cartwheels. But whatever she may have lacked in athleticism she more than made up for in conviction and sparkle. She did mental cartwheels on my behalf, many times. I felt honored that she allowed me to outfit her for the wedding of her youngest, Paul Andrew, to his beloved Orlando in the fall of 2013. I borrowed a stunning gold jacket from a friend and accessorized it with a purple and gold scarf of my own. The black slacks came from Aunt Lois's closet; the elastic waistband gave out in the middle of the cocktail hour, and I was obliged to rush to my aunt's side and hoist them up. But first I had to point out that they were around her ankles—she was engrossed in conversation with my brother and hadn't noticed the slippage. "Oh, will you look at that," she said, cool as a cucumber. Before the day was out, those trousers hit the floor two more times, and I began to suspect some degree of intention. If there is a life lesson here, I'm not sure what it is. Suffice to say that Aunt Lois had an interesting relationship with gravity; she either ignored it or used it to her advantage. As a child, I thought my aunts and uncles were all extremely interesting people. I still do. I am grateful to each and every one of them. I am particularly grateful to Aunt Lois for giving me a name that has something in common with Gypsy Rose and all-butter pound cake, for teaching me something new about the laws of physics, and for giving me a good deal else to ponder as the years go by.

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