A Character: Aunt Millie

No one meets my aunt Minnie without hearing about her poodle. His name was Prince and he fell out of the window of her apartment in New York city. The apartment was on the 43rd floor and the impact broke all four of the dogs legs and popped his left eye out. They put his eye back in, and it may have worked, but it was always aimed kind of funny after the incident. Minnie says there was no reason for this to happen, and it especially couldn’t be the pinwheel she had in the window, spun by the breeze through the open window. We all believe we know what happened to Prince, but no one talks about it in front of Minnie, ostensibly to keep her from chasing windmills. But Minnie will, before ten minutes goes by, ask you if you heard what happened to her Prince, who she carries around in an over arm bag. His head pokes out the top and his legs out of four leg holes. Prince could still walk, although it was a stiff legged gait. He died a few years later of old age. Millie followed him a year after that.

I was thinking about my aunt Millie because I was thinking about mohair sweaters. Okay, I was looking through my sweaters and seeing them reminded me of sweaters I’ve hand, and one sweater, a mohair, in particular. I was a preciously cute little seven year old when my aunt Minnie gave me a mohair sweater for Christmas. My mother always saw to it that we kids sent thank you cards for the gifts we received and so I wrote a bread and butter note to aunt Millie that said I didn’t know what a mo was, but it had soft hair. My way of saying I liked the sweater. The card was duplicated and sent to all family members so they could see how cute (and stupid) I was. There was no way to relive that emotional catastrophe without thinking of Millie, and so, of course, I thought about Prince, the dog looked both ways even when it wasn’t crossing a street.

Millie lived in Austin, Texas. I only met her four times in life, she being off the beaten track from the rest of the family. Everyone else was east coast, from Washington, DC and south to Alabama. But Millie was all Texas and she was proudly so. The family dearly loved her, every time I heard someone talking about her they were saying how sweet she was. She always remembered me at Christmas and birthdays, sending me some clothing item and a five dollar bill tucked under like clockwork. I remember how horriied I was when, for my sixteenth birthday she sent me a card saying that she knew I was grown up and would be embarrassed by her gifts for kids. On Christmas she sent me a $20 bill next, quite a sum at the time. Then no more gifts came from Millie, no more stories about her Prince. She passed away, reportedly in her sleep. She was 68 when she died.

But Millie sticks in my head, and I can’t think about a Christmas in my youth without thinking about Millie. Even when absent, she had a presence. It also never failed that someone would point out her absence, propose a toast to her, and then someone would tell the story of how Prince went out the window. My parents are gone now, as are others who figured largely in my younger days. So my Christmases no longer include a toast to Millie. I’m the only one who knew her.

Even though it isn’t Christmas, I thought I might introduce you to Millie, and tell you the story about her dog.