an Online Journal of Sorts

By Alyce Wilson

September 21, 2005 - Aunt Adele

Una sleeping (Click to enlarge)

Shortly after The Gryphon and I moved in to the place we're living now, an adobe rowhouse in a Philadelphia suburb, I was walking my dog, Una, down the street where we live. I had nearly reached the end of the street when someone called out a greeting.

I turned and saw an older woman, probably in her late '60s, overweight, with platinum blonde bleached hair and too much makeup. She was sitting next to a thinner woman of about the same age. Their chairs were pulled back into the shade created by their more modern brick rowhouses.

After introducing herself as Adele, she asked my name, my dog's name, where I lived, if I had children, what I did for a living, how old I was, where my family lives and a host of other personal questions. I answered them not so much because I wanted to but because I couldn't think of anything else to do.

She asked me if my dog was part pit bull, and I told her no. Of course, Una's a mix, so anything's a possibility, but she's such a sweetheart that even if she has any pit in her, she doesn't have the worst traits of that breed.

"Oh," she said, apparently disappointed. "Well, you still ought to keep her with you when you go out, even in the middle of the day."

"Really? Why's that?"

She leaned closer in her chair and told me she'd lived in this neighborhood a long time and it's gotten "worse."

"Oh?" I asked.

Then, cupping a hand next to her mouth, she spoke in a stage whisper loud enough to carry across her lawn, "Black people."

I was stunned, and I considered telling her I'd once dated "a black guy" (The Invisible Man), but I thought if I did that, I'd be as bad as her. I've never seen him as his racial heritage but as the person he is.

Now I was really anxious to break away from her, so after listening to more admonitions about how dangerous it was to walk around in broad daylight in the midst of all those black people, I told her good-bye and continued my walk.

Of course, because of where she lives, I see her on a fairly regular basis. Every time we see her, she calls out, "Hi, Una! It's Aunt Adele." She's had to ask my name again several times; she tried "April" and "Amy" before she got it right. This isn't entirely unusual. After all, most people don't even ask for my name, only Una's. To most of my neighbor's, I'm Una's owner.

Some days she seems worse than others. I've seen her with her hair disheveled, seemingly incoherent. I've seen her bum a cigarette on the way down to the corner store. Sometimes she asks me again the same questions she asked before: where I live, how old I am. I think that maybe she's started to develop Alzheimer's.

My hair dresser was less charitable. "Crazy lady" was what she dubbed her. She said if it was up to her, she'd start making up stuff if she asked the same question more than once. "She won't remember next time anyway."

I'm not the only person in the neighborhood to whom Adele has given the third degree. I saw her doing the same thing to a young mother the other day, wanted to know all her kids' ages, where they went to school, where they'd lived before here. An interesting side note: she seemed just as friendly to her as she had to me, and this was a white mother with biracial children.

At least she's friendly, if misguided. And I do give her points for being one of the few people in the neighborhood who thinks of me as somebody other than Una's owner. One thing is for certain: I'm unlikely to forget her name.

Friendliness can be as grating as rudeness.

Copyright 2005 by Alyce Wilson

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