Marvellaland

Essays on memoir, music, and more from Beatrice M. Hogg

Is That a Word?

Today, May 8, would have been the birthday of my Aunt Elizabeth, who died in 2000 at the age of 75. When I was in my twenties, I used to hang out with her a lot. She was fun and always ready for an adventure. But she was a terrible driver. In spite of that, she rarely went anywhere by herself. Friends, neighbors, granddaughters, and anyone else that needed or wanted a ride to Canonsburg, Donaldson’s Crossroads or South Hills Village piled in her big car as soon as she started the engine. Sometimes, we held on for dear life and made silent eye contact when Aunt Elizabeth got too close to a curb or another car. But to make a comment would be even worse, as she hated criticism and her hatred would be transferred to the steering wheel.

Aunt Elizabeth played Scrabble like she drove, without any rhyme or reason. A typical game consisted of my cousin Mary Ann and her daughters Bonita and Rhonda. Since we used the Official Scrabble Dictionary, usually most of the words Aunt Elizabeth made up were actual words somewhere. But we always challenged her unfamiliar choices. Her favorite word was “gip.” It seemed like she found a way to use it in every game we played. When we asked her what it meant, she would always respond, “You know, like an old ‘gip’ dog.” I have yet to find out what a “gip dog” is, but the word was listed in the dictionary meaning “to gyp.” Once she found out that the Dictionary listed “qua” as a word, she used it every time that she found herself stuck with the letter “q.” We used to have marathon games that lasted for hours. Aunt Elizabeth could not be rushed. She always strived to find a word with the highest word score. As we shuffled and sighed in our seats, she would contemplate different words, moving the letters around on her tray until she found the best one. In the summer, a game could start after Aunt Elizabeth cleared off the breakfast dishes and last until she had to start dinner.

She was compassionate, sometimes when I least expected it. In September 1980, I was devastated when John Bonham, the drummer of Led Zeppelin, died unexpectedly. Led Zeppelin had been my favorite band for at least five years. Aunt Elizabeth would constantly tease me about my love of  “white boy music.” But when I went over to her house the day after Bonham’s death, she had cut out an obituary from the Washington Observer-Reporter. Solemnly, she handed the piece of paper to me.

“I’m sorry to hear about Led. I know you loved him and his music.”

I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. As she was reading the morning paper, she saw the words “Led Zeppelin” mentioned in the obits, with a picture of Bonham. Recognizing the name, she cut out the piece, knowing I would be upset at the demise of “Mr. Zeppelin.” Even though she had the facts juxtaposed, I was touched by her gesture. It was one of the sweetest things she had ever done. I still have the obituary in my Led Zeppelin scrapbook.

If Aunt Elizabeth were here today, I would buy her some of the latest Estée Lauder cologne, as she loved Estée Lauder fragrances. I would pull out the big Scrabble board and sit down in her kitchen to play a game that might just last all day. And I wouldn’t consult the Official Scrabble Dictionary once, as I wouldn’t want to “gip” her out of getting a triple word score.

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