Image: Cover of the first edition of Auntie Mame: an Irreverent Escapade
In 1955 Patrick Dennis wrote a novel about a boy who is placed in charge of his dead mother’s sister, a woman named Mame. The book became a play, a movie, a stage musical, a film, and a movie musical.
The character of Mame, according to Bob Mondello, “believes in trying things, thumbing your nose at convention, taking roads less traveled because they're bound to be more interesting…” Mondello also points out that Mame “stood her ground by not knuckling under to cultural small-mindness.” (“Auntie Mame’s Secret: the ‘Loco’ in her Parentis,” National Public Radio; https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93083551 .)
My character Lins Mitchell refers to her best friend Patti as “Auntie Mame.” Patti constantly pushes Lins to go beyond her self-imposed, circumscribed world. I also have a good friend who goes into “Auntie Mame” mode. Patti is modeled after my friend in a way. There were times when I was a recipient of her Mame-isms. And I always knew when one of her Auntie Mame fits was coming because her voice would get deep, dark, and sexy – and she would suggest something outrageous. It was her way of shaking me out of my default mode of introverted, quiet, bookish Janet.
I fully believe that I have my friend to thank for my current default mode: a metal and hard rock fan, who is a 60-something assistant minister, loves Monty Python, and recently was invited into a fan page that celebrates all things Jack Black and Tenacious D. Part of me cringes at this. The other part does a happy dance. My current office mate, Jen (who is in her 40s) just laughs when I talk about Halestorm and how I wish I could sing like Lzzy. She can’t believe she works with a woman old enough to be her mother who is this – shall we say – non-conforming?
So, Patti is exactly what my over-thinking, straight-laced, earnest alter-ego Lins needs.
For instance, while Lins and church secretary Sue DeLuca are involved in a heated discussion about rock music and whether it does or does not fit with church, Patti is fixing her makeup.
“Sounds like you’re in a rut, my dear.” She paused to run berry-colored lipstick expertly over her mouth (she never used a mirror). Snapping the cap back on the tube, she said, “What you need is a change of pace.”
Then she suggests that Lins take some vacation and stay at her shore house in Point Pleasant Beach. But Lins is hesitant.
I was getting a funny feeling. Like things were going to change big time if I went with Patti. She’d probably get me down to Point and make me go bar-hopping with her or something equally uncomfortable. And those were the least intimidating of possibilities.
Right you are, Lins. On their first night, Patti drags her to the Flying Fish Club, a seedy little bar that is having a Karaoke night. Then she convinces Lins to sing with her. When Neil Gardner plops down on a chair at their table, Patti encourages the two of them to sing together. And when they return to the table after their duet:
Patti gave me a knowing smile. It was a smile I knew all too well. She was about to get me in trouble. “Well, now … did I detect a bit of chemistry?”
Next, Patti pushes Lins to go on a date with Neil. She even offers to give her friend a makeover.
Again, Lins is hesitant:
When we were in college Patti once had offered to make me over and I had agreed. When she was finished I looked just like a hooker.
“Um … maybe you should do my nails instead,” I suggested.
Once the relationship between Neil and Lins gets going, Patti is supportive. However, there must be something in the air in Point Pleasant Beach because Patti soon falls for Kenny Jameson, a homeless veteran who starts working at the music store Neil manages (more on Kenny tomorrow). Patti’s relationship, though, moves a bit quicker than Lins’.
After going on a date of sorts with Neil and his daughter Penny consisting of dinner, Penny’s softball game, and ice cream cones, a happy Lins returns home to find this:
Sitting on the couch together, and wearing bathrobes, were Patti and Kenny. Two glasses of wine sat before them on the coffee table.
Patti, with absolute cool, said, “What? You’re not the only one allowed to date, Lins.”
When things go bad, and they do because it’s a romance, Patti is there for Lins with hugs, tea, wine, and sympathy. But she also sees what Lins can’t or won’t see: Neil is a good match for her. And so, Patti roots for them to get back together and proves that she also is good at pep-talks and straight talk.
The thing I love most of all about Patti, though, is her “Auntie Mame-ishness.” I adore her cool, her interest in and acceptance of those unlike herself, and her willingness to take a walk on the edge, if not “a walk on the wild side,” as Lou Reed sang. Finally, I love her heart, for like Mame, it is a good one and it is open.
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Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder