"Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!" Famous words from Mame Dennis, "Auntie Mame". I have my own Auntie Mame. Mame is the celebrity in my family. She was an actress when I was a child. A real, honest to goodness, bonifide, stand up on the stage, sing and dance actress. My very own Liza Minnelli.
I remember costumes with feathers and flowers. Sequins, many sequins. The smell of grease paint, the roar of crowds. I am quite sure she signed autographs. I saw her in the newspaper and on television. Auntie Mame was a star! Through her screen door, strains of Mame rehearsing show tunes could be heard all the way up the block. I used to sit on my Granny's front porch, six doors down, and listen. I am not sure that she knew it, but the neighbors listened too.
My Granny's house was the place that all the neighbor ladies came to drink coffee after the husbands were off to work and the beds were made. A secret society where the women of the block would gather to discuss dreams of new davenports and wall-to-wall carpet. I would take my appointed place on the kitchenaide stool pushed up to the counter and pretend to be busy dismembering my Hi Heidi dolls while Granny and the coven dished gossip. Sometimes during a lull in the conversations, Mame's voice would drift through the open kitchen window. The ladies would stop and listen. I listened too. Coffee cups stopped in mid-air as the women strained to identify the song. Then they would smile and comment. "So talented". "Just lovely"... I smiled too.
I was Mame’s biggest fan. In my four-year-old brain, Mame was as beautiful as Audrey Hepburn, as talented as Mary Tyler Moore, as stylish as Jane Jetson. I always pictured Mame surrounded by friends and fans sipping Shirley Temples (The only cocktail I knew existed), wearing feather boas. Together we would be the life of the party. I pictured myself there too, enthralling the crowd with my tales of adventure and intrigue. A three-foot bombshell dripping in sequins and glitter. Like Pippy Longstocking but cuter-- with boobs. I really wanted boobs.
Mame was on the short list of adults that I never terrorized with my odd, slightly sociopathic behavior. Well, hardly ever. There was the time when I was six. I tried to avoid going to the drive-in movies by hitch hiking several miles from Mame's house back to my own home to wait for Big Judes and The Dad to return from what must have been an important function, (otherwise they would have never asked anyone to baby-sit. They knew better). After what I am sure was a frantic search, Mame found me attempting to climb through my bedroom window, (left unlocked for just such emergencies). If I had been taller, or if Mr. Hammet, our neighbor, had not caught me attempting to steal the milk crate from his front porch to stand on, my plan would have worked. I think she has forgiven me for that.
Mame was on my short list because she was one of the only people I knew that talked to a little kid (who desperately wanted to be a big person) like she was already big. She listened to the things that were important to me as if they were important to her too.
To this day Mame has a contagious enthusiasm. I am certain that if I called her on the phone with details of a new life’s plan to be a goat herder in Appalachia, living off the land and producing exotic cheese, she would be the first to endorse my dream and the last to ever say “I told you so” if my goats went crazy and trampled me to death before ever producing a single ounce of stinky feta.
Mame has her own kids now and grandkids too. We met last weekend for lunch and volleyball. I spied Mame from across the convention center. One hug and a quickly hatched plan for illegal admittance to the tournament later we were breezing past the doorkeepers as if making our grand entrance at the Met. All these years later Mame still has it. I am still her biggest fan.