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My older cousin Rosetta was off to college when I was still in knickers. My aunt said she was brilliant, finishing high school and college early. She went on to teach school in New Jersey for thirty years. I only saw her on holidays and a few vacations at her dad’s cottage in Butler, PA.
We recently began to talk by phone after all these years. She still has the same musical voice. Even on a serious topic, she sounds melodic. Her voice is clear and concise, no stutters, sputters or slang, and it’s also a link to the familiar. When I hear it, our deceased relatives pop up in my mind, laughing around a feast of turkey, stuffed cabbage and homemade pumpkin pie, or the sound of cards being shuffled, knocking on the table and the scent of cherry pipe tobacco.
One year she came for a holiday dinner. Her hair was long and blonde, and she wore a dark blue velvet mini-dress. “Hi Uncle Will and Aunt Mary!” she exclaimed. I was dressed in fringed bell bottom jeans, a silly t-shirt and wore a floppy yellow hat with a peace sign to hide my pimply 7th grade face. My Uncle Al practically boxed my ears upon arrival. A devout Catholic, he hollered that the “peace sign” was the cross upside down, a mockery! Those ‘words’ delivered a verbal punch. I quickly yanked my hat off embarrassed, but all I remember thinking was, I want to grow up looking like Rosetta.
In our current conversations, I learn she has an aversion to computers, has a flip phone, and hates answering machines. I find this odd, considering her lifelong curiosity to learn. I knew she was a national Scrabble champion for a number of years. She said she has friends who compete on line, but that was not for her. ‘I have to sit across from my opponent, study them…..observe the board, pick up the wooden letters in my hand, and turn them over and over. I want the whole experience.’
We talk about our passion for books, and she says, “I love words, I can’t get enough words.” I’ve never heard anyone say that. “I even look at the ticker across the bottom of the TV screen during the news and create anagrams, new words.” I think wow, she would have made a great CIA analyst or become rich on Wheel of Fortune!
I told her I read “The Chimes” this past winter by Dickens. “I taught Dickens”. She’s read all 90 plus Agatha Christie novels, read and taught all the Classics. I told her I found a book by Upton Sinclair at a library sale, my first. She asks which one? There’s not a hint of boasting, just sharing her lifelong love of words. Now she’s into detective stories. No eBooks for her (or me). She says when she gets a new or old book, she holds it in her hand for a bit, wants to smell the paper, read the Table of Contents, the author’s bio, observe the jacket art and prepare for a new journey. I do the same thing.
My smart and pretty cousin Rosetta recently made me realize that words are amazing –they can be a gift or a curse. Ask anyone who’s married, it’s all in the delivery. Words can break or uplift a heart, start a war or end one, take you to the Tuscan countryside from your back porch, teach you a new language, or even link you to the Creator, whose words also remind us of the wisdom of no words – when to be silent. I think I can’t get enough words either. Thanks Rosie!