Grace Gibbons, Contributor
We don’t often hear the word doozy anymore. We don’t talk about growing a doozy of a squash or suffering from a doozy of a hangover, but for my Great-Aunt Theresa and me, a doozy was something she did by mistake because she was an old lady, something she could turn into a funny story. “I have a doozy to tell you,” she’d say, “a real humdinger,” and I’d wait for the tale. It dawned on me the other day that I am now the age my great-aunt was when she was committing her doozies. I’m an old lady.
Theresa was a short, thick woman with dark gray hair that she set with small plastic rollers every night to help preserve her curls between permanent waves. Once a week, she coated her upper lip and chin with Nair to remove the facial hair that came in as a black mustache and chin bristles. She wore boxy floral dresses, thick stockings that covered trails of varicose veins, and black orthopedic shoes. She never went down town without a purse to match her shoes, a pair of round clip-on earrings and a pillbox hat held in place by a faux pearl hat pin. Make up was a bit of powder, a smear of rouge, well blended, and a dot of red lip stick, heavily blotted.
I have forgotten most of the doozies she told me, but there was the time she returned from a shopping trip, lay down for her daily forty winks and forgot to take off her hat. “I went to sleep in my hat! Can you imagine? I don’t know what I’ll forget next. I might go to town and forget my teeth!” There was the time she answered the phone and mistook the caller for an old friend. “I told her personal things about myself, a perfect stranger. What she must have thought. Here, she called a wrong number and heard all about my pancreas! If she hadn’t realized her mistake, she would have heard about my gall bladder, too.”
Once, she walked into a private home and settled herself in the living room thinking she was in the waiting room of her doctor’s office, understandable because the doctor’s office was one of a row of red-painted brick houses. “I went in and sat down and the other people in the room stared at me. I wondered what was wrong with them. Or maybe it was my hat, so I took it off. There were three of them sitting in front of a television. I did wonder about that. The television and all. I looked around and realized it was a living room and not a waiting room, so I apologized and left. The family, I imagine they were a family, two boys and a middle-aged woman, never said a word.”
As much as I loved her, I do not want to be an old lady the way my great-aunt was. I don’t wear dresses, I wear leggings that would scandalize her. “A lady dresses like a lady,” she would say. She would also say that a lady does not swear, and she would rightly claim that she never said a bad word. When pushed, she would use a double-word imitation expletive, she-it, two harmless words, but I knew what she meant. I choose from the profanity menu whatever seems to fit the moment; sometimes I string several curse words together to make creative new ones. But I have committed a doozy.
I was in the supermarket alone; my husband was waiting in the car. I’d gathered a few things in my cart: plastic containers to store flour, some small yellow potatoes, green onion, and dill for the warm potato salad we were having for dinner. I stopped at the yoghurt and examined the overwhelming number of varieties: non-fat, low-fat, whole milk, Greek, Greek Style, fruit, chocolate. I like yoghurt for lunch and if I’d been on good behavior, I’d have chosen plain non-fat and tossed in some berries, but I chose banana cream pie. Moving along, I spotted orange juice at the end of the dairy section, so I pushed the cart to the juice, but I noticed more than pulp or no-pulp, calcium, fresh squeezed and from concentrate. I noticed that an old man was watching me and that he was closing in.
I have some experience with an old man watching me and closing in, and of escaping an old man. A few years ago, alone at a play in which my daughter was performing, I was aware that an old man across the aisle noticed me. We women know when we’ve been noticed; we don’t age out of that. He tried to catch my eye, I imagined, to flirt, but I’m happily married and was not looking for a new beau, so I avoided his gaze.
After the play, I lingered in the lobby to wait for my daughter. The old man lingered, too, and I saw him clock me from across the room and shuffle in my direction. Fortunately, I made a nimble-footed escape before he reached me.
Now, I had that feeling again. I had attracted the attention of an old man and he was in pursuit. Well, I should hardly be surprised, I thought, telling myself that I’m reasonably attractive. I was feeling pretty in my tasteful but youthful paisley leggings and complementary maroon sweater. My daughters helped me put together that outfit when we shopped together at Macy’s. I wore a long gold necklace and dangling loop earrings. My hair was cut like Judy Dench’s and styled with what the hair dresser refers to as product. “If you’re going to have your hair thatshort, then you haveto use product,” she’d said. And I’d colored my lids all the way up to the brow line with my new peachy-brown eye shadow. It wasn’t surprising that I would attract the attention of geezers, but this one was not even trying to be subtle about following me and revving up to speak to me. Well, at his age, I supposed, there isn’t a lot of time for flirtatious subterfuge. I deftly steered the cart away from the orange juice and across the aisle. My plan was to aim for the wrapped bread on the other side, make a sharp turn around the corner and speed to an open check out, sans orange juice, which we could do without. But it was too late. He’d caught up with me.
“I’ll be happy to let you pay for my groceries,” he said.
What sort of daft pick-up line is that? I wondered. Well, it got my attention. I looked back at him. He was grinning widely.
“Or you can give me my cart back.”
Despite my doozy, I am not an old lady like my great-aunt was. My great-aunt would never have imagined piquing the interest of a gentleman in the dairy section of a supermarket. She had delivery by a milkman.
Grace Gibbons lives in the Hudson River Valley of New York and has worked in social services, journalism, publishing and academia. She has a husband and four grown children, the unwitting sources of her newspaper humor columns. For over a decade, she has taught Writing for College to aspiring chefs and bakers at The Culinary Institute of America, where she insists her students try at least one piece that is funny, irreverent or, at least, ironic. She is finishing her MFA in creative writing at Mississippi University for Women.