Auntie Lila had open heart surgery and she wasn't doing so well. I knew I needed to ask her to tell me her favorite stories--my favorite stories, actually. I am so happy that I took the time to write them down. A few years ago, not long before she died, I sat with her, with my computer on my lap, and took down her words.
We had a lot in common. One thing was a love of jazz. And Nat King Cole. She shared with me her favorite Nat King Cole memory:
It was 1953. Lute and I had been married for ten years and we'd never had a vacation. I saved and saved that year. I made candy and I went door-to-door peddling wrapping paper and cards and my candy. Finally, I'd saved two hundred dollars. Thora and Gene watched the kids. All we had was the old red pick-up and we had seven days driving time to get down and back from San Francisco.
I wrote to the Chamber of Commerce and we found a hotel where we could park and walk around town. I called the Fairmont and we got tickets to the Nat King Cole show. He was with his trio then. I was so excited. It was a very posh place. The had place cards on the tables that said "Nat King Cole Trio" on them. But our table didn't have one, so I got one of the busboys to get me one and I put it right in my purse.
The band played for a while and it was just wonderful. I remember he sang "Straighten Up and Fly Right", of course, because he wrote that one, and he also sang that cute song about a Calypso Girl. I had the album with that song on it. I still have it. Anyway, the band took a break about halfway through and I went to visit the powder room.
Well, I went into the most posh bathroom I'd ever seen and I found out it was a pay toilet. I had no money for a pay toilet! So I just primped and fluffed my hair a bit and left.
When I got back out into the main hallway, there he was with his trio, walking right toward me! I pulled out my little place card and said, "Mr. Cole, do you think I could have your autograph?"
He was so nice. He said, "Sure." And he signed my place card! I was so excited!
Happy Thanksgiving, Auntie Lila. I have no doubt that Nat King Cole is seated at your Thanksgiving table.
Thanks for introducing us to Aunt Lila. Now she's everybody's auntie a little bit.
Also, I'm thinking of the Marge Piercy poem "Ode to the Pay Toilet" where she says restaurants with pay toilets expect you to pay for the same liquid twice.
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