Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thoroughly Modern Patty

My mother just phoned with terrible news: my 53-year-old cousin Patty died suddenly. Her 11-year-old son found her on the hallway floor of their condo when he woke up this morning.

Patty was my oldest female cousin on my father’s side. As a child, I followed her around at family parties like a puppy. She was very kind, and didn’t mind spending time with her younger cousin. When I was 9, her brother John tried to put a newt on my head at a barbeque at their home on Long Island. Patty told him to stop, and invited me up to her room, and it was a real teenager’s room! In fact, it looked like Laurie Partridge’s room. I thought Patty was prettier than Susan Dey because she had long, silky blonde hair. We sat on her bed and looked at Tiger Beat. She didn’t even mind when I accidently spilled some soda on her latest issue of Seventeen Magazine. I idolized her.

After she graduated from high school in 1975, Patty moved out to California to take a job working with stuff called “microcomputers.” At a family reunion on Easter 1976, I saw her again. She was even more beautiful than I remembered. Patty was 5’8 and very slim. She had on these high-waisted jeans with wide, flared legs, and a rose-colored peasant blouse. The men in our family were ribbing Patty about being a “career woman.” “She’s like Mary Tyler Moore!” I thought. When we had a chance to slip away to her room and speak privately, Patty told me she worked in marketing. Although I read a lot of books, I didn’t really understand what marketing was at age 13. I listened really hard when she spoke about some weird language she learned called BASIC. Actually, I was more interested in hearing about how she loved to “boogie” at discos. I asked her how she was able to dance in the platform heels she wore. She laughed, and said it was easy, and she could show me. Patty put on the LP “Disco Baby” on the stereo, and started doing a line dance called The Hustle. Patty told me to get on my feet and she would teach me how to do this too. Oh, I was in heaven! When we collapsed on her bed, giggling, Patty whispered to me, “I think you would look bitchin’ in platform shoes!”

Patty came East again for Grandma’s funeral in 1982. I was 19, a sophomore in college, and thought I knew everything. When she came over to hug me, I was stiff. After all, I was a grown woman now. Patty, then 24, never had “bothered” to get a college degree. The fact that she was a complete success in the rapidly growing personal computer industry eluded me. I overheard one relative say that Patty’s brief marriage broke up because she worked too much. She seemed kind of sad and pathetic to me. What a smug and stupid little bitch I was.

By the late 1990s, Patty wanted more from life than a career. She was in her early 40s. While Patty was dating some guy, she got pregnant. The guy didn’t stick around. She looked so beautiful when her son was born in 2000. I never saw her look happier. She was a devoted mother, and she really did glow when she spoke about her kid. Ultimately, Patty was the kind of woman I always admired. She was brave, intelligent, strong, kind and loving. I’m old enough to know now how very brief her life was.