Aunt Penny is a hoot. Seriously. She belongs to the Happy Organization of Octogenarian Teachers, or HOOT for short. The HOOTS are retired teachers who get together on Friday afternoons to play Scrabble. When it’s Aunt Penny’s turn to be hostess, she borrows my house because her condo is tiny.
So it was a Friday afternoon when I came home from work and found Aunt Penny in the sunroom with 3 HOOTS gathered around the game table. She is remarkably fit and trim for a lady of her age, and looked youthful in her shorts. A visor rested on her short, amber-streaked hair, the color of the week. I liked it better than the maroon shade she had sported the week before.
She greeted me with my childhood nickname, never looking up from her tray of letters. “Hi Muffin. Sorry we’re running late today.”
Her friends greeted me with their apologies as well.
I waved their excuses away. “No problem, ladies. Who’s winning?”
Aunt Penny lowered her glasses onto the bridge of her nose. “Not me.”
“Oh, sorry. I’m going to the kitchen. Take your time.”
I got a snack and went through the day’s mail. Shortly, Aunt Penny joined me in the kitchen. “Game’s over. I lost big time.”
“There’s always next Friday.”
“Or maybe not.”
“You’re not playing next week?”
“Because we’re going to Vegas.”
I choked on my dill pickle. “What did you say?”
“I said we’re going to Vegas.”
This time I bounced my fingers in my ears, just to be sure I heard right. “Vegas?”
“Yes, Vegas. Are you going deaf?”
My dad’s only sister had lost her mind. She had never been anywhere except to the family reunion in Kansas, and once to Carlsbad Caverns when Uncle Stewart was alive. “But Aunt Penny, Las Vegas?”
Although my aunt was far from being senile or even a typical little old lady, I just could not picture her and her elderly friends in Las Vegas. What if they got lost? What if somebody took advantage of them, what if…?
Aunt Penny was almost shouting. “Are you daydreaming?”
“I guess I was. I’m worried about you. Do you think it’s really wise for you to go?”
“You mean you’re worried that I’ll spend your inheritance. I should have had kids.”
“You know that’s not true. I’m really concerned.”
“Why, because I’m old? That’s why I’m going. I want to see Wayne Newton before I die, and I want to eat at one of those fancy buffets. Ruthie’s son is driving all of us in his SUV. He’s attending a convention there next weekend. We’ll leave Thursday afternoon and be back Sunday night.”
At least they weren’t driving themselves. The world is just not ready for the HOOTS turned loose on the freeway. “So I can’t you talk out of going to Sin City?”
“No, and get over yourself, sweetheart. Don’t be so prudish.”
I knew when I was defeated. “Will you at least promise me you’ll be careful?”
Aunt Penny scrunched her lips up in tight little bow. “Certainly not. I intend to have some fun. I might even put a nickel in a slot machine. This could be my last hurrah, you know.”
Incredulous, I faced my aunt. She folded her arms across her chest in defiance. We locked eyes and glared at each other. I caved first. “You’re stubborn, just like Daddy.”
Her face softened. “You’re the one just like your Daddy, Muffin. When our parents died, he tried to take care of me, even though I was older. He introduced me to Stewart. He said Stewart would take good care of me. He did, and I loved him, but frankly sweetheart, your Uncle Stewart was boring. I want to live a little now. Stop worrying about me. I can take care of myself.”
“I know you can Aunt Penny. I just love you so much, I’m concerned.”
“I love you too, Muffin. If I get in trouble, I’ll call you, but you can’t tell your dad. Deal?”
I chuckled. “Deal.”
“Good. I’ve got to run.”
She plucked her car keys from her bag and pulled the visor down tighter on her head.
“What’s your hurry? I could make us dinner.”
“Thanks sweetheart, but I want to go buy some things for the trip. I’m still in fair shape. How do you think I would look in a bikini?”
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