I have lunch with CoCo every Saturday at the Chocolate Café. My niece’s real name is Courtney, but when I discovered our mutual love for chocolate during her precocious toddlerhood, our Saturday afternoons became inviolable aunty/niece time, and she acquired her sweet-toothy nickname. We’ve been doing this for thirteen years now.
We go slightly insane on our lunch dates: turtle cheesecake drizzled in fudge, dark-chocolate covered cashews, triple-mocha cappuccinos. We’re veritable chocolate fiends, making “mmmmmm” and “ahhhhhh” sounds that sometimes draw the attention of other diners. CoCo’s prissy mother—my sister Tessa—would shush us, blushing, if she were here. But CoCo and I are uninhibited in our adoration of milk, semisweet, dark.
Last Saturday, CoCo plopped down without her usual “Hey, Aunt Jo.” When she listlessly selected only one chocolate chip cookie, I hooked her chin with a finger and said, ‘Okay, something’s very wrong. One cookie? C’mon, kiddo…spill.”
CoCo picked her cookie apart until her plate was covered with pea-sized crumbles. “Aunt Jo,” she said, “I made a huge mistake. With Trevor.” She smooshed a chip with her thumb.
I knew why CoCo confessed to me. I’ve mentioned Tessa—she’s a good mom, but a bit severe. I’m cool Aunt Jo; I share Tessa’s faith, but I came to God late, after a rough-and-tumble life that gives me a certain air of glamour in CoCo’s eyes. I’m older than Tessa, but I’m way cooler.
I thought for a while about what to say. Finally, I sat back and sipped my latte. “CoCo, did I ever tell you about the ‘70s?”
She looked up, surprised. “Huh?”
“Back in 1972, I was student teaching—eighth grade English. I was very fashionable back then, and I bought these great slacks, a new style called hip-huggers.”
“We have those now, Aunt Jo. But…”
“I’ll get to the point, Cokes. Bear with me. So I had these orange hip-hugger bell-bottoms…”
“…and a big problem. My shirts wouldn’t stay tucked in. I found a cool shirt that solved my problem, though--a fantastic orange-and-purple striped turtleneck that snapped at the…well, like a baby’s onesie. Got the picture?”
“Yeah…but I still don’t…”
“Hang in there, kid. So I decided to wear this lovely outfit to work. But when I was getting dressed, the first of the three snaps wouldn’t snap. Well, I still had two. So I snapped those, pulled up the hip-huggers, and left for school.
I was at my desk while the students were watching a movie about nouns, when I felt a strange sensation in my…in the area of the snaps. Number Two had come undone. I was down to one working snap.”
CoCo was stealing spoonfuls of my tiramisu now, and I’m sure I heard her snort. I continued my story.
“About the time the movie ended, my supervising professor walked in to evaluate me. He took a seat and nodded for me to continue the lesson. I dreaded standing up…what if the snap came undone? But I couldn’t teach from my desk, so I stood up and started talking about the wonders of nouns. Miraculously, the snap held. I was walking around the room, having students call out nouns, making a game of it…I knew I’d get a great evaluation. Toward the end of class, I went to the blackboard to write the homework assignment. I reached toward the top of the board—and the snap gave way.”
“Oh no! Aunt Jo, what did you do?”
“It’s not what I did, it’s what that shirt did. It flew out of my slacks and rolled up like a scroll. Oh, did I mention…my panties were not hip-huggers? A full three inches of white cotton was exposed. Kids were laughing, I was standing there with my shirt flapping, wishing for Death’s Carriage to stop by—that’s Dickenson, CoCo--and then my professor ran up and draped me with his jacket and said he’d stay with the class if I needed to leave to make…adjustments.”
CoCo grinned, then thought for a moment. Finally—“Aunt Jo, why did you tell me that story?”
I took a deep breath and picked my way carefully through my next words. “It was a mistake to wear that shirt—I knew something bad could happen, and it did. But it was covered quickly—by grace—and I never, ever wore it again.”
Did I mention how smart my niece is? She got it—right away. “Aunt Jo, you rock. Hey—can I have a chocolate croissant?”
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