Dionne Warwick’s classic songs—”Walk on By,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” — always reminds me of my aunt Connie. She was my mother’s older sister and the black sheep of that family. She kind of looked like Warwick, with a similar skin tone and fashion sense. Connie wore her hair in a Jheri-curl, a style that really worked for her facial features. She was a tall woman, maybe 5’9 or so. At any rate, she towered over my mother, who was 5’1. She moved in with our family when I was ten or eleven. Previously, she’d lived in Philadelphia, where most of my mother’s family settled after living in the Carolinas.
Her first name was Stella but she always went by Connie. When she was sixteen, she got “in the family way” and was sent up North to avoid small town scandal. Her child was put up for adoption, but I believe that she never returned to the South. She married three times. I never met her husbands, but according to my mother, at least one of them was physically abusive. She moved in with us in DC when one of her marriages ended. She began working for my father as the receptionist for his dental practice, and lived in the basement room of our house.
Connie had a real zest for life. I remember my mother—who was very prim and proper—and her would spend evenings drinking beer and laughing about the Old Days. I learned that Connie followed the horoscope like a Wall Street trader follows the NASDAQ. She told raunchy and vulgar jokes to me and my brothers. She loved blaxploitation movies, Chablis, cigarettes and yes, Dionne Warwick.