A huge part of my early life was spent with my Aunt Carol. She lived with us for years and years, and when she eventually got married and lived in her own home, I used to spend weekends with her. My dad would drop me off after dinner on Friday night (or before, if I was lucky) and I’d spend a carefree, and usually rule-free, weekend with my Aunt Carol.
One of these days I’m going to have to sit down and devote a few hours to write down what my Aunt really meant to me. It’s just that it’s too big a story to tell. It overwhelms me, and makes me feel intimidated. But for now, I’m happy to tap out little vignettes about the things I remember most.
There was no bedtime when I was with Aunt Carol. Of course, if she was tired, I’d go to bed. But more times than not, we stayed up late on Saturday night. She’d get us some chips or popcorn, and we’d watch TV together while she’d set my hair. She was a whiz with bobby pins and foam curlers, and had gallons of Dippity Doo.
Every Saturday night at 10 p.m. The Carol Burnett Show was on CBS – channel 2 out of New York City, and we watched it every time I stayed with her. I’d be showered and in my PJ’s and robe, munching on snacks that my Dad would never let me have. I loved watching that show with Aunt Carol because she was really funny when she got to laughing. And Carol Burnett always made her laugh.
Our family still talks about the time she saw “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World” at the movies. There’s a scene where a country couple is run off the road, and while they are careening down the mountainside, with furniture and possessions flying off their truck, it’s been told that Aunt Carol fell out of her theater seat she was laughing so hard.
Carol’s laugh was high pitched, and she was known to snort. That made everything funnier. Even if I didn’t get the joke, if Aunt Carol was laughing, you couldn’t help but join in.
But I usually got the jokes on The Carol Burnett Show. It wasn’t as if it were high-brow comedy, like Monty Python. It was easy to laugh at – movie spoofs and goofy characters. To this day I credit the show with my love for the movie “Mildred Pierce.” Carol had done a spoof called “Mildred Fierce” and the next time I found the original black and white movie on TV I watched it and adored it.
My favorite sketches of all time were the ones with Mama and Eunice. I remember the episode when they all played Sorry, and the one where Eunice went on the Gong Show and sang “Feelings.” I also loved Mrs. Wiggins and Mr. Tudball. And even though at the time I’d never seen “Sunset Boulevard,” seeing Carol Burnett playing Nora Desmond with those giant, swinging boobs was hysterical to me.
I especially loved the beginning of the show when Carol Burnett would “bring up the lights” and see if anyone had anything they wanted to ask. She was always asked to do her Tarzan call, which got kind of boring. I think it was when Carol was at her best – she was so quick witted and funny, and always had a super funny response to even the blandest of questions.
But I remember this one time an old woman (who looked like she forgot her teeth that night) stood up and asked “Is that Maude?” The camera panned to a woman who looked exactly like Bea Arthur in that iconic role. She had the feathered grey hair, she had the long, polyester blend jacket, and she was hysterical! She wound up on stage singing a song with Carol. I highly recommend Googling it.
Oh, I loved those Saturday nights. If I could make it through the whole show, we’d try to find some creepy horror movie on TV – like Creature Feature or Chiller Theater. But there were nights when I couldn’t stay up to hear her closing anthem or see Carol Burnett tug at her ear. Those nights I would have fallen asleep with my head in Aunt Carol’s lap until she gently woke me and put me to bed.
To this day if I see clips from The Carol Burnett show or see her being interviewed, I think of Aunt Carol and those weekends spent at her cozy apartment. I’m so glad we had that time together.