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Auntie Chartreuse

I sat at a birthday party recently in a senior center with my short, chubby, cherub-faced Aunt Chartreuse. Sheʼs 84. The birthday boy was her frisky cousin Fred whoʼd just turned 97.

As Fred blew and blew and blew at the one and only candle on the cake, I asked Aunt Chartreuse if she planned to indulge in a piece of it. “No way. Iʼm trying to cut down on saliva,” she deadpanned. “Thatʼs an old line, but then Iʼm an old broad.”

With that witty little retort, she was sneaking in a small sample of her standup comedy act.

Possessing a natural talent for rhythm and timing, Auntie Chartreuse, whose real name is Minerva, started her standup act after she turned 70. Nicknamed Chartreuse when she was a girl “because I was so loud,” the handle stuck.

When she grew up, she graduated from loud to loquacious. But nowadays as soon as she realizes that sheʼs been “rattling the gums” too long, she swiftly interrupts herself and says, “My head itches.” Thatʼs her way of apologizing to her listeners for speaking every thought out loud. Sheʼs incorporated those three little words into her act, using them at least twice per set and always allowing “my head itches” to serve as her signature closer.

Auntie Chartreuse dreamed of doing professional standup since her days as class clown, but “life kept getting in the way.”

The red-headed old galʼs caustic comedy routines include acknowledging the viciousness of gravity on the human body. She bemoans her own “sinking rack.” But notes that “it perfectly matches my inflatable boyfriendʼs man-boobs.”

Her stage persona stands in stark contrast to her actual character. Never a substance abuser herself, her act includes lively tales of a lifelong bout with booze and pills.

“My career with drugs began when I took diet pills to lose weight. Discovering that the little dolls gave me boundless energy, I worked tirelessly on many a project. I accomplished a heck of a lot, but I quit cold turkey when I found myself vacuuming the sidewalk at 4 a.m. After that, I became a big-time boozer. And, trust me, nobody drove me to drink. I flew.”

Auntieʼs act includes such oldies but goldies as: “By the time I finally got rid of my baby fat, I already had the middle-age spread.” And: “Iʼm at an awkward age. Iʼm too fat to meet anyone new and too old to wait until I can get thin.”

I love hanging out with Auntie Chartreuse. For one thing, itʼs nice to be around someone whose actually older than I. But her attitude is far from that of many octogenarians. As we sat at the birthday party, she began to complain about other “less spirited people” from her generation.

“Oh Stevie, just look at ʻem. They just sit here nodding off. Theyʼre not with it. My inflatable man has more oomph. Why are they so old-actinʼ? Whereʼs their moxie? Whereʼs their energy? Whereʼs their…”

Suddenly she produced a sly smile: “My head itches.”

— Steve Eskew

Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website, eskewtotherescue.com.

Reflections of Erma