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An aunt who made us feel favored

Mar 8, 2017 By Steven R. Peck

q Dorothy Louise Peck Russell was my father's older sister

by a year.

I like to think that there still are a few people around Riverton, or Fremont County or Wyoming who remember my aunt Dorothy.

In our family, she is unforgettable.

Dorothy, the older sister of my dad, Bob Peck, the younger sister of my uncle Roy; Dorothy, the "girl between the boys," middle child of the three oldest in their generation, all born in the early 1920s, all coming of age during the vice-gripping hardship of the Great Depression.

Dorothy playing instruments at the old Riverton High School (now torn down) and at the old Methodist Church (now the Riverton Museum); Dorothy, singing with the school choir, acting in the school play, laughing and telling jokes, smiling at the boys, huddling with the girls.

Dorothy, acing every class she took, the high school valedictorian one year after Roy and one year before Bob accomplished the same feat.

Dorothy, who called her younger brother "Bobby," the only person I ever heard do that; Dorothy, who nicknamed her slim, trim sibling "Roberty Bob, the big belly man" for reasons still unknown to the younger generation. He called her "Dorfy."

Dorothy, who went to the University of Wyoming when the great Kenny Sailors was playing basketball there, who knew a substitute on the team named Curt Gowdy, who would become a great and famous television sportscaster; Dorothy, who went on a couple if dates with the tallest man on the national championship UW basketball team, Milo Komenich, 6-foot-7.

Dorothy, who married a man handsome as a movie star, a love-at-first-site match that lasted 72 years; Dorothy, the first of the Peck kids to leave Wyoming for good, accompanying her husband as he moved higher and higher through the ranks of a giant corporation, and farther and farther from the dairy farm where she helped milk the cows, looked through the telescope her father had made, watched as he demonstrated geometric shapes by cutting up watermelon, and was quizzed on spelling, synonyms, antonyms and homonyms nearly every night at the dinner table with her brothers and sisters.

Dorothy, who knew every number in the Methodist Hymnal, who always sang loudly and proudly on Sunday mornings, just as her mother had taught her; Dorothy, who taught kids to play the piano and who learned the church organ and held that seat in Connecticut for 35 years.

Dorothy, who liked off-color jokes and knew a thousand of them; Dorothy, who laughed when she belched and revealed to my brother that, with practice, he could learn to speak words while burping, a skill she had mastered as a kid with lots of brothers of her own. My own brother's greatest accomplishment in this realm, in which Dorothy took great delight, was "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."

Dorothy, who shared a birthday - April 19 - with my mother, Cordelia; Dorothy, who might have been jealous of the two women of her age who married into the family, two women who struck her own children as exotic and glamorous, two women -- Cordelia and Margaret -- who inspired one of her children to say "Mom, I wish you had black hair and smoked," but with whom, instead, she became fast friends for life.

Dorothy, who read The Ranger faithfully no matter where she lived; Dorothy, who telephoned me one afternoon after seeing a clipping about my son's success in a debate tournament, telling me of the time in 1941 when the high school debate finals in Riverton pitted her against her brother Bobby, with her mother, Elvira Sostrom Peck, in the uncomfortable position as debate judge. "Mama knew just what to do," Dorothy told me. "She called it a tie."

Dorothy, who had a fine mind and spoke it candidly; Dorothy, an enthusiastic correspondent in the family "bus letter," which bulged bigger when each sibling's pages were added as the envelope traveled from West Park to West Main, then to California, Connecticut and New York.

Dorothy, teacher, musician and raconteur, husband of Charles, mother of Barbara, Bill and Harriette; Dorothy, who made expertly tailored Christmas stockings out of colored felt that hung on our family fireplace in Riverton for more than 50 years - green for Chris, red for George, white for Steven.

Only this year, finally and with great reluctance, did I agree to part with the stockings so that each of my brotherscould have his own, one in Tennessee, the other in Colorado. (Santa Claus can have mine, with my name stitched in perfect cursive in red thread by Dorothy, when he pries it from my cold, dead fingers.)

Dorothy, mistress of a cat named Thompson; Dorothy, an enthusiastic recipient of my annual cat calendar for 30 straight years, who wrote or called if it had not arrived by Jan. 10.

Dorothy, who roused me from anesthetized sleep after I had gone to the hospital for emergency surgery during a family reunion, her hand on my cheek and the words "hello, my darling" spoken softly into my ear in her unmistakable voice. Dorothy, who made all her distant nieces and nephews think they were her favorite.

Dorothy, next to whom I sat at my nephew's wedding in Memphis in 2014, kissing her hand before we were seated. Dorothy, whom I never saw again.

Dorothy, whom I loved,.

Dorothy, who lived 2,000 miles away from the time I was a boy. Dorothy, whom I wish I had seen much more often that I managed to.

Dorothy, whose obituary I proof-read this morning. Dorothy, whose vivaciousportrait I cropped for today's edition.

Dorothy, who died in Virginia, Sunday before last.

My aunt Dorothy Louise Peck Russell, who lived 93 years, all of them well.

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2017-10-22