Beautiful Aunt Bonnie boosts self-esteem

Bonnie Smith has felt more beautiful since she started embracing the name “Beautiful Bonnie” after her brother-in-law called her that when he was coming out of anesthesia several decades ago.

Beautiful Aunt Bonnie just turned 85. Some of you may have heard she was 95 or 96. That’s what she’s been telling people. Why? “Well, when you say you’re 95, people marvel at how great you look,” she said. “And I figure at 85, I can use all the marveling I can get.

Welcome to the world of my aunt, Bonnie Smith. Beautiful Bonnie. Just ask her. That’s not her legal name, mind you. She grew up as Bonnie Gilbert in Quincy and moved to Union City after high school. There, she met and married my dad’s brother, Elmer, a handsome WWII veteran with whom she had first flirted while on his in-town milk route and married in 1946 after their flirtation was followed up with at a dance. They were married 60 years and reared four beautiful daughters. But that’s not where the “beautiful” originated.

As Aunt Bonnie tells it, her sister Dorothy’s husband, Chet, underwent a complicated heart surgery. Bonnie and Dorothy were standing worriedly at his bedside in the recovery room of the hospital, fervently hoping things had turned out alright. He began to rouse from the anesthesia and Dorothy called softly to him, “I’m here, Chet.” She held his hand expectantly.

Chet’s eyes fluttered open and his first recognition was not of Dorothy, but his sister-in-law, Bonnie. “Beautiful Bonnie,” he said. And Bonnie’s family never let her hear the end of it.

Figuring there was no beating the rap, Bonnie joined in with those teasing her and began referring to herself as “Beautiful Bonnie.” She would introduce herself as Beautiful Bonnie socially and answer the phone thusly. At Christmas, we received Christmas cards from Beautiful Bonnie and her golf and bridge partners, as well as members of her church congregation, knew her by that name.

“Beautiful Bonnie” was standard at the dances she and Elmer were fond of attending. When I would run into someone who knew my aunt and uncle, they would refer to them as “Elmer and Beautiful Bonnie.” I often get comments like, “It must be fun to have Beautiful Bonnie as your aunt.” For the record, it is.

Funny thing is, Aunt Bonnie has always been modest about her appearance. “I like to look nice when I go out somewhere, but I don’t regard myself as a raving beauty,” she told me. Her tastes are on the flamboyant side. She favors bright, cheerful colors, bold prints, interesting shoes, large earrings, ostentatious pins and fun hats. She never met a bright nail polish or lipstick she didn’t like.

More importantly, Beautiful Bonnie never leaves home without her 100-watt smile, which she is equal opportunity in flashing. Even when hospitalized and near death a couple of years ago, she had the medical center personnel from the janitors to the physicians calling her Beautiful Bonnie.

Uncle Elmer used to just shake his head at some of her outfits and antics. But you could tell how proud he was to have her on his arm and the attention she garnered. Aunt Bonnie played the beauty queenly role to the hilt. She gets such a kick out of life.

If one were to have a nickname he/she could do far worse than “beautiful.” With Aunt Bonnie, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more people referred to her as beautiful, the more beautiful she behaved. My niece, Kaitlyn, may have taken a page from Beautiful Bonnie’s book.

I was visiting my sister’s family when Kaitlyn, then age seven, asked if I wanted to see a batch of relatively young kittens. She held up each for my inspection, stating their names and why she had christened them thusly. The last kitten she showed me was slower and sickly. Its fur was soiled and matted and infection drained from its eyes. When I asked its name, she said, “Cutie.”

What?! “Look,” my niece said, lowering her voice so the kitten wouldn’t overhear. “I don’t want her to know how bad she looks, so I figured if I named her ‘Cutie,” people would have to say she was cute whenever they called her. Maybe she will eventually feel cuter.” Works with people, too.

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