It was 25 years ago today that we, all my best friends and I, stood around you at the hospital fighting over just the right name. There was Cordelia or Cornelia, but I had thrown them out of the mix long ago. Theodora, Willemina and variations of Willy remained. But now, it was down to the big ones. Would you be called Phillipa, my favorite British name? Or possibly Paloma? Spanish origin, but maybe too affected. Truly, I was leaning towards Augustine, not Augustina, didn’t want the A at the end. Just the simple Augustine and for short, I knew I would call you Augie. I grew up loving my name and my nickname so much, that I wanted the same for you. For a brief moment, I even entertained the idea of just naming you Fredrica! It makes me happy to know how much you do love your name.
Carrying you around became a huge draw, much better than a puppy; it was like I was carrying baby Jesus. People would come from across stores and streets just to look at you. And of course, you at them. Staring at people became a pastime. You became a great studier of people. As a kid, when movies or stage plays were going on, you would often rush to the front of the first row, turn around and stare back at the audience watching the performance. Your magnetic personality kept building and now often, when you walk into a room, you light it up with your presence. People often ask, “Who is she? Is she famous?”
I should probably mention here how beautiful you are. I can honestly say, I’ve never seen anyone quite as beautiful as you. Truly. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say you are the most exquisite person. You have all (and then much more) of my mother’s drop-dead looks, mixed with my father’s magnetic personality. What a combination! The most important aspect of your beauty, however, is the inner one. Augie, you have zero malice. You don’t even have negative thoughts towards those who might have hurt you. Not a vindictive or mean bone in your body. I’m so impressed with your generosity of spirit.
My dream was that you would have a relationship with your mother that was different than the one I had with mine. I loved the reinvention of a “good” mother/daughter relationship through you, my affectionate, loving daughter.
A few years ago, I was worried about you being a people-pleaser at the expense of your own self-interests, but I’ve come to realize that isn’t you at all. What you are is a peacekeeper — and I so admire that quality in you.
Another thing about you is your BIG booming voice and laugh. The loudness of you reminds me of my father. I would sometimes beg you, “Please – whisper, Augie,” and for about 30 seconds or so, you would oblige. But then, the big voice would again take over. In the same way that you forgot so quickly to stay quiet, you would also forget to stay angry. For maybe 30 seconds you could be mad at someone — and then it would vanish just as quickly, the laugh and smile returning to take its place.
A year or so ago, we were scattered in seats on a plane to New York, or maybe Canada … and above the noise, I heard your laughter. And your laughter made me cry. A young girl had just been murdered in Los Angeles and I kept thinking of her mother; it struck me that she would never hear her daughter’s laughter again. I know I am the luckiest mother in the world whenever I hear your boisterous laughter.
Augie, I wish for you a long, long future with lots of laughs — and for me to be around to hear them.
Let me say this now for the whole world wide web to hear: “I love you Augie!!!”
One of the most endearing qualities about my Augie is her ability to laugh at herself. If you want to read two quintessential Augie Duke stories that our family loves, read them here.
When Augie was in third or fourth grade, she had a test coming up. I said, “Let’s study together,” and I took her book and noticed she was studying Native Americans. So, I as I quizzed her on the chapter, I put the book down for a second to remind her, “You know, Augie, WE are Native American,” because we do have some Cherokee blood on my mother’s side. At that moment, it dawned on Augie why her classmates had recently looked at her dumbfounded: “Oh, my God, I stood up in class and told everyone I was AFRICAN American!”
In the first month of high school, I thought Augie should try out for the swim team. It’s good to have a sport and swimming would be a great after-school activity. However, on tryout day, I realized Augie didn’t know what the strokes were called, though she was a very good swimmer. If the coach said “freestyle” or “crawl,” she wouldn’t know what he was talking about. So I gave Augie the dubious advice, “Just do what the girl in front of you does, because the rest of these kids are experienced swimmers.”
It was her turn to jump in the water, so she did. Then, without warning, Augie appeared to have trouble staying afloat, her arms flapping wildly as she gasped for air. I’m about to dive in to save my sweet baby’s life when I spot the little girl in front of her in the pool — a girl who, unlike Augie, had no idea how to swim and was nearly drowning as she desperately struggled to survive — but, Augie, the obedient child, is just following mom’s brilliant instruction to copy the girl in front of her. I want to scream, “Augie, not THAT girl!!!” Fortunately, both survived.
Enjoy the recipe for Chasen’s chili:
Once, I went to visit my friend Leilani after she gave birth to her first child. She told me that her mother-in-law, Rosemary Clooney, had brought Chasens’s chili to her in the hospital. I found out that Rosie did this for all her children after her much loved grandkids were born. I think it might have been a tradition that her husband, Jose Ferrer, started when she gave birth to their five kids. I didn’t have that luck. When Augie came into the world, I was offered a “romantic” dinner with my husband at St. John’s hospital. Maybe the father of my children was babysitting our older child Oliver, but since I knew he would be a no-show, I invited my BF Libbie over for the glamorous dining. I don’t think Libbie or I would call that meal memorable, but we did have some laughs, and laughter is sort of a theme here, so it’s fitting.