Dorothy Fredericka Horton, born June 3, 1918. Raised in Berlin, New Jersey on Estaugh Ave, near the Methodist Church in the center of town. Oldest of two brothers, Fred and Joe, and two sisters, Naomi and Marylin (“Aunt Weezy”).
Aunt Ricky went to Haddon Heights High School, where she was active in theater and at least once had the lead role in the school play. She seems to have been well liked, but did once tell a story about attending a New Years Eve party, and none of the boys would dance with her because she was too tall. It must have left quite an impression on her for her to remember it 80 years later.
Ricky got a job out of high school in 1936 and made $50 a month as an administrative assistant for the Pennsylvania Railroad. She worked there continuously until 1978, racking up a pretty nice pension and benefits that served her many decades after retirement. She worked in the Suburban Station at 1600 John F Kennedy Blvd (then named Pennsylvania Boulevard). She always walked in like she owned the place and could go anywhere inside that she wanted, sometimes taking elevators that were off-limits to guests long after her retirement. Her younger brother Joe also worked for the railroad in his teenage years, shoveling coal into the engine. I wonder if she helped him get the job?
Aunt Ricky fell in love with Harry at age 50, on a cruise across the Atlantic in 1968. She retells the story as she was sitting at a table, and a very handsome, well-dressed and impressive man came over to her and asked, “I wonder if I might have the pleasure of taking you to dinner tonight.” She was smitten. She joined Harry for dinner that evening, and their love lasted the rest of his life.
He was an English businessman who owned a factory that produced stainless steel for industry — large locomotives, elevators, etc. He was very wealthy. He owned a yacht, drove a Rolls Royce, and was a member of the Royal Yacht Club of London. Aunt Ricky accompanied him to the Royal Yacht Club at least once, as they are pictured in a photograph overlooking the Thames.
Aunt Ricky tells the story of the first time going to visit Harry in London, and he said his car was waiting for her and gestured toward his vehicle. She walked over to an unassuming Volkswagon Beetle, and Harry lightly laughed and said, “No, it’s this one,” (the Rolls Royce)
According to her, Harry once told her, “Dorothy, without you, there would be no joy in my life.” That is not to say that Harry was unhappy or unsatisfied with his life; rather it speaks to the joy Aunt Ricky imbued in everyone she met. His words that clearly meant a lot to her. She kept many pictures of the two of them around her house.
Aunt Ricky spent a lot of her youth caring for her elderly parents, and so in middle age she found new freedom. She learned to drive at age 55. Harry bought her the famous 1975 Plymouth Valiant that she proudly drove (slowly) everywhere until her mid 90’s. It was serviced in the same Sunoco station across the street from her condo for at least 20 years. Also took up choreographed swimming the same year.
She helped raise pretty much everyone in the family and traveled extensively all over the country thanks to the benefits of working for the railroad. She taught others to travel and introduced us to cultural centers like the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
She was active with the Daughters of the American Revolution, with an Uncle who was a Virginia wheat farmer who played flute while marching for the Confederacy. As part of her duties with the DAR, she gleefully attended naturalization ceremonies and welcomed the immigrant newly minted citizens each with a desk-sized Stars & Stripes. She sometimes organized class trips so students could watch.
Aunt Ricky’s 70’s to 90’s were spent filling her days with random acts of kindness. Picking up a box of donuts from McMillan’s and delivering them to someone’s doorstep. Writing and sending out hundreds of cards per year, including newspaper clippings of stories pertaining to this or that person’s life or hobby or history. Buying games for children, playing babysitter for tired parents, and never seeming the least bit perturbed by any inconvenience. Ever patient, always cheerful, seeing life through rose-colored lenses. It was almost as if unpleasant words, thoughts, and attitudes, were immediately rejected by her ears. She simply did not hear them, and drove the conversation to a delightful subject. If the news was negative, the channel was flipped.
She lived in a condo in Haddonfield and would walk down to the pub with her nephews to sit with a beer and talk to people about the Phillies or the Eagles, whoever was on at the time. I don’t think she drank it, she would just get one to be there and be among the people. She had no interest in sports at all, but followed them as a way to connect. Despite an heir of sophistication, she never, ever spoke or acted as if she was above anyone else. Always assuming the best in people and never looking down her nose, but simply acting with an almost royal poise.
Aunt Ricky took the children of the family on countless trips all over the place. In Philadelphia, she took us to the Mint (before it was closed to the public after 9/11), the Liberty Bell (on multiple occasions), the Constitution Center (on the day of its opening), and lots more. In Washington D.C., she took us to Washington Monument, the National Air and Space Museum, and the Smithsonian.
She came to the kids’ classrooms and would read stories, give the gift of new books to the classroom, and she was always welcomed in as a special guest. She would write postcards to the classroom from her trips to Atlanta and Washington. She collected every special minted coin to come out of the Philadelphia Mint and distributed them around to everyone she knew as if they were precious collector’s items (often they were regular coins in circulation). We would see who could be first to get the a coin with the new year printed on it.
On July 4, 2003, Aunt Ricky took Derrick to the opening of the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. We walked all around that day, and as we were buying lunch, at the checkout counter, tray of food in hand, Aunt Ricky collapsed to the ground. A gasp went out across the room. It was a noisy lunch hall, but there was quickly a scene as people were fanning her, being told to stay back, and some men in some kind of rescue uniform came in an instant. She began to get up and they told her to stay put and answer some questions.
Do you know what day it is?
“Why, it’s Friday, July 4!” she replied.
And the year?
“It’s 2003! I turned 85 this year!”
Do you know who is President?
“Ohhh, yes…” (in a hushed tone) “It’s that George W. Bush, well, uh, I’m not a big fan of his.”
Alright Miss Horton, you can get up, you’re alright.
She was embarrassed by the fall, but she didn’t want to show it. Her head was fine. I swear she could have told the emergency crew how many days were left until Christmas!
She was fine the rest of the day, and for a long time after, but I think she knew that was kind of the beginning of the end. She had passed out. It was hot. We hadn’t eaten. But once you have a fall like that, it’s kind of a sign that your body is starting to fail you. Fortunately, her mind was still in excellent shape, so she had many enjoyable years ahead. But she did often say things like, “Living is for the young,” and “Don’t grow up,” and I know now that she was referring to the agonizing pain and depression of aging.
She buried her sister Naomi, then her brother Joe, and eventually it was her turn to go to the nursing home. She had picked a place out long ago in preparation, never wanting to be a burden on others the way her parents were on her. She sacked away enough money to pay for the care she needed, and when it came time, she transitioned with grace. Her mind was very much still with it when she left, and it was really hard to talk about it while it was happening.
My mom took her to lunch while the other grandkids and I worked as fast as we could to clean out her condo of all her favorite stuff and decorate her new apartment in the nursing home. After lunch, we took her to her new apartment, and she thanked us but said she’d like to go home now. But there was no going back to the condo. She was home in the place where she would live out the rest of her days.
Fortunately the place was pretty good. They were nice to her, and she is good at making friends everywhere. Unfortunately some people when they get old get so nasty and mean, and some people were nasty to her, but she didn’t seem to care one bit, same as always.
Even though it came to the point where her mind no longer could remember things or recognize our faces and names, her positive and cheerful personality persisted. “Hello!! Hello!!” She would chirp and sing to anyone passing by. Always grateful for another day, she never seemed to curse her situation, but rather thanked God for another day of life, and she spent every moment making someone happy.