Our family’s past, present and future converged on Saturday in Brooklyn. As we walked from Aunt Sophie’s Avenue P apartment to the Chinese restaurant on Bay Parkway, I looked with delight at the company that surrounded me. There was Daughter and Boyfriend, Son and Fiancée, the wonderful niece I wrote about in Pride and Remembrance, and cousins from my ex-husband’s side of the family, close relatives of Aunt Sophie. I rarely see these cousins since the 1998 divorce that removed them from my sphere of contacts, but Daughter has kept in close touch and she arranged the visit while the cousins were in town. I’m so glad she did.
Aunt Sophie is actually my ex-husband’s aunt, and a double aunt at that. I’ll explain, so stay with me: Aunt Sophie is my ex’s father’s sister making her an aunt; but she was also married to my ex’s mother’s brother, so I always thought of her as doubly related. She was also hands down my favorite elder relative. She and Uncle Natie were like Santa and Mrs. Claus, Jewish-style. They were round, jolly and devoted to each other beyond measure. Sophie would stand by Natie’s chair at the dinner table and serve him, only then taking her seat and filling her own plate. Family myth had it that Uncle Natie would starve to death were it not for Aunt Sophie. He never met a plate that wasn’t already full.
Uncle Natie passed away almost a decade ago, and Aunt Sophie is now in her late nineties and still in the apartment they shared for half a century, only now with a live-in aide. Almost blind and not always lucid, she is still the life of the party. Her conversation runs a well-oiled reel of announcements like, “I still have all my own teeth,” while pointing to her mouth, and “I never took medicine, not even an aspirin in my whole life.” What about the shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream every night? someone asks playfully. She waves her hand in dismissal, laughing. “That was to sleep. I never took a sleeping pill in my whole life.” We all hugged her over and over as she sat like a tiny, jolly, no long round queen in the middle of our circle. I have visited Sophie a half dozen times in as many years and each time I fear it will be the last.
Unable to stem the onslaught of time, we bring things. Once a futon that Son and Fiancée assembled with astounding speed and proficiency. Last time a big screen TV to replace the ancient mariner of sets that still wore rabbit ears atop its mahogany console. This time a toaster oven to replace the one that was so old it had a two-pronged plug. Daughter and Boyfriend dashed to the hardware store for an extension cord to reach the single kitchen outlet so the toaster oven wouldn’t have to stay perched on top of the stove. Fiancée spotted burned out bulbs in a ceiling fixture and Son stood on a precarious chair to replace them. How long they were out is anybody’s guess. We all ate the Danish and cookies we brought and watched Sophie enjoy our visit. A visit she would forget the moment we left, if not sooner.
No matter what we bring, we come away with more. On the walk for Chinese food afterward, we are as lost in memory as we are eager to talk. Remember how Uncle Natie always had Doublemint gum in his pocket? Did Aunt Sophie ever give you her recipe for tuna croquettes? Yes, but they never taste the same when I make them. Really? Try frying them in a little chicken fat. Chicken fat? My God, do you know how much cholesterol that has? Yeah, but how bad could it really be? Natie lived to his mid-80s and Sophie is pushing 100. Throw a little horseradish into your system and it’s all neutralized. If good health begins in the heart, then days like Saturday will take us all through life smiling.
While Daughter is away, here are pics from our recent trip to Italy, Greece and Turkey