Lockdown Day 91: Top Tomato and the Mourner’s Prayer / Encierro Día 91: Top Tomato y la Oración del Doliente

La versión español está después de la versión inglés.

UNCLE AARON´S BRAIN WAS NO longer much for details. As he approached 80, his once-sharp memory had begun to come and go. He was constantly getting confused, missing connections, much like the trolley cars he used to drive around Brooklyn. Clanging merrily down the street one moment and stopped on the tracks, the overhead wire disconnected from the power source, the next.

So, each year in the five years since my father’s death in 1987, San Geraldo and I would drive down from Connecticut during the Jewish New Year to take My Mother the Dowager Duchess, and my Aunt Lilly and Uncle Aaron, to the cemetery on Long Island for their annual family visit. My father was buried next to my mother’s parents, who were just a few steps away from my grandmother’s parents. Not far from them were some of their brothers and sisters, relatives I only knew from their headstones, their passing recorded long before my birth.

My large extended family had surprised me by readily accepting the fact that I was gay. Perhaps it was because Dale, the center of my universe for so many years, had just died of cancer at the time I came out (no coincidence that I came out then; it didn’t seem to matter anymore). Maybe the fact that San Geraldo had a Yankee blue-blood pedigree made it easier to accept. The name did carry some weight, and his charm and good looks sealed the deal. Besides, they quickly learned how kind he was, caring about my father through his illness and death, becoming another brother to Chucky, another son to The Dowager Duchess.

Each year, we would follow Uncle Aaron’s directions down cemetery lanes to visit the family. We left the Duchess’s apartment in Brooklyn at 10:00 Friday morning to pick up Aunt Lilly and Uncle Aaron who lived just a few minutes away. They were waiting for us at the side entrance to their building, another 25-story brick tower bearing a strong resemblance to my mother’s.

Aunt Lilly’s spirit hadn’t weakened as she settled solidly into her 70s, but her knees had. This year, SG had the inspiration to bring along a step stool to make it easier for Lilly to get in and out of our SUV. Since giving birth to her first daughter some 50 years earlier and her second 4 years later, Aunt Lilly had never reclaimed the slender and shapely figure of her youth. She always made attempts. At family gatherings, instead of having an entire piece of cake with her coffee, she would only take a sliver. But then, another sliver. And still another sliver. “It’s only a sliver,” she would say. I would never have described Aunt Lilly as fat, though. More like comfortable. And Uncle Aaron was always comfortable, as well. For me, they were both exactly as they were supposed to be.

Before their 50th wedding anniversary, Aunt Lilly finally stopped dying her hair shoe-polish black. It was now snow-white, just as her mother’s had been, and her eyes were a silvery gray, just like her father’s. Uncle Aaron’s hair had changed only slightly in my 38 years. The golden brown horse shoe that ringed his head when he taught me to ride a bike was now a brown and white horse shoe. And he still had the carefully trimmed, movie-star mustache he had adopted in the 1940s.

After setting out the green enameled step stool, to which Lilly laughingly exclaimed, “Oy, Jerry. A gezunt dir in pupik!,” and helping Aunt Lilly up into the front seat of the Isuzu Trooper (if she sat in back she got car sick), I climbed in back with my mother and Uncle Aaron, and we were on our way.

“Hadayadoodle, boys?” piped Aaron. “Where are we going?”

“To the cemetery,” Lilly responded with a sigh. “Oy, Aaron.” And to us, she explained, “I must have told him a thousand times where we’re going. He’s becoming such a farshtopterkop.”

“It means his head’s stopped up, Jerry,” the Duchess explained and then asked, “Do you know what Lilly said to you before? It meant, ‘Good health, to your belly button.’”

“Oh, Mimi. Don’t be so literal. I just said, ‘thank you.’”

“Very dramatically,” the Duchess added.

Lilly, being the eldest of the seven siblings, did not learn English until the age of 5, when she started school on the Lower East Side of NYC. She was shocked to discover that the language her parents and the neighbors spoke, Yiddish, was not the language everyone else in New York spoke. She returned from her first day at school furious with her parents and told her mother they were no longer allowed to speak Yiddish at home. Only English. Lilly grew to speak beautiful, extravagant, and sophisticated English. The most elegant in the family. But, as she grew older, she seemed to revert more and more to her Yiddish roots.

There was surprisingly little traffic on the Belt Parkway that perfect spring morning and in less than 20 minutes we had crossed into Long Island. “Here’s your exit, Jerry,” I directed, knowing what would ensue.

“This isn’t the exit,” chimed the Duchess.

“Yes, it is,” I insisted, as SG signaled and exited the Belt Parkway. “Go left at the stop sign.”

“Don’t you turn right here?” she chimed again.

“I thought this wasn’t the exit.” I muttered. And then added, attempting to be more kind, “I’m sure it’s left.”

“Aaron, do we go left or right here?” asked Lilly.

“Where are we going?”

“Oy, Aaron. Where are we going. To the cemetery!” she wailed.

SG turned left. As we drove, the Duchess said, repeatedly, “This isn’t the right way.” And I told SG, quietly and repeatedly, “It’s the right way.”

A few minutes later we reached the ornate, iron gates of the Beth David Cemetery and I breathed a sigh of relief. We drove onto the grounds of the orthodox cemetery and made our first stop to visit my grandparents and my father. While my mother and Lilly read the prayers, Jerry and I collected small stones for everyone to leave on the graves to show we had visited. For my father, I found a small gray stone from me and a beautiful smooth white one from Dale (I don’t think you’re actually supposed to leave a stone on behalf of someone who’s dead, but I do it to this day).

After making the usual rounds, we ended with Uncle Aaron’s parents. He could no longer remember where they were buried, so Jerry and I reviewed the map (a map on which Aaron had carefully marked the location of each new resident over the years) to determine the section to search. We then walked the tightly packed rows of new and old marble gravestones until we found them.

Aaron opened the prayer book and read aloud. Jerry and I stood respectfully nearby, while my mother and Lilly stood on his other side.

“Extolled and hallowed be the name of God …” he began.

“Mimi, I went to Top Tomato yesterday.” “Oh, Lilly, I wish I had known. I need cucumbers.“

“… and which He governs according to His righteous will …”

“You should have called me. I got the most gorgeous strawberries. Ay-yay-yay. From heaven.”

“… come, and His will be done in all …”

“Did you notice if they … Oh, Lilly, the bialys! I could kick myself.” “What?” Lilly asked. “What a memory I have. Schlucker’s was having a sale on bagels and bialys. I know how much Aaron loves bialys, so I bought you a dozen and put them in the freezer. I was going to bring them upstairs when we picked you up today.”

“… May they find grace and mercy before the Lord …”

“All right. So they’ll stay in your freezer another day. We’re not going anywhere.” “I’m getting so forgetful in my old age.”

“… and the rest of the righteous males and females that are in Paradise; and let us say, …”

“You? When were you not forgetful? And don’t talk to me about old. Oy, Aaron. What is he reading?”

“… and grandmothers, my uncles and aunts, my …”

“Oy gottenyu [oh god],” laughed Lilly. “Now he’s giving regards to everyone in the old country.”

“… whether paternal or maternal, who …”

“Aaron!” Lilly moaned, mostly to us. And then she commanded, “OK, Aaron. Genug iz ge’nug. Enough is enough. I want to visit Matilda sometime this century.”

“… Amen.”

As she climbed back into the car, Lilly asked SG, “You don’t mind driving to Matilda’s, do you? She’s just home from her surgery. And we’re so close. But, I don’t want to call her first. She’s such a baleboste [perfect homemaker]. Even sick, she’ll want to serve lunch.”

“It’s fine with me,” said Jerry, but then added knowingly, “As long as someone can tell me how to get there.”

“Sure, we can get there,” the Duchess insisted. “We’re very close.”

“Aaron knows,” said Lilly. “Aaron, how do we get to Matilda’s?”

“Who?”

“Matilda!”

“Matilda? She lives close to here,” he commented.

“Oy, Aaron. We know. Do you know how to get there?”

He thought for a moment and then said, “No.”

“We are really close,” I offered. “I’m sure, among the four of us, we’ll figure it out.”

SG sighed as we headed for the gates.

“What are we going to do with all those plots?” asked the Duchess. “Poppa bought 16, didn’t he?” commented Lilly. “Let’s see, there’s Mama and Poppa. And Davie. Aaron and I have our own through the Jewish Center. Mimi, you’ll use the one next to Davie. And you need one for Chucky.” “That’s five,” I offered. “Silvie needs four,” continued Lilly. “Nine,” I added. “I think Solly and Milly have their own. I don’t know what Matilda’s doing. Maybe she and Paul will use two. Elaine and Hank?” the Duchess wondered aloud.

“Elaine and Hank! Ikh zol azoy visn fun tsores!” proclaimed Lilly. Jerry looked to me for a translation. I had no idea. So, I said, “I have no idea.” “You understood that?” beamed the Duchess proudly. “Understood what?” “What Lilly said, ‘I have no idea.’ Or, literally, it means, ‘I should know as little about trouble’ — as I know about what Elaine and Hank will do.” “No,” I said, “I really had no idea.” “Wait!” Lilly boomed. “Mitchell and Jerry can use two!”

There was a stunned silence in the car. SG and I smiled. After a moment, I responded to Lilly’s pronouncement, “Well, I don’t know about that, Aunt Lilly. Do you think the cemetery management would allow it?”

“What’s to allow?” she demanded imperiously.

“Well,” I looked again at SG, who was trying not to laugh, as was I. “I mean … well… for one thing … Jerry’s not Jewish.” To which Lilly haughtily proclaimed, “Who’s going to tell? I’m certainly not going to tell!”

And, feeling loved and so fortunate (although there was no way we’d have ourselves buried in that cemetery), we headed back through the gates and into the wilds of suburbia. In search of Aunt Matilda. 

LA MENTE DEL TÍO AARÓN ya no era mucho para más detalles. A medida que se acercaba a los 80, su memoria una vez aguda había comenzado a ir y venir. Constantemente se confundía, faltaba conexiones, al igual que los tranvías que solía conducir por Brooklyn. Clan alegremente calle abajo un momento y se detuvo en las vías, el cable aéreo desconectado de la fuente de alimentación, el siguiente.

Por lo tanto, cada año en los cinco años transcurridos desde la muerte de mi padre en 1987, San Geraldo y yo íbamos en coche desde Connecticut durante el Año Nuevo judío para llevar a Mi Madre la Duquesa Viuda y a mi tía Lilly y al tío Aaron al cementerio de Long Island para su visita familiar anual. Mi padre fue enterrado junto a los padres de mi madre, que estaban a solo unos pasos de los padres de mi abuela. No muy lejos de ellos estaban algunos de sus hermanos, parientes que solo conocía por sus lápidas, su fallecimiento se registró mucho antes de mi nacimiento.

Mi gran familia me había sorprendido al aceptar fácilmente el hecho de que yo era gay. Tal vez fue porque Dale, el centro de mi universo durante tantos años, acababa de morir de cáncer en el momento en que salí (no es coincidencia que saliera entonces; ya no parecía importar). Quizás el hecho de que San Geraldo tuviera un pedigrí de sangre azul yanqui lo hizo más fácil de aceptar. El nombre tenía cierto peso, y su encanto y buena apariencia sellaron el trato. Además, rápidamente aprendieron lo amable que era, se preocupaba por mi padre a través de su enfermedad y muerte, convirtiéndose en otro hermano de Chucky, otro hijo de La Duquesa Viuda.

Cada año, seguíamos las instrucciones del tío Aaron por los senderos del cementerio para visitar a la familia. Salimos del apartamento de la Duquesa en Brooklyn a las 10:00 de la mañana del viernes para recoger a tía Lilly y tío Aaron que vivían a solo unos minutos de distancia. Nos estaban esperando en la entrada lateral de su edificio, otra torre de ladrillos de 25 pisos que se parece mucho a la de mi madre.

El espíritu de tía Lilly no se había debilitado cuando se instaló sólidamente en sus 70 años, pero sus rodillas sí. Este año, SG tuvo la inspiración de traer un taburete para facilitar que Lilly entre y salga de nuestro SUV. Desde que dio a luz a su primera hija unos 50 años antes y su segunda 4 años después, la tía Lilly nunca había reclamado la figura esbelta y bien formada de su juventud. Ella siempre hizo intentos. En las reuniones familiares, en lugar de comerse un trozo entero de pastel con su café, solo tomaba una astilla. Pero entonces, otra astilla. Y aún otra astilla. “Es solo una astilla”, decía ella. Sin embargo, nunca habría descrito a tía Lilly como gorda. Más como cómodo. Y el tío Aaron siempre estaba cómodo también. Para mí, ambos eran exactamente como se suponía que debían ser.

Antes de su 50 aniversario de boda, la tía Lilly finalmente dejó de teñirse el pelo de negro. Ahora estaba blanco como la nieve, como lo había estado su madre, y sus ojos eran de un gris plateado, al igual que los de su padre. El cabello del tío Aaron había cambiado solo ligeramente en mis 38 años. La herradura marrón dorado que le rodeaba la cabeza cuando me enseñó a andar en bicicleta ahora era una herradura marrón y blanca. Y todavía tenía el bigote de estrella de cine cuidadosamente recortado que había adoptado en la década de 1940.

Después de colocar el taburete verde esmaltado, a lo que Lilly exclamó entre risas: “Oy, Jerry. ¡A gezunt dir in pupik!”, a ayudando a tía Lilly a subir al asiento delantero del Isuzu Trooper (si se sentaba atrás se enfermaba), subí con mi madre y mi tío Aaron, y estábamos en camino.

“¿Hadayadoodle, muchachos?” dijo Aaron “¿A dónde vamos?” “Al cementerio”, respondió Lilly con un suspiro. “Oy, Aaron”. Y a nosotros, explicó, “Debo haberle dicho mil veces a dónde vamos. Se está convirtiendo en un farshtopterkop.

“Significa que su cabeza se detuvo, Jerry”, explicó la duquesa y luego preguntó: “¿Sabes lo que Lilly te dijo antes? Significaba ‘buena salud para tu ombligo’”.

“Oh, Mimi. No seas tan literal. Solo significa, ‘gracias’”.

“Muy dramáticamente”, agregó la duquesa.

Lilly, siendo la mayor de los siete hermanos, no aprendió inglés hasta la edad de 5 años, cuando comenzó a estudiar en la escuela en el Lower East Side de Nueva York. Se sorprendió al descubrir que el idioma que hablaban sus padres y sus vecinos, el yidis, no era el idioma que todos los demás en Nueva York hablaban. Regresó de su primer día en la escuela furiosa con sus padres y le dijo a su madre que ya no se les permitía hablar yidis en casa. Solo inglés. Lilly creció para hablar inglés hermoso, extravagante, y sofisticado. El más elegante de la familia. Pero, a medida que crecía, parecía volver cada vez más a sus raíces yidis.

Había sorprendentemente poco tráfico en Belt Parkway (la autovia) esa mañana de primavera perfecta y en menos de 20 minutos habíamos cruzado a Long Island. “Aquí está tu salida, Jerry”, le dije, sabiendo lo que sucedería.

“Esta no es la salida”, dijo la duquesa.

“Sí, lo es”, insistí, mientras SG señalaba y salía de Belt Parkway. “Gire a la izquierda en la señal de stop”.

“¿No se va a la derecha aquí?” replicó ella.

“Pensé que esta no era la salida”, murmuré y luego agregué, tratando de ser más amable, “Estoy seguro de que queda”.

“Aaron, ¿vamos a la izquierda o a la derecha aquí?” preguntó Lilly.

“¿A dónde vamos?”

“Oy, Aaron. ¿¡¿A dónde vamos?!? Al cementerio!” ella gimió.

SG giró a la izquierda. Mientras conducíamos, la duquesa dijo repetidamente: “Este no es el camino correcto”. Y le dije a SG, con calma y repetidamente, “es correcto”.

Unos minutos más tarde llegamos a las ornamentadas puertas de hierro del Cementerio Beth David y suspiré aliviada. Condujimos a los terrenos del cementerio ortodoxo e hicimos nuestra primera parada para visitar a mis abuelos y mi padre. Mientras mi madre y Lilly leyó las oraciones, Jerry y yo recogimos pequeñas piedras para que todos las dejaran en las tumbas para mostrar que habíamos visitado. Para mi padre, encontré una pequeña piedra gris mía y una hermosa blanca lisa de Dale (no creo se supone que debes dejar una piedra en nombre de alguien que está muerto, pero lo hago hasta el día de hoy).

Después de hacer las rondas habituales, terminamos con los padres del tío Aaron. Ya no podía recordar dónde estaban enterrados, así que Jerry y yo revisamos el mapa (un mapa en el que Aaron había marcado cuidadosamente la ubicación de cada nuevo residente a lo largo de los años) para determinar la sección a buscar. Luego caminamos por las apretadas hileras de lápidas de mármol nuevas y viejas hasta que encontramos quiénes éramos buscando.

Aaron abrió el libro de oraciones y leyó en voz alta. Jerry y yo nos paramos respetuosamente cerca, mientras que mi madre y Lilly estaban del otro lado.

“Destacado y santificado sea el nombre de Dios …” comenzó Aaron.

“Mimi, ayer fui a Top Tomato [Tomate Superior]”. “Oh, Lilly, desearía haberlo sabido. Necesito pepinos.”

“… y que Él gobierna según su voluntad justa …”

“Deberías haberme llamado. Tenía las fresas más hermosas. Ay-yay-yay. Del cielo.”

“… ven, y Su voluntad se hará en todos …”

“¿Te diste cuenta si ellos … Oh, Lilly, los bialys! Podría patearme a mí mismo”. “¿Qué?” preguntó Lilly. “Qué recuerdo tengo. Schlucker’s estaba vendiendo panecillos y bialys. Sé lo mucho que Aaron ama a los bialys, así que te compré una docena y los puse en el congelador. Iba a traerlos arriba cuando te recogimos hoy.”

“… Que encuentren gracia y misericordia ante el Señor …”

“Está bien. Entonces se quedarán en su congelador otro día. No iremos a ninguna parte”. “Me estoy volviendo tan olvidadizo en mi vejez”.

“… y el resto de los justos hombres y mujeres que están en el Paraíso; y digamos, …”

“¿Tú? ¿Cuándo no fuiste olvidadizo? Y no me hables de lo viejo. Oy Aaron. ¿Qué está leyendo?”

“… y abuelas, mis tíos y tías, mi …”

“Oy gottenyu [dios mío]”, se rió Lilly. “Ahora está saludando a todos en el viejo país”.

“… ya sea paternal o maternal, quién …”

“¡Aaron!” Lilly gimió, sobre todo para nosotros. Y luego ella ordenó: “Bien, Aaron. Genug iz ge’nug. Suficiente es suficiente. Quiero visitar a Matilda en algún momento de este siglo”.

“… Amén”.

Cuando volvió a subir al automóvil, Lilly le preguntó a SG: “No te importa conducir hasta Matilda, ¿verdad? Ella acaba de llegar a casa después de su cirugía. Y estamos tan cerca. Pero, no quiero llamarla primero. Ella es tan balabusta [ama de casa perfecta]. Incluso enferma, ella querrá servir el almuerzo”.

“Está bien para mí”, dijo Jerry, pero luego agregó a sabiendas, “siempre y cuando alguien pueda decirme cómo llegar allí”.

“Claro, podemos llegar allí”, insistió la duquesa. “Estaban muy cerca.”

“Aaron lo sabe”, dijo Lilly. “Aaron, ¿cómo llegamos a la casa de Matilda?”

“¿Quién?”

“¡Matilda!”

“¿Matilda? Ella vive cerca de aquí”, comentó.

“Oy, Aaron. Sabemos. ¿Tu sabes como llegar allí?”

Pensó por un momento y luego dijo: “No”.

“Estamos muy cerca”, le ofrecí. “Estoy seguro de que, entre los cuatro, lo resolveremos”.

SG suspiró mientras nos dirigíamos hacia las puertas.

“¿Qué vamos a hacer con todas esas parcelas de tumbas?” preguntó la duquesa. “Poppa compró 16, ¿no?” comentó Lilly. “Veamos, están mamá y papá. Y a Davie. Aaron y yo tenemos el nuestro a través del Centro Judío. Mimi, usarás la que está al lado de Davie. Y necesitas una para Chucky. “Eso es cinco”, le ofrecí. “Silvie necesita cuatro”, continuó Lilly. “Nueve”, añadí. “Creo que Solly y Milly tienen los suyos. No sé lo que está haciendo Matilda. Tal vez ella y Paul usarán dos.” “¿Elaine y Hank?” la duquesa se preguntó en voz alta. “¡Elaine y Hank! ¡Ikh zol azoy visn tsores divertidos!” proclamó Lilly. Jerry me buscó una traducción. No tenía ni idea. Entonces, dije: “No tengo idea”. “¿Entendiste eso?”, dijo la duquesa con orgullo. “¿Entendido qué?” “Lo que dijo Lilly.” ‘No tengo idea’. O, literalmente, significa ‘debería saber tan poco acerca de los problemas’, como sé lo que harán Elaine y Hank”. “No”, dije, “realmente no tenía idea”. “¡Espere!” Lilly retumbó: “¡Mitchell y Jerry pueden usar dos!”

Hubo un silencio aturdido en el auto. SG y yo sonreímos. Después de un momento, respondí al pronunciamiento de Lilly: “Bueno, no sé sobre eso, tía Lilly. ¿Crees que la administración del cementerio lo permitiría? “¿Qué hay que permitir?” exigió imperiosamente.

Bueno,” comencé. Volví a mirar a SG, que intentaba no reírse, igual que yo. “Quiero decir … bueno … para empezar … Jerry no es judío”. A lo que Lilly proclamó con arrogancia: “¿Quién lo va a decir? ¡Ciertamente yo no!”

Y, sintiéndonos amados y tan afortunados (aunque no había forma de que nos enterraran en ese cementerio), volvimos a cruzar las puertas y nos adentramos en la naturaleza de los suburbios. En busca de tía Matilda.

With their eldest daughter at their 50th anniversary party.
Con la hija mayor en la fiesta del 50 aniversario de bodas.

Author: Moving with Mitchell

From Brooklyn, New York; to North Massapequa; back to Brooklyn; Brockport, New York; back to Brooklyn... To Boston, Massachusetts, where I met Jerry... To Marina del Rey, California; Washington, DC; New Haven and Guilford, Connecticut; San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Irvine, California; Sevilla, Spain. And Fuengirola, Málaga..

44 thoughts on “Lockdown Day 91: Top Tomato and the Mourner’s Prayer / Encierro Día 91: Top Tomato y la Oración del Doliente”

  1. What an amazing narrative. Real acceptance, “who’s going to tell?” Jay’s mother liked and welcomed me, expected me to take sides with her when she was sniping with her sons, but fussed when she thought I might take communion in the her church. I have a cemetary lot, 2 miles from the nearest paved road in the middle of nowhere Michigan, who will ever use it? I have thought about putting a stone there, for the two of us, but it is the last place I want to spend eternity, growing up there already felt like an eternity.

    1. David:
      Don’t know where Jerry and I will land; we probably should figure that out, but I know it won’t be in that cemetery on Long Island. Besides, my grandfather didn’t reserve a spot for me. I have a large extended family. My parents’ generation were a surprise when it came to the two of us. But, honestly, there were few we were close with. The ones we were close with, however, made up for everything else.

  2. What a great story, funny and sad and all of everything else.

    And I learned some new Yiddish which always makes my day!

    Farshtopterkop!

    1. Bob:
      I heard a lot growing up… only in passing from my parents. But I remember very little now. Every so often I’ll hear a word and think, “I used to know that.” Some are hilarious.

  3. oy! what a fabulous story. I love how you moved the prayer text to the right, as it would be in the prayer book. 🙂

    different times 100 years ago; we are a melting pot or our ancestors. pupik = belly button. love the cemetery gate.

    spouse and I have no plots; we are to be cremated and will remain in an urn at home.

    1. anne marie:
      Yes, I’m so very clever and creative… Well, except that it was an accident. I wanted Aaron’s prayer to stand out clearly from the conversation, so I changed the color. But that didn’t make it stand out enough. So, I moved it to the right. And I thought that worked. And THEN I thought… “Oh, just like Hebrew!”

      I thought the idea of being taken out to sea and shot out of a cannon with fireworks (AFTER being cremated) would be fun. SG thinks he wants to be buried in his grandparents’/ancestors’ cemetery. Wherever he wants to be is where I’ll go. I really don’t care. (But, oh, fireworks.)

  4. Mitch, this was lovely!
    Thank you for sharing these very personal and entertaining moments of your life.
    I was laughing and crying, with joy, through some of it.
    You have a precise and endearing memory for details.
    This/your writing would make a wonderful script.

    1. Jim:
      It makes me so happy (and said) to share these stories of these people who made such a difference in my life. And thanks for your kind words about my writing.

    1. Mary:
      Thank you. I love telling these stories. I’m going to start focusing on more of these. Especially since Lilly and Aaron’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren read and enjoy it and learn more about these people who made such a difference in my life.

  5. I am reading along and there you go and slip in the point of this story so perfectly ~ I and Jim experienced the same “acceptance” by my Mom many years ago. A sweet moment of clarity ~ a perfect moment of love! Thanks for offering your world to us. Ron

    1. Willym:
      Your comment brought tears to my eyes. It is so exceptional to be able to remember people from my past with so much gratitude and love.

  6. What everybody else said and more! Your family is a hoot and a half! I’ve always loved SG’s unflappableness in all things non blood related 🙂 My eyes are still a bit blurry, so this was hard going but so worth the effort.

    1. Deedles:
      As I retold this story, I thought, ‘Yeah, San Geraldo really is a Santo!’ Oh, the things he did for my family. He also adored Lilly and Aaron. We were so lucky. Thank you for straining your eyes for my story. Keep feeling better. Sending you hugs!

  7. What a wonderful reminiscence of your family! It is a delight to read — funny, sad and insightful all at the same time.Families! In some ways, they’re all the same, aren’t they, LOL?

      1. Jennifer:
        Not all wonderful but the ones that were made up for the rest… in spades. And, yes, I DO miss Lilly and Aaron. As you can tell, I loved them both so much. And so did SG. What a privilege.

    1. Debra:
      I tend to reflect negatively on my experience of my extended family. And then I remember a story like this and think, Who really cares about the other stuff. I was so lucky to have a few truly amazing aunts and uncles. And, oh, The Dowager Duchess was a piece of work!

    1. Wilma:
      No. That’s the older daughter; in the swing was the daughter who is 6 years younger. I’m lucky to be in touch with them both and see the older daughter (and her middle daughter and her husband and two daughters, whom I worship) whenever I’m in NY.

    1. bethbfromindiana:
      Aw, thanks. Yeah, I’ve thought and thought. I need an agent, a manager, an instruction manual, a personal trainer… in essence, someone with a whip and a lot of encouragement.

  8. That is a truly wonderful story, brilliantly told. It also reinforces my long held belief that old Jewish families and old Slovak families must have common roots somewhere in aeons past. I can so see my aunts and uncles in this. 😊

    1. James:
      And old Italian families and old Irish families and old Spanish families, too. I love how much our stories have in common. I’ve got friends here who tell stories about their Spanish mothers and I crack up. Hey, that was my mother! I think so much of it depends on how the story is told. Oddly, the one with the most foreign (to mine) upbringing and family experiences is SG.

  9. The scene at the cemetery was worthy of a Seinfeld episode. Or, if you’re not a fan of Seinfeld, a Woody Allen movie. Maybe a Phillip Roth novel.

    1. Kirk:
      Seinfeld so captured the culture I grew up in. Many of their conversations were identical to the ones I had with friends. And their relationships with their parents — of all ethnic backgrounds — were so similar. I used to crack up (although sometimes it made me want to cry).

    1. Cheapchick:
      My mother COULD BE extremely passive. She was also OFTEN very passive-aggressive. I don’t think I ever saw Aunt Lilly behave passively and she was never passive-aggressive. She was direct and to the point. I was fortunate to never be at the negative end of any of those points. I heard most of her sisters comment at some time about the painful POINTS they had been on the end of. To me, she and Aaron were simply the best. And, although my mother DID comment about her bossiness at times, my mother absolutely adored her (and Aaron).

  10. Thank you for making my day. Lenny has been gone a long time now but you brought him right back to me. They were an upstate New York Jewish family. I considered Lenny one of my best friends. Oy! And then he would watch the news, liberal hippy who spend a good deal of his adult life in San Francisco. Now retired and living in Phoenix, he would be cooking something wonderful and watching the news, “Schmucks!” he would scream at the small TV. I had no idea what it meant until I looked it up.
    Now for the cross threads. His brother owned a series of properties on the island of Majorca, Palma and finally Alcudia. His gay partner, Jamie was from there. I am too old and sick to go there now, but Lenny’s daughter who inherited all of that from her late uncle is also deceased. I would love to see what happened to all of that.
    Gay couple, Jewish background living in Spain near the sea. Cross threads. Thanks for the wonderful memories, both yours and mine.

    1. Tom:
      I’m glad to bring back sweet memories of Lennie. Ah, schmuck and putz. Both words for penis (well not so politely) and used by so many people who have no idea what they’re saying. SG’s polite, nice, clean-mouthed family loved to “putz around” and they didn’t like certain ideas because they were “schmucky,” while my friends got slapped across the face for using the words. I love the magical connections between us and your friends. We are neither of us practicing any religion anymore. SG was brought up Lutheran. But we DO have our stories.

  11. I agree with many here….a excellent post. We have both be thinking of family.! One thing I thought of is have you noticed many don’t visit graves of loved ones, like the old guard did? My grandparents use to go monthly to see friends and family. I will admit I go at Christmas….to take a spray of evergreens for my grandmothers grave. It was always our favorite holiday together.

    1. Mistress Maddie:
      Because of SG’s extensive family history and all his genealogy work, we love visiting cemeteries. I didn’t even know until I was with him that my great-grandparents were actually buried in that same cemetery. Whenever we’re back in NYC, we make a trip to that cemetery. And when we’re in South Dakota, we do the same with his two family cemeteries. Jerry and his sisters love to bring roses to his parents’s graves. That was his mother’s tradition for her parents.

    1. JanF:
      Thanks for commenting and for your kindness. It felt good to remember it and to tell it, and made me realize I need to get many more stories down. Lilly and Aaron’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren wrote to thank me for sharing stories about them and that meant so much.

  12. Hank is in that cemetery now too, and the trip to visit Aunt Matilda got a lot shorter as well. Elaine is still alive and kicking, and you might want to call and thank her if you got something interesting in the mail lately!

    1. KenoshaCousin:
      I know. I was shocked when I saw Hank there. And, yeah, no more directions needed to visit a lot of the family. Hmmm… Mail? Well, I hope it gets here soon so I know what I’m thanking her for.

  13. That was terrific. I loved the dialogue. I felt like I was right there in the car! (I’m SO GLAD your sense of direction was correct — if you’d taken the wrong exit I’m guessing you’d have been verbally punished in Yiddish!) I’m glad your family was so accepting at a time when many families were not.

    1. Steve:
      Oh, Steve, there were moments in the car where if it was just my mother in the back seat, SG would reach across and give my leg a gentle squeeze to remind me to breathe. To top it off, my mother never drove. She’d give directions that were never right and she’d tell us to turn onto one-way streets (in the opposite direction) or to “Park here!” (in a driveway). My mother didn’t use or even know Yiddish like Lilly, so she would say snotty things in English if I got us lost… and SG would again squeeze my leg.

    1. Claudia:
      Thanks! My ignorance certainly helps with that “fluency.” I have no idea what kinds of mistakes I’ve made, but I try my best.

    1. Urspo:
      I didn’t need any therapy as a result of my relationship with Lilly and Aaron… but my mother and many other family members… yes, that’s why you have a job.

Share your thoughts and experiences. It's always nice to know I'm not alone.