Sunday, August 21, 2011

Childhood Dying

All of my childhoods have died or are slowly dying.

On my mother's side is Grandma Lillian who used to send me to the store for cigarettes, black olives, and pencils and lived with her manic-depressive diagnosis and blindness. Lillian's father, Great Grandpa Lewis sat at Aunt Bea's dinning room table reading the Jewish newspaper. I cannot remember what he looked like, only his back. Great Aunt Bea, overweight and commanding in her housedress. Great Uncle Al who was the family patriarch, very wealthy, and took good care of his brothers and sisters in their old age. Uncle Morris who was a "bachelor." Great Grandmother Lee, who baked us poppy seed cookies and to whom my mother still felt a duty, even though the Lee family disowned my grandma and left her penniless as she raised my mom and her step-sister Annette and step-brother Harold. Uncle Sherwin who was always very handsome and a good buddy. Auntie Annette who taught me the power of positive thinking and helped mold me into the person I am today. Aunt Kate and Uncle Harold, Aunt Anne and Uncle Sol, Aunt Milly and Uncle Irving, all really cousins but old enough to be respectfully called Aunt and Uncle. Kate was funny and mentally ill, Harold was a comic and sold ties, Anne always pretty and a little jealous, Sol sold giftware's and had an affair, Milly the best baker of desserts I have ever known and Irving was always my mother's "favorite."

On my father's side, Grandpa Max used to nap in the blind slat darkened bedroom. Grandma Sarah used to love bone marrow on rye bread and always smelled like herring. Aunt Lil was always sophisticated, well dressed, and scary. She was the first to die at an early age of lung cancer. Uncle Leonard was worldly and important. Uncle Ben with his fears sat by his short wave radio. Auntie Anne painted pictures with her hands as a way to describe what she was saying. Aunt Esther, always bohemian, lost her vocal cords to cancer and poked your chest as she belched her words to keep your attention. One time when she called on the telephone and used her voice machine to leave a message on my answering machine. Two machines having a conversation. I never knew my father's sister Frieda who died on my father's birthday at the age of twenty from Leukemia.

So who is left? Aunt Elaine who is Leonard's second wife, blowzy and outspoken but authentic and lovable and still going strong. Ida Kanov, holding on despite many falls and hospital stays, close enough of a family friend to be included in my list, a tiny woman, always loving and understanding. Uncle Harold, always a comedian and the black sheep of the family who has "served time" and fancies himself more wanted by the Maffia than he really is.

When they are gone so will my childhood finally be gone. The memories will live on but when I am gone this generation's stories will be gone. Eventually we are all forgotten, only love lives on.

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