Sunday, November 13, 2016

Aunt Shirley

My Aunt Shirley died Tuesday night, election night. The family was convinced that she did not want to awaken to a universe with Donald Trump as her President-elect.

Maybe that was so, and if that was her predicate for moving on, then I applaud her wisdom and judgment. But this is not a story about the state of our political demise, but rather the near end of a family dynamic that has been a constant presence my entire life.

Shirley was one of five siblings in what to me, has been an almost mythic family. The Smiths of Lodi, four girls and then, at last, a boy. A group whose bonds tethered not only them but those who followed thereafter.

My aunt would have been 94 later this month and the gathering at her funeral reflected this. There were no contemporaries, no friends of hers and the only sibling still alive, my mom was nearing 99 and far, far too removed from this universe to attend or to even be made aware that her younger sister and life long best friend was no more. But my aunt was far from alone.

Three of the sisters settled in Teaneck after marriage. Memories of bonded households abound, but there was always a special place in my heart for Aunt Shirley's home. Not only was her son Larry only weeks my junior and always a good and loyal friend, but Aunt Shirley was forever a second mom. Her house was the one I would run to when my parents were away, her kitchen the place where I would listen to tales of her "bad list".

I was a lousy French student from my introduction to the language in grammar school to the mangling of it in high school. Aunt Shirley and I had our own way of making light of this bad situation  and the following was the exact way we began every conversation for nearly a half century.

" Robert, (imagine this in my Aunt's Lodi laced French) comment allez-vous aujourd'hui?"

"Tres bien, merci et vous?"

"Boney, bon, bon."

At the funeral home, cousins from all five branches of our clan gathered to pay our respects, to give tribute to Aunt Shirley and to share our love for her with her children.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite day of the year, a time when all the family gathered, when there was a feeling of closeness between generations that could not be elsewhere duplicated. I often wondered what it must have felt like to grow up in that house in Lodi, with all its tumult and activity, all its life and love, and it was on this one day of the year, on Thanksgiving, that I could get at least the tiniest sense of that feeling.

I worry that this feeling will soon die out. That my children will never be able to impart to their children just what I have had the privilege to know. That the Smith family gatherings will not last another generation as time, distance and remoteness of lineage make the story of these wondrous siblings just a tale to be resurrected on ever rarer occasions, just an emotion to be recalled and not enjoyed.

As my aunt was lowered into the ground at the gravesite she now shares with her husband of over 66 years, my Uncle Harold, with my dad, and one day in the not too distant future with my mom, and we silently said our final goodbyes, I couldn't help but recall my life long running conversation with her.

"Adieu, Aunt Shirley, until we meet again at Thanksgiving."


Anonymous said...

Dear Robert and all the Smith Family,
There was one contemporary of your Aunt Shirley there to say goodbye to her. For forty years I have been among the "outlaws" as we were affectionately ( I hope ) called. I came by this distinction when you married my daughter, Joanne. There have been a lot of Thanksgivings, marriages, births and sad goodbyes in the years that followed.And so, of course, I was there with you all to celebrate the life of Shirley Smith Solon.

As we filed into the chapel, I walked in with you and Joanne and suddenly realized that I was seated in a " family aisle" . To change my seat would have been disruptive, so I remained.
A few hours later, at Debbie and Roy's home, we were looking through a very old family album of Shirley's. And there I was, along with Michael at a long-ago Smith Family Thanksgiving.My first thought was , yes, they have always treated me as one of the family, so it must be true! So, dear friends, forgive me for making this about me and understand that as you have embraced me as family, I have always cherished you all.Please try to hold on to the wonderful relationships you share.
The memory of Shirley and Harold and the other dear ones who have left us will always be a blessing.

Anonymous said...

Aunt Shirley leaves a legacy that will flourish down through the generations of your family,you are all truly lucky .