Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Age 16
Tomorrow I am planning to spend the day with my Aunt Alice.

Alice just celebrated her 92nd birthday and, in the past year, has lost much of the zest and sparkle that set her apart from the other old ladies she hung around with, many quite a bit younger than she.

After her party, on the way home, I became very sad about this faded version of my aunt but Seth reminded me what a full life Alice has led.

He is absolutely right.

She kept the home fires burning during WWII for my Uncle Ed who was overseas and, upon his return, enjoyed the life of a wife and mother in a world where you weren't self-conscious about telling people that this is what you did when they asked you what you do.

She bowled in a league, played canasta with the girls, learned to make jewelry, read mysteries, enjoyed the theater, was a fantastic dancer and looked great in the sparkly silver sari she'd had made while traveling through India.

Oh, did I mention that she traveled? Well, she did. She and Ed saw the world, made friends everywhere, brought home  treasures and told fascinating stories about their adventures. She never forgot to bring me a doll, dressed in the national costume, from every country she visited.
How about those socks?

She collected jewelry made from volcanic lava and had three cats. She talked on the phone with friends every day, making plans and laughing.

She used a long cigarette holder when she smoked and once answered the door stark naked when Jehovah's Witnesses came to call.

They never returned but tried to save her soul by leaving copies of The Watchtower in the mailbox every once in a while.

She would also ask people who called to try and sell her things over the phone (long before they became telemarketers with automatic dialing and robo calling), "How dare you interrupt me when I'm having sex?!?"

Although, she was not that polite--opting for a grittier version and laughing after they'd gasp and hang up.

Alice was a fearless cook, imaginative and experimental. She ate enormous portions yet remained slim and gleefully introduced the concept of fondue to a table of stunned relatives who could not fathom why they had been given plates of raw meat.

She introduced the avant garde concept of salad dressing to her greenhorn family who only knew to put mayo on their greens and enjoyed hot dogs from a cart after a movie in the city.

She whipped up favorite dishes for her family but thought nothing of cooking for a party of 60 people. She loved to entertain and could make conversation with anyone.

She preferred modern design and her favorite colors were blue and green. She never colored her hair, had long nails, wore eyeliner and used a brush to apply her lipstick.

She loved puns, did the New York Times crossword puzzles with ease and, in the early 1940s, almost became a traveling singer with a big band. Her mother, who rarely said no to her only child, put her foot down and forbade it. She listened to rock and roll while other women her age were tapping their toes to Lawrence Welk.

She could follow complicated knitting instructions with ease, churning out elegant sweaters, vests and afghans for everyone she liked. She was a little flirty but was a devoted wife and was married to her husband for 63 years before he died and she's managed since then, although she misses him terribly.

People wanted to be around her.

Alice had charisma. When I was little, she would always make sure that I sat next to her at the long family table at Thanksgiving but would become annoyed if I kicked her chair. I was very careful not to do that because I didn't want to blow this great gig as her dinner companion. She didn't treat me like a kid and made me feel very special.

She taught me how to be a good hostess, how to present a meal, make people feel welcome, set a table with lots of forks and spoons and introduced me to Szechuan cooking when all I'd known was Cantonese.

She made me my first iced coffee and took me to my first French restaurant. She showed me how to eat an artichoke and kept a laquered tray with fresh fruit on the counter. Her refrigerator was always jam-packed with delicious leftovers and you could pull out anything you wanted and eat it.

When Tommy was born and I'd used up the good will and stamina of both my mother and mother-in-law, I went to Alice who walked the floor with the colicky newborn while I slept deeply in the guest room.
Alice and me, 1962.
I still have the same hair-do.

Today she is more of a shadow than Alice--kind of like the one Peter Pan wanted Wendy to sew back on in the story and her rich, vibrant, nuanced life has become quiet and slow.

When I get melancholy after seeing her in this late stage of living, I will remind myself that Alice really, really lived. She seized the day every day and looked forward to new experiences, meeting new people and still has the hots for a few of the pro dancers on Dancing With The Stars.

Rock on, Alice. See you tomorrow.


  1. I absolutely loved this.

  2. I never smoked; but if I had I'd probably used one of those longer holders like she did. Everyone I ever knew with one was a real trip. I think it's good to assert your own style.

    And good for you spending time with her. I think it's sad so many of our elders are just ignored like they no longer exist.

  3. I love you. And now I love "Tiny Alice" too. I wish I had a fraction of her sparkle XO

  4. Thank you so much, Catalina and Samantha!

  5. I'm sure you would have looked tres chic with a cigarette holder...and, even as she is currently, she's still a good time.

  6. Thank you, Janet...and Tiny Alice would love, you too!

    Today she ate her weight in egg salad.

  7. I want to meet her. She sounds like a hoot. And she was so pretty!

  8. You are so fortunate to have her, and she - you