Monday, December 16, 2019

Aun Tirene

Aun Tirene, (Auntie)

If anyone asked me to what or whom did I owe my love of theater, the answer would be easy— my Auntie Irene.  When we were kids we simply called her Aun Tirene which somehow developed into Auntie. The first Broadway show I saw was either, Fiorello, Bells are Ringing, or Milk and Honey.  I’m not sure of the order, and that was only three of the many, but even as a kid being with my Aunt was always a treat.  We would usually have lunch first at an automat or some fancy restaurant where we would eat little white bread sandwiches trimmed without crust, and filled with cream cheese and something green.  

Aun-tirene & Iris   ca. 2015
Sometimes we had a fancier lunch where she would instruct me about critically important rules, like breaking my bread before I ate it and which fork and spoon to use, and when. I thought these rules or instructions on manners were interesting. It wasn't until I was invited to fancy international dinners years later that I was grateful for all the lessons.  Important to remember,  you start with the silver on the outside and work your way in.
Irene, Milton, Rose
It might help to understand how important my relationship was with her if you know that growing up my dad had MS and my parents spent lots of time traveling to find a cure.  My brother and I felt somewhat abandoned, which now we know helped us to develop our independence and also to build our character, but without members our family we would have been incredibly lonely. My Aunt Irene was an intricate part of making sure we were schooled in  cultural growth.  For example, she took my brother to DC to learn about the capitol and government, and as I said our NYC adventures have a prominent place in my memory.
Irene and Milton, ca. 1927
She was a little younger than my dad but as kids, my parents were sweethearts from the time they were 16.  It made sense that after her husband died she was a part of my mothers family as well.  One of the things that comforted us at the cemetery  was that she was buried right next to mom and dad.  The pictures of them as kids are phenomenal.  Both she and my mom were gorgeous, and dad looked like Tyrone Power.  The three of them together took your breath away —and I am not exaggerating.  

Auntie  was always there for me.  She supported my career and personal choices, she reveled in my accomplishment and she loved all our kids and their accomplishments. There were many times that I felt closer to her than any other human being.  

When we moved back to NYC I saw her for lunch at least once a week if not more.  She had a great sense of humor and was always entertaining with her stories about travel to ports and parts unknown, steeped in adventure.  There were also stories about my grandmother and my biological grandfather, who was a tailor on Broadway.  Everyone loved her.

When we realized her short term memory was going, and her friends were deserting her, it was painful, but there were still family events which she always attended and enjoyed.  As I said she was loved and I was there to make sure she was OK.  Not that she needed me because she got up, dressed and ready to go until she was 94. At some point, she no longer wanted to go to the beauty salon, nor did she want to get ‘dressed’ up.  Her friends thought she was not being cared for, but on the contrary she had me, family and her companion Lauren who saw her everyday. They went to the movies, out to eat and on nice days to the park to watch the children play.  It was difficult to get her to go to the doctor or for that matter, any place she didn’t want to go.  Her friends reported me to NJ Social Services because they thought she wasn’t being cared for. But that was never the case. She wanted her independence and we tried to respect that.   I guess for her friends, to see Irene not coiffed and dressed to the nines, meant she was suffering from neglect, which was certainly never the case.  The saddest thing for both Lauren and myself, was that she got sick and was incredibly unhappy.  All she wanted to do was to be left alone. For someone who was as social as she was, the desertion by her friends was the most painful for her.

Thankfully she died peacefully in her sleep. We had a gravesite burial, which is what she wanted.  “Don’t fuss,” she told me, “when I’m gone, I’m gone.”  It was just family, and Lauren, of course, the child she never had, who we and she considered family.  

Going through all her things was an education about who she really was. Totally organized, beautiful clothes and shoes and diaries about her travels and adventures. .It was sad beyond imagination because she was the mom who said I was terrific and filled all the gaps in my life.  The last thing she said to me, which was the day before she died, was “please Iris, I’m begging you, just make them all leave me alone.”  

She died the day before we were moving her to assisted living.  We had moved her from her apartment, to the hospital, to rehab. In my heart I know she just didn’t want to move again.  She made the choice to assert her independence and not to go anywhere but to join her husband, and my mom and dad. We will always love you Auntie and as we always said to one another, “I love you, more.”    We’re just sayin’… Iris