The Family Saint

Today I am writing about the saint of the family—Aunt Arlene. She is definitely the wackiest saint out there, but in our family, no one would disagree with me on that. (Tricia is the other saint for the record.)

We get along well, considering she still has not forgiven me for tattling on her when she lit our room on fire. No matter what she says, I stand firm on being in the right for telling Grandma because it was my room too. (If she had her own room, perhaps I would have kept my mouth shut.) But that is not what made her the family saint.

First, I am forever grateful to both of my sisters for helping me when I had to go to the hospital, leaving Dad with a four-month old baby who would not take a bottle. Aunt Ar and Aunt El will never let me forget how they saved Casey’s life by swooping in and playing wet nurse. I remember that Aunt Ar said it embarrassed her to nurse my baby, so she claimed she fed Casey in the closet. Aunt El had a rough night, so when she came downstairs with two babies in her arms, she didn’t take any crap from Dad who was complaining it was too early to be woken up. I really will never forget this and don’t need to be reminded.

Then Aunt Ar decided to become a nurse. I know how difficult it must have been to go back to school as an adult with all the responsibilities of a family.  I was always very impressed with her for doing so (and she was even the valedictorian but couldn’t give the speech), and now she just completed her bachelor’s degree. We are all so glad to have had her there to handle all the medical questions and care for Grandma and Grandpa through the years. She is always there now for Grandma, and I know how much of her own time she has given. Saint Ar.

She inherited Grandma’s very strange sense of humor and gets away with some of the most outrageous and sometimes offensive jokes, but Grandma always laughs—as does Aunt Ar, who laughs at her own jokes. (I would be told to never return if some of those words ever crossed my lips.) She can say just about anything and knows it.

I can’t end this story without mentioning her Billy Joel obsession, which started with that concert at Rutgers on December 14, 1974 (I googled this to get the exact date.)  She knows I was responsible for taking her to that first concert.

Now forty-two years later, she is still seeking out his concerts.  I cannot believe she almost went to Vegas to see him and then was able to trade the tickets with a flight attendant!  While we were living in Chapel Hill, she flew to Raleigh just to see him. What a fan! She swore she would never drive to our house again after her one very long trip with Matt when she learned that full service gas stations rarely exist outside of New Jersey.

Will one of you be our family saint? Who will it be and can you be as good as Aunt Ar?



Surrogate Big Sister

I never had a big sister, but growing up, I always looked to my cousin Nancy as my surrogate big sister. I remember watching her when she was in high school.  As a kid, I wanted to be like her.  When their family moved to Cornelia Street, just two blocks from our house, I was happy that they were all so close to us.

She had a poster of Joe Namath, who played for the New York Jets, on her bedroom wall.  That was the beginning of my interest in football, although I admit not so much until I moved to the South and Kelly went to a big football school.

Nancy and her husband Charlie moved into the beautiful house with the scary driveway on Boonton Avenue.  That driveway ranked up there with driving up Main Street in the learning-to-drive world, because I had to drive to their house as part of my driver’s education class.

When Jennifer was born, I thought Nancy had the perfect life. To a kid eight years her junior, I wanted to someday have what she had—a nice house and beautiful children.

When I started dating Daddy, I remember talking to her and my cousin Janice about him because I had some doubts.  I don’t remember the exact conversations, but they convinced me to give him a chance, which was obviously good advice.

Dad and I still talk about babysitting for Christina when she was just three months old.  That day, Nancy gave her corn for the first time and it did not agree with her.  We placed her in her swing, which seemed to soothe her and helped us get through the evening until she and Charlie got home.

When we got married, they let us use their park-like backyard for our photographs.  That setting was the go-to spot for so many wedding photos.

But two of you don’t need a surrogate big sister. Only Kelly and I never had a big sister. I am thinking that Kelly, as the biggest cousin of our family, probably does not have a surrogate. Uh oh. We need to find you one. It’s never too late.

Sisters- Part II

I feel I am an expert on sisters since I was one of three and then became a mother of three sisters. Girls bring drama to the family, but I am learning that boys are fearless, daring, and full of much more energy. I admit, though, I know sisterhood from the perspective of the oldest. I probably made some of my mistakes because of not understanding birth order personalities. So I researched it and today and concentrated on the youngest.

What I found in my research was so true. I was not as nervous with you, Casey, and I babied you longer. A conversation from the movie Parenthood says it all: We were tense with the first.  If he got a scratch, we were hysterical. By the third, we let him juggle knives.

According to Parents Magazine, the youngest child shoulders less responsibility, so they tend to be more carefree, easygoing, fun-loving, affectionate, and sociable. That’s you for sure, and the fact that I was cutting up your food until you left for college—or so it seemed to your sisters— was because it was so difficult to let go of the baby. Ask Aunt Val.

The three of you played together, fought together, shopped together, and ignored each other at times. Casey, I know you got upset when you had to go to bed earlier, so you contrived tricks to come downstairs and be part of the action. But in the end, I believe you loved each other and still do. I have it in writing.

Sisters Poem

And even though you have always been the little princess of the family, I hope you agree with the sentiment I found on a plaque at a store in town.

Being a Sister


Grandma, as you all know, had only one sister—Aunt Marian, who was four years her senior. While our family interacted with Aunt Marian’s more than Grandma’s other siblings, it was certainly not because those two sisters were similar in their likes, dislikes or opinions. While I believe that in some cases, we can’t change who we are because of our genes, I think our environment and friends may influence us more. So in the nature (genes) versus nurture (environment) debate, my vote is with nurture.

Both sisters loved to dance, and they came from a long line of dancers. Grandma’s Uncle Jim and his daughter, Gertrude, both taught them how to wow the audience at the veteran’s home or at church shows. Their great uncle, Jack Blue, was a famous dance instructor in his day and was even in the Guinness Book of Records as a renowned instructor who never took a lesson himself. Grandma was given the choice of dance or piano lessons and I am assuming Aunt Marian was given the same opportunity. Nature or nurture?

They each had large families by today’s standards, although I am positive that Aunt Marian secretly felt superior to Grandma because she had three more children and six more grandchildren. They both did outstanding jobs as moms.

That’s where the similarity ends. Let’s first discuss their taste in books. This is how Grandma once described their contrasting preferences in books: “She like to read books where the main character walks up the street to have a cup of tea with the ladies, while I enjoy a good mystery where someone gets chopped up and their body is discovered by the side of the road.”

Music was another area of divergent tastes. Aunt Marian loved music of the forties—the kind you would hear in a dentist’s office, a funeral home, or, duh, an elevator. Grandma considered herself far hipper than her sister and preferred someone like Billy Joel or Rod Stuart. Thank goodness they did not go on any long road trips together!

Mom told me she hated to go shopping with Aunt Marian, because her sister delighted in striking up conversations with the cashier or the customer in line behind her, while Grandma preferred to say what she needed to and conclude her business. I admit that I had been like Grandma most of my life, but moving to the South, Aunt Marian’s chattiness has become second nature to me now. I was even scolded by a cashier at Shop Rite in New Jersey for making eye contact and talking to the man in front of me. I have met some very interesting people this way, particularly on airplanes, so I like the new me. I think neither of my sisters is like Grandma in that respect.

Grandma has never been able to accept aging, which is one of the reasons why leaving her house has been, and still is, particularly upsetting and distasteful. I think the denial of aging began when she turned thirty (her father even laughed at how upset she was on that birthday). She has been stuck in that age ever since, and I don’t believe she understands that she is eighty-six now.  It is a difficult number for her to admit owning. She always preferred to be called Jean or Aunt Jean by just about everyone, because being called “Mrs.” was all about growing old, and not ever about the fact that she got a very long name when she married Grandpa (She will deny that.) I don’t think Aunt Marian minded the more formal address of “Mrs.”

Despite their differences, the bond was strong and the relationship worked. Aunt Marian has been gone for four years now. Four years! Grandma has told me, many times, that she has often wanted to pick up the phone and share a thought or some news with her. I know she is not alone with those feelings. We all miss her—miss our two families getting together for holidays and wedddings. It’s just not the same.

Aunt Marian, my Grandma, Grandma
Aunt Marian, my Grandma, Grandma
Aunt Marian and Grandma
Aunt Marian and Grandma