Friday, July 12, 2013

Dear Aunt Emmy,

I thought everyone living in a retirement home enjoyed unannounced visits by small children.


Let me start by saying it was so great seeing you last month when we were out west. I've been wanting to come visit you north of San Diego ever since Gram told me how she cried on your toilet seat when she stayed the night at your deserted country home decades ago.

As you know, you are the sole surviving sibling of my late grandpop, and I figured there is no time like the present to drop by and say hi.

At 91 years old, that sassy spark is still all yours. Put the walker, wild white hair and lines in your face aside, you still got it, Aunt Emmy! And, I love how you still refer to yourself as "the baby" of the family.

Your life story is legendary. You left your humble home in South Philly, married a New Yorker, and moved out to California to start an organic food business with your husband. In 1948! You were a renegade. An organic-eating Orthodox Jew who donned a cowboy hat, bought a ranch, and rode horses, while still keeping kosher (most of the time).

When banditos crept onto your homestead, tied up your rail-thin husband, Uncle Allen, and threatened him at knifepoint, you jumped right in to save his life. Aunt Emmy, you karate-chopped your way to freedom, despite getting stabbed, and you banished the banditos for good.

"Tia Emmy es loco!" I'll bet they told their amigos.

You paid the price for that brave intervention. And, I know the bandito story is not mere family folklore because you have worn a compression stocking on your bum arm ever since. (The first time I met you, circa 1990, you had it on; last month, you did not have it on and your arm looked puffy, so while I'm no doctor, I do think you may need to bust out that stocking again).

Heroics aside, Aunt Emmy, you are a literary genius. You are the real writer in the family. Eloquent, straight shooter, never one to mince words.

"I used to run this place!" you declared to me, my husband, and our two little boys as we entered the main "living room" of your lovely retirement home. That was before you moved by yourself to Israel three years ago, at age 88. ("You know, doll, America is my country, but Israel is my HOME").

"Now I'm back here, same place, but it's not the same," you confessed to us. "Everyone's dead, dying. I don't try to make friends anymore."

"But - - "

"I'm 91 years old and I'm not looking to make any friends, doll. Plus, it's very goyish here," you half-yelled across the main living room.

Oh boy.  Here we go.

"Tell me about my brother's funeral," you said, softening your tone, taking my hand.

"Is it true there were soldiers there?"

I explained how my grandpop, your brother, was buried with full military honors befitting a WWII hero, which he was.

You seemed to take great comfort in that.

"What was my grandfather like growing up?" I asked.

"Eh," you coughed, as if spitting out bad prunes.

"Was he a good older brother?"

"Not really."

I laughed until I nearly spit out the hard candy you had insisted I try.

But then---

"What did you say your last name is now, doll?"


"Bis? What . . . ?"

"Italian.  He's from South Philly, just like you, Aunt Emmy," I smiled, nodding at my husband who was feet away trying to contain Fric and Baby Frac.

You eyed him up with a bit of suspicion and a hint of a smile.

"I can tell he's a good one."

"Total mensch," I chimed in. "No worries."

You glanced over at my young sons as they made themselves right at home at your retirement home. They threw off their shoes, jumped momentarily up and down on the sofa next to me, squealed and sucked down apple juice that you put out for us. I thought you would find them endearing.


"Can I take your picture, Aunt Emmy? Everyone back east wants a picture of you."

"My picture days are OVER! Sorry, doll!"

"Ok, how about if we call my sister? She loves getting your letters and she asked me to call her if we stopped in to see you."

Ring ring ring

Aunt Emmy, you picked up the phone and explained in a soft tone to my sister how lonely you are. She replied, "Well, you must be so happy to have Stacy and the boys visiting."

That unleashed the tiger.

"I HATE loud children!  I wish they would just SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP!"


My eyeballs exploded from their sockets as my head spun around to see if my husband heard your rant. (Truly, anyone within a mile, hearing aid or not, heard it).

"Let's wrap this up, babe," he whispered to me.

I could hear my sister howling with laughter from the speaker of my cell phone.

"Not a fan of kids, Aunt Emmy?" I asked as you abruptly ended the call with her.

"CAN'T STAND THEM!" you hollered.  "NEVER COULD."

"Well, we're going to get back on the road now, okay?" I said.

"I hope these boys are getting a proper Jewish education," you chimed in.

"Ah . . . he went to Main Line Reform preschool last year," I replied, nodding at my four year old.

"REFORMED?! I call that 'DEFORMED!'" you cackled.

Oh, Aunt Emmy, it really was a treat to see you.  You were like a dusty old relic from a previous generation where people said it exactly as they thought it.

Although we hit Disneyland, Legoland, the San Diego Zoo, and great California beaches, you, Aunt Emmy, added that extra bit of color that we were missing. And, I would not change you or our visit for anything.

Stay healthy, stay strong, live long, beware of those banditos, and Shabbat Shalom.

Much love,