My great aunt Fanny has been dead for almost 40 years but sometimes a minor thing, like the posture of a stranger telling a story on a street corner this morning, can trigger a flood of memories.
When we were young, Aunt Fanny would often accompany her sister, my grandmother, on visits to our house. (I think she desperately wanted grandchildren.) They would eat cottage cheese with cling peaches in heavy syrup in glass bowls for lunch, because that was the only possible kosher meal my mother could muster. They would sit at the kitchen table, talking and eating (simultaneously) so I could see the cottage cheese move around in their mouths and creep into the corners and invade the lipstick on their lips. They wore stockings knotted below the knees, because who needed to do the whole garter thing if it was just family.
Aunt Fanny used to buy my sister and me matching little girls’ polyester underwear on sale at some discount place somewhere in the bowels of Brooklyn. She referred to them as panties (eeewww) and danced them around to show everyone. I felt soooo violated. I longed for cotton even before I knew what that was. She would also play a game of smelling our feet and shrieking, “Pewwwww!!” It wasn’t that much fun. Kinda gross.
Still, Aunt Fanny would play checkers with us, dance with us and always make Grandma laugh. And Grandma wasn’t a very happy person, so that was a real, as we say, mitzvah.
Sometimes Uncle Lou came along. He blew up balloons (in the days when it wasn’t scary for little babies to play with them) and taught us the finer points of poker (in addition to some card tricks).
Not long after Uncle Lou died, Aunt Fanny remarried. We all visited her new apartment with the twin beds in the bedroom. Someone must have asked, “why twin beds?” because I saw her roll her eyes and heard her respond something like, “he needs the exercise”. I had no idea what the adults were talking about. Only now, in this flood of memories, do I think that she was saying, “my new husband is a good companion but he is not much to look at.”
Aunt Fanny was Grandma’s much younger sister and she died young-ish for those days (in her 60s). I think it might have been the first time I went to a funeral home. I remember Grandma’s uncontrollable sobbing. She had lost her sister and her best friend.
Memories of Aunt Fanny come in snippets unbidden, in no apparent order, without story to tell or even a point to prove.