Cousin Bernie died yesterday,
Cousin Bernie wasn’t really my cousin. But I didn’t find out that Bernie wasn’t related until my mother’s shiva. Trust me, that’s when you learn everything about everybody, whether you want to or not.
It turns out that Cousin Bernie was the cousin of Betty, one of my mother’s closest friends from college. Betty and my mother married two brothers, so Betty was my Aunt Betty by the time I was born. Cousin Bernie also was (for time enough to have two children) the husband of Blossom, one of Aunt Betty’s and Mom’s other close friends. For the record, Aunt Betty’s only successful match was Mom and Dad. The rest were, shall we say, short-lived.
Not only was Cousin Bernie, and therefore, his wife Susan not my cousins, but Blossom wasn’t, and Blossom’s second husband, Aaron, wasn’t and his third wife, Marjorie, wasn’t. All of which I found out at Mom’s shiva. And Marjorie was the only one who asked POB (partner of blogger) if we were having a child by a known donor or unknown donor. You mean she asked that and she wasn’t even related??? You have to admire a woman who picks up the beat of the Blogger family. No boundaries, ever.
What makes them my family is more important than blood or marriage. They are related by love. And if not, love, then time. After a few decades, even my mother, who would cringe at Bernie’s cursing like a sailor (he was one, in World War II), loved him even though he divorced Blossom and swore in front of her children. Family is family, however it is constituted.
And so my heart is breaking for his wife Susan, Aunt Betty and Bernie’s kids. Bernie, my Mom, Aunt Betty, Uncle Willy and my Dad were among the generation that bridged the divide between immigrant children and Americans. They were the generation that fought in the war that American won. They all put their foot on the gas pedal and roared into the American dream. They laid the foundation for my generation’s successes.
And they were characters. In his later years, Bernie was a caricature of himself. And we lovingly laughed at his meshugas (craziness).
He used to be president of the New York Runner’s Club. I ran in one of the New York City Corporate Challenges and, as I crossed the finish line, Bernie was there to hug me. I said, “Bernie, it is great to see you!” He said, “[Blogger], is that you?” So, in fact, he was hugging any sweaty, young woman who would hug him back. “I won’t tell Susan,” I said as I kissed him. At the next family function, OF COURSE, I told Susan. Bernie’s response: “Jesus Christ, all of these f*%$ing young beautiful, sweaty women!! What the hell do you want me to do? Wave? How else would I get anyone to hug me. [more profanity].” That was Bernie. (You should know that he hit the jackpot with Susan. He knew it, too. To use his parlance, he would have been a schmuck to do anything untoward.)
I drove Bernie and his wife Susan to Uncle Willy’s unveiling a few years back. Bernie called and said he hadn’t seen Willy in a while and would I include them in the Great Schlep. SOB (sister of blogger) and I didn’t know whether he remembered that Uncle Willy had died. So, during the Great Schlep, we asked leading questions intended to elicit some acknowledgment that Uncle Willy was dead. We were afraid that Bernie who had a defibrillator and pacemaker in his chest might go into cardiac arrest if he thought he was actually going to see Uncle Willy and then we pulled up to the cemetery. Thank G-d, he knew.
We saw Susan and Bernie at Dad’s 90th birthday party in October. He looked frail. He was cursing about all the doctors he needed to see and how he had no more room in his schedule. He also was singing the praises of prune juice as an elixir he recently discovered. Cousin Bernie never changed.
I just called my Aunt Betty to express my condolences and I started reminiscing about the prune juice and the cursing and the doctors. She has buried a son, a husband and countless other loved ones. It was good to hear her chuckle as she mourns another loss in our greatest generation. As we mourn right along with her.
Rest in peace, Cousin Bernie.