About three weeks ago, I wrote about my aunt, Leatrice, the last of my mother’s sisters. In my heart I knew, that day, she was not doing very well. I spoke with her every week and when I got off the phone after we talked for what turned out to be the last time, I was really concerned about her. What I didn’t know, was just how rapidly she would decline. Unfortunately she passed away eight days ago.
She’s the one in the middle in the photograph. My mother is on the left and her twin sister, on the right. The twins were seven years older than my aunt. She looks about six or seven, I’m guessing — the smocked dress is a give-away, don’t you think? So they would have been thirteen or fourteen. Teenagers, although to me, they look older — more sophisticated. It’s probably the lipstick that was added to the photograph later. And the rouge, as it was called in those days.
I love this photo. The first time I saw it was at my cousin’s house, after my aunt’s funeral. Obviously in those days there were no colour photographs, so this was tinted. The three of them look like they’re in a
promotional still shot for a film like Little Women.
It was tough, on my aunt, being seven years younger. As adults the age difference meant nothing, but as children what could teenagers have had in common with a six year old? She was still a baby, really. And what was even more difficult was the fact they were twins. Back then twins were a rarity — like freaks of nature. So they got tons and tons and tons of attention. They didn’t do anything to warrant it — all they had to do was show up. They were identical, after all. At that time, it was also considered cute to dress them the same. No wonder everyone fussed over them; and no wonder Leatrice often felt left out. Even now, when people find out who I am, they ask me if my mother was one of the twins.
Listening to the eulogies at the funeral, I realized how blessed I am. Ours was a large family, especially on my mother’s side. My grandmother was one of nine children who eventually married and had children and grandchildren of their own. When we used to congregate at my great grandparents’ house, it was standing room only. And we were all extremely close.
So it’s sad to see the numbers dwindling. And dwindling. And dwindling. In fact, the last remaining member of my grandmother’s generation (a great aunt of mine who was married to one of my grandmother’s brothers) died the same day my aunt did. And it turned out their funerals were an hour apart.
How bizarre is that.
And, now, my mother’s generation are starting to go. It’s unavoidable, of course. But sad, none the less.
The stories everyone was telling at the funeral were fabulous. My aunt’s son-in-law, daughter-in-law and eldest grandchild spoke, along with the Rabbi. Boy, did they ever ‘nail’ her! To a “T”. She was definitely a woman who danced to her own tune, her whole life. A non-conformist. A feminist. A self-appointed nurturer, caregiver and advocate for all those who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, fight or speak for themselves.
She was also someone who felt everyone should be accountable for their actions — and inaction. I had forgotten how she’d write and complain to the heads of companies all the time, when their products or services were inferior. She was always getting shipments of free products to compensate for her dissatisfaction. I laughed when I heard it, because I do the same thing. A former colleague used to call me Fransi Vigilante. Now I know where I get it from.
Sitting there, in the Chapel, I couldn’t help but be proud of my mother and her sisters. All ahead of their time. All strong and independent. All feisty. All quirky, each in their own way. All intolerant of prejudice and injustice and hate and inequality and racism and small-mindedness. All open-minded, liberal, non-judgemental. All funny, with outrageous senses of humour.
They all had the most contagious laughs. In fact some of my fondest memories, the ones that always bring a smile to my face, are those where at least one of us is losing it because something has struck us funny or odd. My aunt’s nose would twitch, or my mother’s shoulders would start to shake or heave, or my other aunt would get a certain look on her face and in seconds we’d be cracking up. Just howling. And we hadn’t spoken a word to each other. We would just have all noticed the same thing, at the same time, and we all thought it was funny — at the same time.
To this day, this happens between my cousins and me.
My life was filled with moments like that. I am beyond lucky.
Grateful, too. Because as families go we’ve had our fair share of grief and sorrow. But we’ve also had more than our fair share of good times.
Then there’s my grandmother and her sisters. Which isn’t to say her brothers weren’t wonderful. They were. But the women! WOW! Fabulous — each and every one. Also liberal and loving and contemporary and so not of their generation.
What amazing ‘stock’ I come from.
When the funeral was over we all congregated at my cousin’s house. The one who’d just lost her mother. One of my other cousins, my mother’s twin sister’s daughter, turned to me as we were having some lunch and said: “This is the end of an era. The torch has been passed to us.”
She is right. It has. I just hope we can all do justice to the incredible legacy they left us!