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The Last of Her Generation: In Memoriam

My Great-Great Aunt Marian passed away this morning. She was 93 and she was ready to die, but I am still sad. She was an altogether wonderful person, but she also represented an entire generation of genteel, classy, funny, strong women to me. This is kind of disorganized and stream of consciousness at the moment, but that's how it is after someone dies. Memories come flooding back, not necessarily in chronological order.

I knew Aunt Marian, from a very young age, as "one of the aunts." She was the youngest of the three great-great aunts (my maternal grandmother's father's sisters, i.e., my great-grandfather's younger sisters) whom I saw every summer in Los Angeles: Aunt Sarah, Aunt Rose, and Aunt Marian. We usually saw them together, with Uncle Hy when he was still alive. We always had dinner at Aunt Rose's, I think, and sometimes they came to Uncle Boruch's for a barbecue.

The aunts were of a generation where one cared both about one's outer appearance (everything matching, fitting well, no shlepping or slouching around, proper shoes, proper jewelry, and always properly coiffed hair) and one's inner being. They had style, which turns out to be about so much more than having the right accessories. They were always put together, but they were never superficial or materialistic. There was something very dashing about the aunts--if you had told me that they had been movie stars in their youth, I would have believed you. I admired them. I think, in some ways, they represented something that I knew I would never be. They were so with it, and so nice, kind, and generous. Also, they could be wickedly funny, and it was always a delight to see the three of them interacting as any three sisters would. They were very different from each other, even though I often saw them as a "set."

Every summer when we went to Los Angeles, the aunts took me and my sister to a book store to buy a book for each of us. I think we went out to ice cream either before or after purchasing the books. I treasured these trips. I remember being about 7 and deciding to get the most for my money--I would buy the fattest book I could imagine reading. I figured since someone else was paying, I would get something that I could savor for as long as possible. I bought Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Little Princess, but I couldn't actually read through it for another year or two. I still have it somewhere. Thank you, Aunt Sarah, Aunt Rose, and Aunt Marian.

When I was 12, I was given a solo trip to Los Angeles as a bat mitzvah gift. I spent a week with my uncle and aunt (mother's brother and sister-in-law) in Los Angeles, and had an outing with my great-great aunts. Aunt Rose was driving, I think, one of those behemoths of a car that older people drive. She, Aunt Marian, and Aunt Sarah were discussing a friend of theirs when one of them said, "Can you believe that we've been friends for fifty years?" At the age of twelve, I was highly impressed with that. I still am. They seemed ancient to me for as long as I can remember knowing them, but I loved how their age never kept them from going about town, playing cards, reading, seeing movies, etc.

We went out during that trip, I think to brunch, and then they took me to a fancy department store to buy me a sweater. They decided that they would buy me a $50 sweater. However, the only thing available for $50 was a white t-shirt! So we left and they wrote me a check for $50 instead.

One of my earliest memories of these summer dinners at Aunt Rose's was of one of the aunts offering me a stick of mint gum. I think I was four or five years old. I chewed it and swallowed it. One of my parents asked me where my gum was and I said, "I swallowed it." They were appalled and said that you were supposed to chew gum and then spit it out. I thought that was the silliest thing I'd ever heard.

The other thing that I remember from those dinners at Aunt Rose's is that Aunt Rose didn't let us stack the plates at the table before clearing them off to the kitchen. There was an ongoing debate among others in the family as to the reason. Was it because she didn't want to have to wash the bottoms of the plates or because it was impolite to stack plates at the table and then carry them into the kitchen? I'm sure it was because of the etiquette situation, and not the extra washing. Aunt Rose always seemed a bit fussy that way. I think she minded the noise we made as children more than Aunt Marian did.

I remember one night Aunt Rose started telling us some stories from her youth. She told us that she had contracted scarlet fever, I think as a teenager, and that her heart had been weak ever since.

Aunt Marian's apartment complex had a swimming pool, and we always went swimming there at least once during these visits in Los Angeles. She would sit by the side of the pool and the kids, along with some adults at times, would play around in the pool. It was a great treat. I remember thinking she must be pretty fancy to live in a building that had a swimming pool.

Of the three aunts, Aunt Marian always seemed the most down-to-earth to me. Aunt Sarah was a little bit spacy (apparently this was always true, and not a consequence of her age), and Aunt Rose always seemed a little bit fussy. I remember Aunt Marian telling me and my mother, at an age before I really appreciated this, that her philosophy of life was only to worry about the things that she could change, and to let the rest go. I think that this is one reason she lived to be 93. She was also funny, although more in a wry way than a "ha ha" way.

She was ready to go when she went, and as my grandmother told me today, it's better for her that her life has drawn to a close, and she was lucky to die of old age and not of disease. It's better for her that her life has ended, but it's a sadder, emptier world for us. We will miss her and her sisters.

Aunt Sarah, Grandma Mollie (my mother's mother's mother), Aunt Marian, and Aunt Rose; 1930; Omaha, NE
(Aunt Sarah, Marian, and Rose were Grandma Mollie's sisters-in-law)

Aunt Rose holding my grandmother, Aunt Sarah, Aunt Marian, and Cel (Grandma Mollie's sister), plus an unidentified woman; 1928; Omaha, NE


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