My Aunt died this week. She was younger than my mother by about two years. Her birthday would have been celebrated in about two weeks from the date of her demise. Basically, her billion heart beats were up and over. She was on vacation, caught a stomach virus, got pneumonia and, over the course of five days, her systems shut down, one by one, and then she croaked, simple as that. Ovah.
I can't say we were close. She lived in Poland, four thousand miles away from New Jersey. She had come to visit in the 90's and before that again, a bit. I met her first in 1970, when me and my mother trekked across Canada by rail to get to New York to take a plane to Warsaw to then get picked up by my mother's cousin, Mietek, in his blue Skoda 1102 coupe for the drive to Krakow. (Please note the CORRECT Polish spelling is used here for that town name.) I was an irritable little kid who was way overtired when we got to their house in what are now the suburbs of Krakow, but her husband was a gem of a guy and, now I realize, played with me outside while I'm sure the tears flowed between sisters who hadn't seen each other since the middle of World War Eye-Eye.
Their kitchen, oddly, was in the basement, but in a place where air-conditioning would have been a ridiculous luxury only available to Party higher-ups, if at all, it made sense - especially since they had a wood (!) stove. It was very cozy and my Aunt made noodles by hand along with a huge pot of chicken soup made with a recently beheaded pullet from the farm of another one of my Aunts. In fact, they all lived within a few miles of the three-room farmhouse they all grew up in, the house that my grandmother and grandfather, still alive then, occupied. I enjoyed the chicken soup by first exhausting the liquid protein portion, saving the savoried noodles for last. This amused the whole family to no end. It's also a technique I employ to this day.
My Aunt was a kind of seamstress. She had a special sewing machine that she would use to repair silk and nylon stockings. This was behind the Iron Curtain, you have to understand, and ladie's stockings were not only very hard to come by, frequently only available to those who knew somebody who knew somebody who smuggled them in somehow and who would only accept the Almighty Dollar as payment. In fact, for anything desirable or in short supply, dollars greased the wheels of blackmarket commerce.
So, she took in stockings from customers that passed them along to her via word of mouth. What couldn't be easily fixed on the tiny machine with a needle that came out of the top would be fixed by hand, color-matched form spools of silk and nylon thread. She did good work.
She also had a low blood pressure problem, the same as my cousin does now. For this, she drank, I believe what was a concoction which had as a primary ingredient fermented goose fat. This was kept in a jar under the sink. She would unscrew the lid, cigarette in one hand, take a big gulp and then sigh, "Ahhh. Delicious!" in her raspy voice, clearly not meaning it, but it seemed that she made her peace with the fact that Phizer wasn't going to be delivering a more suitable remedy anytime soon.
When she visited the States much later, she worked for a month or so. This was the thing to do besides sight-see and she got a gig cleaning houses. Then she went back. I was busy working in my business and saw very little of her, maybe one or three dinners.
As my older relatives disappear, one by one, I recollect that I've had to endure very little death in my lifetime. One cousing was killed by a drunk driver just on her graduation from law school, another died of cervical cancer, a very old great-aunt passed away when I was eight or so, and my grand-parents, again when I was young, in the case of the Canadian side or when I was in my teens for the Polish grandparents. My father, uncles and aunt on my father's side still live and breath and do three Aunts and an Uncle on my mother's side. But they're all very, very old and reside in the Death Zone of human lifespan. I get the sense that they will all die nearly at once.
And then, when these benevolent and largely transparent people have shuffled off their mortal coils, what's left? My brother is in his sixties and hates me because, I have been told, I was born after him. Yeah, I know - that's another story in of itself. My daughter will be marching off into the sunrise of adulthood, where I will occupy a smaller and smaller section of her rear-view. My cousins in Poland barely know my name and same here. I haven't spoken to my Canadian cousins in eons (except for one, recently, too. Ha! There is hope!)
Therefore, in light of the rapidly advancing and likely demise of all I am and all I know, I must renew myself and start again. I must take a wife, one who will till the land by my side, who will feed the young borne of her loins, one who will kept the hearth alight. Preferably someone who can make chicken soup and tasty noodles by hand. In honor of my Aunt and all Aunties across the globe, the ones who are just like Mom, only a tad bit closer to the wild side.
(Picture left: Mollie Jenson)