“How’s your aunt?” asked the guy washing his hands next to me in the restroom. “You know my aunt?” “Yeah, the lady from the record store.”

“Ma and Pop” Arthur Newman Records closed its Cedar-Center doors in the mid-sixties, to be succeeded briefly by the more corporate Recordland. The latter catered more to the baby-boomers, caring clearly for cash and not culture. Gone was the classical music; gone were the shelves of sheet music. Left standing — only — as a remnant of the “care-free” Eisenhower era … was its manager, Helen Bogart. And Yes, in those yesteryears— when Severance was still new and Beachwood Place but weeds — our father’s sister ran the only game this side of town.

It seemed everyone knew of my aunt. At least by reference. Dour, fifty years old and counting (even then), she was the lady behind the counter: austere ….her eyes her security system … a Jewish Emily Dickinson …

She was, without ever smiling, the music world’s first front man!

What you saw, by the way, was what you got. Hal can tell you, our children will confirm: she was not different off the court.

Forget to say hello to her in temple? She’d sulk, steaming hot.

Our mom once told us that when still dating our father she’d pulled Helen aside privately to point out her slip was showing. Talk about cold? It was Ice Station Zebra — our aunt neither speaking nor acknowledging her future sister-in-law the rest of the night.

“Was it awkward?” I asked my mother.
“No, but your grandmother asked me to apologize.”

Nor did anyone back then ever accuse our aunt of being sweet. Just wasn’t her thing. Nice? Perhaps, (like when she taught H and me piano from her Michael Aaron book). Warm? At times (trips to shul to honor yahrtzeits). But sweet?

— And never, in those days of yore, did she speak of love. Ever.

Our aunt never married. ‘Twas a shanda then, and perceived she was, as “damaged goods”. Sadly, so sadly, that’s how too she viewed herself. It was, moreover, a subject never broached.

“Dad,” I once asked the man I could speak to anything about, “Do you think Aunt Helen ever had sex?”
(Ed. Note: My father’s response was curt and but one sentence: “This will be the last time you ask that question.”).

The record store closed by 1970. True to her Prussian work ethic, our aunt found new work.  Downtown.   And bused downtown daily. Five times/week. Until they had the gaul to give her an electric typewriter — at which point she retired.

Our Dad passed in ’85 and our Grandmom in ’90. From each, we were left (Hal and I), both supreme memories and our stoic Aunt Helen. The two, we would learn, are conjoined.

Through the lens of time recollections rejuvenate. How well we still picture this event, that event, the time that …… . Mental images change not; if anything, through the telling and retelling they grow stronger. So too with our aunt.  She doesn’t change. Ever.

(I mean ever).

But then …

Frail now, some two decades later, she ventures out little. Her contemporaries are gone and her world’s grown silent.   Alone again, she is (naturally).  Frail today, abandoned by time, she is buttressed only by family— indeed, the two little boys — the ones she taught piano — who are now in THEIR sixties.

I dropped off food yesterday. A quart of mushroom/barley, two pints of vanilla ice cream, and a bag of Hershey Kisses. She smiled softly, like she might have done on East Overlook after a Triple Word score in Scrabble.  Her eyes?  They said “Thank you”.

“Look Aunt Helen,” I told her. “Hot soup on the counter… I put the ice cream in the freezer … and your sweets are right here”.

Cutting the plastic, handing her some chocolate, standing to leave:  “I love you,” I said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“I love you too,” she told me. “I love you.”

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