My aunt is failing. Teasing 99, the once-flinty poster girl for rigidity is slowing at a quickening pace. Neither I, nor my brother (her son), like it.

We noticed weeks ago, Hal and I. First I did, then he— (or was it the other way around?) —as did Cousin Norman….and our aunt.

She notices everything.

“Bruce,” she said as we entered the grocery, “You get the food and I’ll sit here.” (Unlike her, I thought. Autocratic to a fault and passively aggressive, she just never showed weakness).

“Harold,” she remarked days later, “I do not wish to cook. Shall I consider delivery?”

Aunt Helen vulnerable? Openly?

A Jewish unarmed Annie Oakley, our father’s sister has run out of times out. Once frail but fierce, docile but demanding, her weakened ears and failing eyes now demand, perhaps for the first time ever, that she lower her mask.

She’s afraid.

We’ve spent numerous hours—H and I— laughing with her and at her. OK, mostly the latter. (Not only did a 2012 video of shopping at Target go viral, but Hal’s Excel itemization of all her complaints recently became available in softbound). Even still, it’s been–always– laughter with love: frustration, but love.

The giggles though, are now gone. Her demeanor, edgy the past century, has just gone flat. She’s giving up … and we sense it.

It was Tuesday:

Diligently my brother’d contacted JFSA securing the info. Meals On Wheels for Miss Independent? First delivery on Thursday? With her consent?

We were on speaker phone that night. All of us. (Well, not all of us. There were H and B and M and C and L). Chuckling, some guessed how it might play out. Robert, came closest. “She won’t like the food,” I mused, “And when I shop with her Saturday she’ll give me the chicken.”

Thursday came, and in our oft-daily morning chat Hal and I chomped at the bit, reflecting…NO—anticipating the day’s events. So resilient has our aunt been, that I think yet again, she’d beat Father Time. That being the case, we agreed, fairness dictated we hear it together.

“I’ll call you at 7…and then we can conference her in.”

Evening came…and her telephone rang…and her nephews learned:

Results came quickly in another joint phone call: her food was too salty, the portions too big and she “just wasn’t happy”. Go figure.

Her nephews? They’d pegged it just right…well…almost:

“I should probably give the food to Harold…” she told me, and then hesitating, added “…and….(more hesitation)….YOU.” (It would be a bad joke—you would say I’m embellishing—but remember: unbeknownst to her there were five on the all).

“BRUCE!” I added, breaking the silence.
“Of course,” she said softly.

Then we hung up the phone. All of us. From three suburbs. In unison.

H called back moments later and the two of us laughed. It was, to be sure, still funny. But not as much and not as often.

Gravity tugs at the last link in an ancestral chain while in words unspoken  two brothers sense the inevitable.

And its easier to laugh than cry.

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