“May we go shopping today?” she asked plaintively. And so later that day I picked her up at the time of my choosing, and we went to the grocery. She was smiling.

“How many bags of Kisses?” she inquired. (We were in the candy section, and it occurred to me that she’d petitioned neither my brother Hal’s opinion nor mine even once in the twentieth century). Oh, and she was still smiling.

I miss Aunt Helen. The white-haired centenarian I mark time with is just not The Iron Lady of old. Indeed this newcomer, whomever she is, has taken the challenge out of Marc’s and both the drama and fun out of anguish.

In the good old days I’d text down aisles, updating her nonsense to Alice or Carrie. Post-game I’d call H to recap the narishkeit.

And then… somewhere along the way … her world changed. Once H was her son me but a nephew. Today I’m her son (while Hal has been sainted).

FLASHBACK TO December, 2000…

Thursday before a holiday and with Hal out of town our aunt went to her bench. “Bruce,” she commanded, “We must buy a new stove.” As such, after work that night, at the Snow Brothers on Mayfield, she bought an appliance.

“When will you deliver it?” she importuned.
“Saturday.” (I exhaled; his answer seemed Helen-proof).
“It cannot be Saturday,” came her edict.
“Then it will have to be Tuesday.

(I took another breath, considering Saturday and Tuesday were indeed separated only by Sunday and Christmas Monday).

With a glare that could melt an ex-wife she relented: “Saturday will have to do. What time will you be coming?”

“We will call you tomorrow afternoon to give you a three-hour window for delivery.”


Friday evening I called her. With H gone I remained on the clock. Her Complaint de Jour was that indeed the store had called at 6pm confirming the next day’s delivery.

“I waited at home all day in case they called,” she carped.
“Where the f&!# were you going anyway?” I questioned (meekly, and sans profanity).
Clarifying her remark, she asserted she’d stayed off her phone lest the store call, hear a busy signal, and never call back.

It would only get worse —

Long story short: they delivered the stove, she didn’t think the stove worked, she called me Sunday night asking that on Monday I call to have the new stove removed and the old stove returned, she called me Monday morning to repeat the instructions she’d given me just twelve hours before, I called Snow Bros who first they suggested someone come out and look at the apparatus and when I told them that my aunt didn’t want that then advised that unfortunately old stoves are discarded immediately upon pickup. (At this point I would have rather gone to a dentist than call back my aunt, but being the grown-up that my absent brother would have been, I gulped hard and dialed).

“Why must they inspect the stove if I tell them it isn’t working?” she shried incredulously, accepting the fact that they’d be ringing her bell.

Twice she heard me say “They’ll be out this afternoon,” but that wasn’t enough. “One more time, tell me: will it be this afternoon?”

They returned, of course. And got it to work, of course, and life went on (as always). Better yet, in days the Red Sea would part and brother Hal’d return home…. and as family, we weathered our Hurricane Helen.


It is Sunday, and at a reasonable hour my cell phone rings.

“Good morning, Bruce. Are you able to bring me soup today?”
(She is almost singing her words; I HEAR her smile).
“Whenever it is convenient to you,” she continues.

Softer now, she is gracious, loving…and yet….

I miss the challenge; I miss the angst. I miss the aunt that we grew up with.

The view is bittersweet.  Slowly, inexorably, another piece of my mosaic is going gently into the good night.

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