Two women with nothing in common…well, almost:

Cousin Sheila, a free spirit, left home after high school, never to return. At 67, she sits in “wheelchair without portfolio” (i.e. no doctor says she can’t walk). Still, she drives daily leading a somewhat normal life. Aunt Helen is older—96. In her mother’s house to this day, she belongs in a museum. Moreover, she drives not, preferring merely to direct traffic.

It was nearly 1 last Sunday. The midwest blizzard mandated an early flight and I arrived in cold, snowy Cleveland to face Sophie’s Choice: do I take her shopping Monday (as planned), or knock it down now, and get it out of the way? I was, as my brother says, “on the clock.”

“Aunt Helen…it’s Bruce. I’m home. Do you want to go shopping today? It’s supposed to be worse tomorrow.”
“I don’t care—just tell me when to be ready,” she said (suspiciously accommodating).
“OK,” I sighed leaving the airport, “See you in an hour.”
“Make it later,” she exclaimed. “Why do you rush me?”

I was dying to get home, to get warm. So be it. I read office mail, filled my tank, and otherwise pissed away time. At 2:30 I picked her up as ordered. The wind was howling; it was bitter cold—and the weather was that way too.

Her questions shot like staccato pellets. Starting slowly, she picked up steam:

“Did you sleep on the plane?”
“Who does the baby look like?”
“Why don’t your children return my calls?” (absolutely no segue).
“I don’t know.”
“Do you ask them?”
“Surely you must know.”
“Aunt Helen…they’re wrong. But they’re adults.”
“Why do you feel the need to defend everyone?”
“I’m not defending them. But I can’t control them.”
“You’re always making excuses.”
“Aunt Helen, please.” (she was getting to me). “I’m not making excuses. I just don’t want to hear it. They’re adults. Call them directly and ask them!”
“They won’t pick up the phone!”

There was silence. Her sulk brought a break to the McCarthy hearings. Then, me the schmuck, I couldn’t stand prosperity:

“Let me ask you…do you hound Harold about his kids too? They don’t call you.”

Shrugging slightly, she nodded “No,” emitting smoke through her dark round goggles. She wasn’t quite done.

“Do what you want. But please talk to Meredith.” It was an option not unlike the time my father said I could quit Hebrew School if I REALLY wanted to.

I was spent, though…all in. Exhausted. Nothing left. Fartik! How does she do this to me? Everytime!

“You’re right.” I said.

By 4 we were done. En route home I called Hal, exultant the clock was now his.

“It’s a blizzard out here,” I opened, “But I’m off for two weeks!”
He was laughing.
“You’ll never guess where I’m going,” he said. “Take a guess.”
I was blank.
“Sheila called. She needs a VHS converted to a DVD.”
“Today?” I asked. “In this weather?”
My brother was roaring with laughter. So was I.

You should have seen it outside. Across Greater Cleveland streets were blanketed by snow; everyone was home. Except for two clowns.

Our aunt is legendary—our cousin, an heir to the throne. Neither lets us breathe. Mid-afternoon, perhaps a year ago, Sheila, reluctant to take her wheel chair out in the rain, called my office. Would I pick her up and run her a block to Ohio Savings. Said she had to do it that day. Me, (like a putz) I obliged. (What did I know? I figured she had to cover a check, avoid a shutoff or something).

We stood in the bank, side-by-side. There was no deposit…no withdrawal…no
utility payment. Sheila had but one question for the teller: “How much are your Travellers Cheques? “

This would be a funny story if it weren’t true. Why do they always pick on us?
Perhaps ‘cause we’re the only ones left standing.

Helen had Cousin Norm. At 80 he’d schlep from Chagrin Falls to University Heights, just to get her fresh air. She wore HIM down: “Norman, must you open the window? …Norman, put your elbow inside…Norman, turn your cell phone off.” This venerable man, the proud father to a chain of 40 retail stores,
brought to his knees… “No mas!” And Sheila? Where are her contemporaries? Her cousins? They can’t all be hiding.

The fact is Hal and I share great joy laughing at the nerve of these ladies. We know they love us but simply can’t get their arms around the fact that we have
lives outside our courier service.

Like the very next day—just this Monday: The weather did get worse but my phone still rang:

“Bruce, I need chicken.”
“Aunt Helen, the Courts are closed! It’s really bad out.” I implored.
She didn’t blink; she didn’t take a beat:
“Well if the courts are closed, you have nothing to do.”


  1. aunt helen says:

    Bruce, if this is how you truely feel about shopping with me, I will ask Ed Turner to take me shopping every other weekend. He is an honorable and respectful young man.

Leave a Reply