A year and a half ago, I sat in my Grandma’s kitchen as she told me a story. “We started hollering, ‘Aunt Katie! No!’” My Grandma laughs. Her aunt Katie was a star of the Yiddish Theater in New York. When she says “we”, she is referring to herself and her twin sister Dottie. My Grandma and Dottie were not only a twins but also identical ones. When they were little girls, they used to go watch Katie perform. I imagine the two of them holding hands in a dark theater, wide-eyed and waiting to see their aunt, the star. Grandma is talking about a particular show in which Katie’s character died onstage. “We just kept screaming ‘Aunt Katie! Aunt Katie!’ We had to be carried out and we didn’t stop crying until we were allowed backstage to see that she was okay.” She is smiling, “We were so little, we didn’t know.”
I love the idea of being a “we” in a story, of having another person to validate and remember your experiences. It makes me think of my own siblings – my sister in Israel and my brother in New York. We are all so far away from each other right now but our experiences together and the stories that we share unite us forever. I really miss my brother and sister and they are only a phone call away. My Aunt Dottie passed on over twenty years ago. She and my Grandma were the youngest of seven with a lifetime of memories shared between them. I imagine them being strong for each other when times were hard and celebrating each other when things were going well. I know this for sure: they loved each other so much and they will be connected through that love always. This connection is not just shared between by my grandma and her twin but by all of her siblings. My Great Aunt Shirley is ninety-two years old and still comes to my Grandma’s house every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoon.
LESSON 1: Stay close with your siblings, even if it’s hard. If you don’t have any, keep or find friends who you think of as family. They are everything.
I remember Dottie as a strong, beautiful woman who looked like the red-haired version of my blonde Grandma. “I have been a brunette, a blonde, a redhead,” Grandma tells me. “What was your favorite?” I ask her. “A fiery reddish-brown.” Like Dottie, I think to myself. I was only four years old when she passed away. I wonder if I would have had trouble telling them apart if they had the same hair color. Grandma continues, “I had red hair and red alligator shoes with a platform and a red bag. They used to call me ‘The Broadway Bum’.”
LESSON 2: Have the guts to wear whatever you want, without fear of judgment from anyone. Do you (and remember that “you” is an ever evolving concept).
My Grandma was being called ‘The Broadway Bum’ in the time just after World War II. Her husband had been a pilot who didn’t make it home. Suddenly, she was a widow at twenty-one. My Grandma was clearly a resilient and intelligent woman. She went back to school and became a dental hygienist.
LESSON 3: If you’re going through hell, keep going. (This one was said by Churchill, but it applies).
“Dress to please yourself,” She tells me. “If you’re happy, everyone’s happy. You have to live for yourself.” I can’t help smiling, imagining her cleaning teeth in a white coat with fire red hair and the red alligator platforms. I also happen to know that she was stacked like a “Vargas” girl, with legs for days. Her patients must have had the biggest crushes on her.