It’s almost criminal I have never devoted a whole blog post to my Aunt Gert. If you met her for five seconds, you would agree.
She is actually my Great Aunt, my mother’s aunt. And she has the distinction of living long, long past all four of my grandparents and her own husband. She is therefore the one and only relative from her generation left on this earth to love my brothers and me.
And she does. When we were young she mailed us so many packages of clothes from Sears I lost count, and they always came from her the same way. In white, shiny boxes tied with white string and then wrapped in brown paper. Aunt Gert never had her own children, never learned to drive, never flew on a plane, was always suspicious of the neighbors, always disappointed in the other people at Synagogue and her in-laws. She kept food for years past its expiration and has kept every piece of junk mail and catalog sent to her in three decades. She would order clothes from catalogs that she would never wear, convinced that somehow someday an occasion would come where she would need a pair of moccasins or a formal dress or a pillbox hat or 14 of the exact same polo shirt. And yet despite amassing 5 rooms filled from floor to ceiling with clothes she had ordered through the mail, every time you took her to the grocery store, she would just want to wear her old schmata and puffy coat.
We’ve had years of laughs at her neuroses, her very precise, narrow and negative worldview. Her accidental bon mots and nonsequiturs are so hilarious, my mother could have made millions years ago by releasing the answering machine tapes to the public, perhaps transcribing them for a bestselling book. My great aunt is, unintentially (and I am convinced intentionally) one of the most hilarious people on Planet Earth. If you ask her if she’s happy there is warm weather, she will respond with a recounting of her 25 real and imagined health ailments, the fact that Ruth Horowitz at temple is a bitch, the man that drives her on errands is a pervert and then admonish you to avoid turkey on Thanksgiving to prevent the inevitable and potent trifecta of trichinosis, salmonella and mad cow disease that may or may not have been on the hands of the person at the supermarket that added the label to the wrapped bird.
She has had, for most of her life, the uncanny ability to turn the subject matter at hand back to her own plight. Several real-live conversations that have taken place, as recounted by my mom:
Gert: How is Dan’s mom?
Renee (my mom): She is doing the best she can. She has problems also.
Gert: What kind of problems?
Renee: She’s had lung cancer and breast cancer.
Gert (pauses for a moment to regroup): Well, then she’s a lot better off than me. Nothing is as bad as stomach cancer. Dan’s mom is lucky she never had that. Stomach cancer is the worst.
Renee: You never had stomach cancer, Aunt Gert.
Renee. You never had stomach cancer. You had uterine cancer.
Gert: Well it’s the same thing. Dan’s mom is lucky. She never had stomach cancer. She’s fine.
Gert started her usual “woe is me” diatribe but then said, “How are you?”
Renee: A friend of mine tried to commit suicide the other day.
Renee: He was depressed.
Gert: Tell me about it. I should get a little dog.
One of Gert’s many trains of thought: They love the turkey burgers here. I’m not strong on my legs. Rose swims with a bathing suit on. Maybe they will have a cure for the dry macular degeneration. Torture is torture. So what’s really the story on the barium enema?
Renee: I have to get off the phone now, I am going to the seamstress.
Gert. Why? Did you gain weight?
Gert’s driver never showed up yesterday, necessitating a couple of alarming voice mails to me. The third voice mail was to tell me he did finally show up today. Apparently, he had to be hospitalized for a urinary infection and he had just gotten out. Here’s how Gert explained both her feelings for him and his medical condition:
“He was always nice to me but he couldn’t urinate.”
I had a long talk with Gert this morning about taking advantage of the activities that are offered at Sunrise. One of the examples I used was painting pumpkins, an activity they had yesterday but that she didn’t attend. She promised she would try some events. Then about 5 hours later, I got the following voice mail: “Reen, this is Aunt Gert. It’s not a question of indulging and doing things here. It’s that I need a gynecology exam.”
Aunt Gert laughs along with us, pokes fun at herself, still calls my mother Reen, says I Love You more than anyone else I know, still likes to talk on the phone, never felt like she knitted us enough sweaters and was the only person I ever knew my entire childhood and beyond whose home was a shrine of photos of my brothers and me. We are blessed to have her devotion and her gossiping-complaining-hypochondriac-paranoid-first generation-Jewish immigrant-central Philadelphia throwback DNA coursing through our veins as well.
Happy belated birthday, Aunt Gert. I 100% agree that all the women at temple are ice cold bitches.