Thursday, October 27, 2011

Goodnight Irene

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene I'll see you in my dreams
Last Saturday night I got married

Me and my love settled down 
Now me and my love are parted 
I'm gonna take another stroll downtown
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene I'll see you in my dreams
Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I live in the town
Sometimes I have a great notion
To jump in the river and drown
Irene goodnight, Irene good night
Good night Irene, good night Irene I'll see you in my dreams
                  -Huddie 'Lead Belly' Ledbetter

Today is the anniversary of my Aunt Irene’s death.  She died exactly five years ago although it just seemed like yesterday.  She is so sorely missed.

My aunt was my surrogate mother, surrogate grandmother to my children and confidant.  As a child she lived just down the street from us and we were always at her house.  She did not have any children of her own so, by extension, my siblings and I became her extended children.  Weekends were always spent at her house.  Every holiday was also spent at her house.  She was a wonderful cook whereas my mother detested cooking, so we escaped to her kitchen for something decent to eat.
She always had goodies, like cakes and cookies, whereas my mother restricted them. I especially loved the “Horn and Hardart” chocolate chip cookies that she always picked up in the city where she worked. “Have them”, she coaxed, “They’re not going to kill ya.”

She also had an encyclopedic memory of her life.  She remembered cousins, cousins of cousins, her childhood neighborhood, past friends, places, etc.  She was invaluable when it came to our family’s personal history.  My father would tell some longwinded story of his boyhood only to be corrected by her fine urban vernacular.  “You're full of shit, Billy!” she scolded her baby brother and she proceeded to tell the story again with the facts straight.  You always believed her stories because she was always right.

She was bawdy too. With her perfectly coiffed, always dyed blonde hair, dripping with gold jewelry, and flashy clothes, she could tell an off color joke even in the presence of children.  We would pretend not to understand, but we eventually got it.  Aunt Irene explained it to us after the real adults left the room.

My aunt always represented possibilities.  She never said no.  In her mind, life was one giant opportunity and sometimes, despite inconvenience, you just had to go for it.

I fiercely remember as a kindergartener, I was not allowed to go to a certain field trip.  I have no idea why my parents never let me go. My parents were funny like that.  One of those mysteries of life you never get the answer to.  I pitched a normal 5-year-old fit.  It was my aunt  who eventually took me to that zoo.  All alone we went and it felt wonderful.

A similar scenario happened when my daughter also at similar age wanted to go to NYC to the “The Pok√©mon Store” near Rockefeller Center.  I hemmed and hawed at the inconvenience of the travel.  But not my aunt.  Despite her age (81) and illness (Chronic Myelogeneous Leukemia) at the time, she lead the way, taking two trains and walking the 12 blocks  so my daughter could realize her dream.  “You can’t deny yourself all the time”, she would always say.  She was always the "Why not?" to my parents "Why?"

For those of you who think I speak in metaphors, the picture above is a visual one. This was the tree in front of my house. For years it has been dying, slowly but surely.  One side obviously dead while the other had strange hues.  I had wanted to cut it down for years but never quite had the will. Hurricane Irene felled that tree with one thunderous crack.  There was no damage to the actual house or surrounding trees.  It was a clean act of a powerful storm.  I “got a guy” in to cut it into logs that I will split myself for those cold winter nights.  Today, I took an ax and a chainsaw to the remaining roots. I like axes.  I like chainsaws. A powerful cleanup is needed for this mess of a hole.  Next week, the October Glory gets planted.

In fine Eastern European superstition, I took the accidental falling of the tree to symbolize my marriage.  Dead in one half and suffering on the other. You are right Hurricane Aunt Irene.  You are so right.  No more denying. And Goodnight.  And I hope to always see you in my dreams.

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