IT’S THAT time again. I already have several pumpkins and yesterday I saw a huge display of Halloween candy and costumes in the supermarket. That got me thinking about ghosts.
My maternal grandfather was the coolest person I ever met. He was the oldest of 13 children. They all survived the Hitler years and came safely to this country from Poland. Some of them may have died before I was old enough to know them, or maybe they lived far away, but the others were always around, showing up for all the Jewish holidays, wedding and funerals. Occasionally I am reminded of them, and although they loomed large during my childhood, they left very little imprint. Here’s what I recall:
Aunt Harriet was a loon. She never married, living alone somewhere in Brooklyn and commuting by subway to her job as office manager for an accounting firm in lower Manhattan. She collected (stole) rubber bands and red and blue colored pencils from her office, which she then distributed as gifts to all of the cousins at Hanukah. She did this every year, as if we needed more by then. The pencils were held together with the rubber bands. She often wore a hat with a giant rhinestone flower on it and a veil that came halfway down her face, keeping it on even indoors like some sort of fading movie star.
Uncle Ruby was the coolest of all the uncles. He was very short, had a gold tooth in front and was a snappy dresser. Many of his suits were striped. He always seemed ready to break into a soft-shoe dance routine like the actor James Cagney or maybe Mickey Rooney. His wife, Aunt Rose, was stone-faced, half a foot taller and a total bitch. Nobody liked her, including Uncle Ruby. He was very affectionate and always had funny stories to tell, whereas Rose was most comfortable scolding someone or discussing the latest cancer victim; there was always at least one in the family.
Aunt Sylvia was “the baby,” although she never looked like anything but an old lady to me. She was sweet and sort of dumb. Her husband was Uncle Lefty, and although he had a different real name, that’s what everyone called him. He may have been smart but I always thought he was a simpleton, possibly because he allowed people to call him “Lefty.” Aunt Sylvia smiled a lot and did little more to distinguish herself. In conversation, my mother always called her “a saint.”
Uncle Benny was a fast-talker and most likely a gambler. He definitely did something illegal and was always very well-dressed. His wife was very hip, very good-looking and all the cousins loved her. A true favorite at holiday gatherings, Ethel wore her bleached blonde hair in some sort of upswept style with a colorful scarf worked into it. She was slightly foreign, like from another country, maybe Mongolia or someplace with gypsies, but I never knew where. I adored her and thus was always a gypsy at Halloween, inspired by Aunt Ethel.
Uncle Morris and the twins, Aunt Beverly and the other one, possibly Lucille — I never remembered her name but I think she was one of the cancer victims — weren’t around much. I’m thinking they lived in California. Of course they’re all dead now, as are my parents. I wish ghosts were real; I’d love to hang out with them.
— Andrea Rouda
Andrea Rouda blogs at The Daily Droid.