Monday, April 30, 2007

My aunt Liz--a love story

My Uncle Doc first saw his future wife at a party, and asked someone to introduce him to her; "I'd like to meet that tall blonde. Do you think she'd go out with me? Will she think I'm too old?" He was 31, she was 19. Obviously, the age difference was no barrier. They were married for almost 40 years.

I adored Liz when I first met her, when I was 5 or 6. Though not actually pretty, she had an aura of glamor about her. She was blonde, blue-eyed, beautifully dressed, and smiled a lot. She was feminine, smelled of perfume, and wore makeup. Neither my mother nor my grandmothers wore makeup, so I thought she was sophisticated as all get out. Adding to her aura of worldliness was the suspicion that she colored her hair. (She did.)

As a child, I was crazy about her, and she treated me almost like another daughter. I loved the way she decorated her house, with shepherdess figurines on glass shelves and lamps shaped like statues of princesses, with pink lampshades. She had a rose-colored satin bedspread, and lots of little pillows. She was the first person I ever knew who had toilet paper to match her bathroom fixtures, which I thought quite elegant. In our house, everything was quite utilitarian, and the toilet paper was whatever was on sale at Kroger's. I aspired to be just like Aunt Liz when I grew up.

My grandmother was a woman who thought very little of her children's choice of mates, Liz included. One of my cousins was also very disapproving. From something Liz said, I knew she was aware of this, but if she minded she didn't let it show. Another problem was Doc's medical practice. He spent long hours at his office and at the hospital, and if his patients called, he went. On many an evening she went out to dinner with him and returned with other friends because he had been called to the hospital for an emergency. She made friends, and a life, for herself, because he had very little time to give her.

I eventually stopped being a sweet adoring little girl and became an insufferable adolescent who scorned the empty materialism of Liz and her friends, women who were content to be wives and mothers, who played cards and golf, who decorated their homes in what I learned to call Jewish Renaissance style and had no true intellectual interests. Of course I still loved Liz and Doc, but I was able to look down patronizingly at their empty, vapid lifestyle.

In due course, Uncle Doc got sick. He was forced to abandon the practice of medicine. The police found him out driving around aimlessly and brought him home in a police car. That ended his driving career. I still visited them often, and sometimes he would make sense and then he wouldn't, quite. Gradually he became weaker and weaker.

Aunt Liz was the same as she had always been, though, always welcoming me and anyone else who dropped by with a smile. She was fortunate in that she was able to hire people to be with him at times, so she could have some semblance of a normal life. She could hardly have kept him at home if she hadn't had help, as he was totally unable even to walk toward the end. She told me later that she had gone to the nursing home to see about getting him admitted, but just couldn't do it. He died not long after. He had been sick for six years.

She is quite old now, walks with a walker, and no longer colors her hair. She speaks softly and tires easily. But she is still her smiling, gracious self. When I look back on my relationship with her, I realized that I seldom heard her say a mean or unkind thing. I didn't notice this quality when I was young, she made it seem quite easy.

Uncle Doc gave me a sage piece of advice when I was a teenager: "You should never marry unless you can better yourself. I married up. I improved myself." I thought this was really cute of him at the time, but didn't take him seriously. But now I see that he was absolutely right.


Francis W. Porretto said...

A sweet story.

As for "marrying up," there's a lot of wisdom in that notion, but one must remember: just because one spouse is marrying up doesn't mean the other is marrying down.

Food for thought.

airforcewife said...

That is a great saying from your Uncle Doc. I'm glad that I was able to do so instinctually.

What a lovely story.