Why I Love My Aunt Elaine

When it comes to the breakup of a marriage, one of the hardest decisions involved is not one that either of the divorcing spouses has to make.  No, it is one that the family and friends of the divorcing couple have to consider, or what I call, “The choosing of sides.” The husband’s or the wife’s.

For some, it can be a painful decision to make, for others, maybe not. All the same, losing the family you’ve come to think of as your own, can be one of the saddest outcomes of a marriage gone wrong. It’s a problem that can break your heart all over again. Which is why I love my Aunt Elaine so much (who’s technically not my aunt but technicalities don’t matter much to me).

Aunt Elaine, with the two Sarah's.

Luckily for me, I have been able to stay close to a few of the family on my ex’s side.  After all, just because the marriage is over doesn’t mean it has to be the end of a relationship with all of the relations.  I am still in touch with my ex’s sister–we sometimes catch up on the phone.  But I’m closest to Aunt Elaine. She’s my ex’s aunt, really, and the youngest sister of my ex-father-in-law. She’s also been through divorce herself–years ago, when divorce was still frowned upon. Which makes her part of a group I call the “50 Percenters.” It also makes her rather empathetic to a divorced woman like myself.

Aunt Elaine is now 78. She always remembers my birthday, as well as the kids’. Phones whenever she can, often leaving messages on my answering machine with her very distinctive, very heavy New York accent.  Or Nu Yawk. I should say. “MAHnica-Love, how ahh you?”

If you ask me, it’s almost as if Aunt Elaine never got the notice about my divorce. Or maybe, she just prefers to ignore divorce protocol—the one that says each family must show loyalty to their side at the expense of the opponent’s. Which is just one of the reasons why I adore Aunt Elaine.  Here are some other reasons:

She is generous of heart: Aunt Elaine is happiest when giving to others. She volunteers at a local hospital, and would like to do more. “I don’t drive anymore,” she admits, “But if I did, I’d deliver food to the elderly, too.”

She has many interests: She’s a big Yankees fan and counts Joe DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto among her favorites. Never misses a game. She also loves Frank Sinatra and has an extensive collection of his albums.

Aunt Elaine--Number One Yankees fan!

She’s the Pickle Queen. Having worked years and years for a pickle company, she’d bring jars of sour pickles, kosher pickles and sweet pickles to family gatherings, adding her special zest to every meal.

She doesn’t judge: She’s going soon to Las Vegas to visit a friend, explaining, “I’ve known him since he was seven. He happens to be gay but that doesn’t mean anything. I don’t judge. I respect people. He calls me regularly. To him, I’m Mama Laine and he’s invited me to his partners’ 50th.”

She’s a newshound: Aunt Elaine, a self-admitted liberal, watches the evening news and all the cable news networks (even Fox News, she says), switching between them to see how they’re covering the stories of the day.  She’s a big fan of Rachel Maddow (“That Rachel is a smart cookie!”) and also of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (calling him “Cole-bert,” not “Col-bear,” as is his preference.) Some of what she sees in the news gets her fuming, and when that happens, she writes to her senator, to the media and to the National Republican and Democratic parties, depending, of course, on what’s got her peeved.

She has great respect for the president: “I admire President Barack Obama for where he came from and how he got here. Even today, what he’s up against, and I’m not saying he does the right things all the time, but he’s a very intelligent man.”

She calls herself a Dinosaur: When Aunt Elaine looks at kids today, with their mania for the latest technologies, she feels there is a general lack of respect that has been lost along the way. “Kids today, they don’t appreciate. Their values have reached a very low point. I do what I can to try to encourage people to better themselves.”

She loves me: Whenever Aunt Elaine calls she says, “You should come to New Yawk and you should stay with us. You know you’re always welcome, right?” And then, she signs off by saying, “Monica-love, I love you!”

Besides Aunt Elaine, I’m close to Beth, her daughter. Cousin Beth and I also have daughters of our own, both coincidentally named Sarah, who love spending time together whenever they can.  For them, it’s all about family—and for them, I am family!  So, divorce, shi-morse! We’re through with choosing sides!

Come Fly With Me

Frank Sinatra once asked me to take a trip with him. Ok, full disclosure. His exact words were “Come fly with me, let’s fly away,” and yes, he didn’t actually say that directly to me. It was a song. But Ol’ Blue Eyes had a way with a song that made me feel like he was singing to me and me alone. And even if I wasn’t the one he had in mind (and grant you, that’s a distinct possibility) he sure made the idea of flying sound breezy, romantic and oh, so fun.  Though, if truth be told, I don’t think he had in mind flying today.

Nowadays, flying is no longer a getaway adventure. It’s more of a sentence or a banishment to the not so friendly skies. If you’ve been on a plane in the last decade then you know what I’m talking about. You know the new rules, the perp-like walk they make you take through security. The feeling that you’re guilty until proven innocent. The ban on liquids. The extra fees for roomier seats and for checked luggage.

If Frank asked me to come fly with him today, he’d have to add a few stanzas to that song.  Mind you, I’m no rhyming whiz, but it would go something like this:

“Come fly with me and wait on line in security where we’ll take off our belts and shoes! Checking our Samsonites will cost extra but maybe we’ll be lucky and find some overhead room on the plane!”

Assuming, of course, that the flight’s not full. Yes, stories of airplane travel of yore is one for the history books. I remember the early days of travel, how wonderful and amazing those times were. And for the record, I’m not reaching as far back to the Wright Brothers or Amelia Earhart days. I’m talking the sixties and seventies era of flying. Back then, I used to get excited about travel. I remember my family getting all dressed up for the trip. Once on board, we’d receive fancy menus listing the meal options.

When I moved to Seattle, I discovered that United Airlines offered “Coast to Coast” travel service to New York. Non-stop, I might add. During the flight, there’d be two meals offered. One of the meals was served buffet style—and it didn’t cost extra! Plus, the airlines kept stacks of magazines for your travel enjoyment, handed out decks of playing cards emblazoned with their logos and gave out airplane pins to the kids. All the seats had plenty of room to get comfy and to stretch out. And friends and family could walk up to the gate to see you off and greet your return.

Though, I must say, there actually was one downside to these glory days of travel. Smoking, which was allowed, usually in the last five rows of the airplane. Last five rows? If you ask me, this was an unnecessary rule.  I mean, who can light a cigarette and limit the smoke to just five rows? Who were we kidding by pretending the smoke wouldn’t filter beyond that? Let’s just say there was no force field prohibiting the smoke from moving beyond those rows. It didn’t matter where you were sitting. By flight’s end we were all gasping for air and stinking of nicotine.

Ah yes, the heyday of flying. Someone should have warned me this was temporary, fleeting. I would’ve taken photos, kept souvenirs as proof to one day show my grandkids that airline travel was once the most exciting mode of transportation, There were no limits to the joy that the clear blue sky could behold. Frank, indeed, had good reason to sing about getting “up there where the air is rarefied, we’ll just glide, starry eyed.”

It was swell while it lasted. So a moment of silence, please, for the end of an era.  Frank, if you’re listening, know this:  Should we decide to “beat the birds down to Acapulco Bay,” then we’ll first have to take a red eye to Salt Lake City, switch planes in Chicago, then fly to Mexico City where there’s a flight leaving the next day for Acapulco.

Flying. In the words of yet another Frank Sinatra song, “It was just one of those things.”

Sleepless in the City

New York. The city that never sleeps. Isn’t that what Frank Sinatra sang in his homage to the Big Apple? “I want to wake up in that city that never sleeps.” While that may sound ultra cool and hip when you’re in the blossom of your youth, it’s another thing when you’re fifty plus and sleep is a requisite for living.

I need my sleep and I’d like it right now if you don’t mind. In fact, I’d be happy if this little town slept four, maybe five hours. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so.

Instead, I’m feeling a painful stinging in my eyes, reminding me that I had to wake up at 3:30 this morning, walk my dog at 4, head for the airport at 4:30, to be ready to fly out of San Diego at 6. Eyes wide shut, begging me to sleep. A little shut eye, please. Perhaps a catnap? I promise I won’t ask for anything more.

Oh, sleep, where art thou? Alas, even my Bose headphones–the ones that successfully block out airplane noise and babies crying–cannot abate the cacophony of urban sounds. Sirens, car alarms, honking, buses picking up passengers, trucks unloading their wares. A van backfiring. And, across the street, in this very tony neighborhood, just blocks from the U.N., is a house of somewhat ill repute. Or at least one with a large blue light swinging in the doorway and a string of men going in, coming out and hanging out on the curb. In my sleep-deprived delirium, I wonder what a 20-minute power nap would feel like.

Sleep. Oh Mr. Sandman, won’t you bring me a dream? At this point, I’d settle for a nightmare. Curse you, my home in San Diego for spoiling me with solitude and quiet nights. Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, now but a distant memory. Two in the morning now and the city outside my third-story window is still going strong.

I contemplate whether I can wait until I return home to finally get my shut eye. And then I remember: I’m here in town for my high school reunion. Class of 19-gazillion years ago. First reunion ever for me. And I see myself arriving in a new outfit purchased specially for this occasion, and marred only by the immense dark circles around my eyes that make me look like a petrified raccoon.

Sleep, the elusive sleep. The torture of it all. Three o’clock now. Perhaps I’m finally getting tired after all. Dare I hope? Dare I dream?….Wait. Is that a jackhammer I hear?