‘Thank you for everything, dear Aunt Eleanor’
It’s blowing a gale here in Amagansett. The bird feeders are down, the grill’s been knocked cattywompus and the windows that Dude Man painstakingly washed on Sunday? Well, let’s just say they’re clean.
I say all this because I can’t possibly go for a walk, much less a bike ride. And it’s too early to start baking the pies. (My SIL, who arrived late last night from San Fran, is still jet-laggedly sleeping.)
So I have no excuse to postpone (yet again) writing about Aunt Eleanor.
Aunt Eleanor died almost two weeks ago. And, though she was 98 years old, I still can’t believe she’s gone. I’ll spare you all the cliches. But suffice it to say that even when a person is very very old, it can still be a shock when they die. Maybe even more of a shock, since you’re so used to them being around. (And note that I say “die,” because that’s what she did. I know this may be an unpopular view, but I bristle at the use of the term “pass” when you really mean “die.” Please say “die” when I do it. Please.)
Anyway. You can read her obituary in The East Hampton Star right here for the public details of Eleanor’s extraordinary life. How she didn’t just read to kids, she founded a day care center. How she didn’t just bake, she baked cookies to lure kids to Sunday School. And how, at the age of 45, she set out to “do everything I’ve always wanted to do.”
I’ve been putting off writing about her because it’s so hard to sift through all the memories I have of her. See, she was more than “just” an aunt. Dude Man’s parents died quite a while ago; his mom in 1985 and his dad in 1995. Eleanor’s house was just a couple of blocks away, so she and Uncle Buddy became like surrogate parents to us. Especially since mine were so far away.
Speaking of my mom, she and Eleanor got to know one another rather well. We got together when Mom came to visit. And there was the memorable occasion of The Child’s college graduation, when we experienced the nightmare of an out-of-control GPS system (it directed us on the “shortest route,” which meant navigating downtown Providence, RI, an experience which, trust me, you do not want to replicate) and sharing an Airbnb in Inman Square which was supposed to be “conveniently located” to the Harvard campus but which was most decidedly not. If they hadn’t bonded before then, well, they were now effectively joined at the hip.
The Dude has some particularly good Eleanor stories, since he spent many summers at her house when he was small. He recalls her dropping him and his two cousins off at Reed Pond with nothing but sleeping bags, fishing poles and a couple of cans of beans and picking them up the next day. She’d honk the car horn and they’d emerge from the woods. They were seven, eight and nine at the time.
My memories are more recent ones, of course. She and I bonded over books. I’d ride over on my bike to drop one off, and she’d invite me to sit with her on the screened-in porch and dish. “He can’t marry that woman,” being one of her more famous observations on the fiancee of a shirt-tail relation. And we’d speak on the phone fairly regularly. She didn’t dish out sentimental remarks, but I treasured the time she ended a call by saying that she “loved talking to me” and “wished we lived closer.” Me too, Eleanor, me too.
Oh, and even after Eleanor sold her house nearby, we would get together in the summers at her son Charlie’s and wife Chini’s infamous Taco Tuesdays out on Lazy Point. At one of these, one of Chini’s incredibly hunky sons walked by after a surfing session, his wetsuit stripped down to the waist revealing his perfectly-toned vee-shaped torso (these are casual affairs, these Taco Tuesdays), when Eleanor remarked, “He has a nice figure, doesn’t he?”
Well, as they say on TV, there’s “much much more.” But I can’t handle any more.
Besides, there are pies to bake.
Happy Thanksgiving, Aunt Eleanor. You gave us a whole hell of a lot to be thankful for.
Amagansett, New York. November 2023