Note: Another impetus for writing this blog is that I have vivid memories of some people who helped shape me. I want to provide a picture of those individuals, people who weren’t necessarily part of my day-to-day life, but had an impact nonetheless.
Zada was driving us home from Uncle Sid and Aunt Fannie’s apartment. I don’t remember the circumstances: why we had visited (which while not unheard of, wasn’t common either); and, why were we riding with Zada, instead of our parents? Memory is funny that way, snippets of dialogue, vivid images, sometimes in context, sometimes not. I do remember that it was a dark, clear chilly night. We were on the Knapp Street entrance ramp to the Belt Parkway, which had a short sight line. Zada asked my brother Mark, who was sitting in the back seat next to me, to let him know when traffic was clear so he could get on the highway. Mark said okay. Zada thought that Mark meant it was okay to speed up and enter the parkway. Mark meant, ‘okay, I understand your request.’ Horns honked and we swerved, we narrowly missed colliding with another car. This precipitated some back and forth about the misunderstanding. Nana, who was sitting in the front seat, may have suggested that asking an 11 year old to give driving assistance wasn’t the wisest idea. After we averted disaster, everything went back to normal pretty quickly. No big deal as far as Zada was concerned.
Uncle Sid was Zada’s youngest brother, 13 years his junior. He was a kind hearted, bear of a man. His life, from my perspective, couldn’t have been easy. He may have been a little slow, he was certainly lumbering in both speech and movement; it was difficult for him to walk. But he was always cheerful.
His wife, Aunt Fannie, had breast cancer, two occurrences that resulted in two mastectomies. I remember her coming to visit our house after the last of her surgeries. I was nervous about seeing her. I didn’t know what to expect. I was in my bedroom steeling myself to face her. Cancer was not something we spoke about openly. I was afraid, I don’t know if I thought it was contagious or if I was thought she would be physically deformed. At that time cancer was spoken of in hushed tones, perhaps because it was usually a death sentence.
Uncle Sid kept his natural cheerfulness even after his beloved Fannie died of the dreaded disease. He went on to live 15 more years after she died. He remained cheerful even in the face of the fact that his son stole the little money that he had to feed a drug habit. When asked if he wanted to press charges against his son for cleaning out his bank account, Uncle Sid said no, the money was one less thing to worry about. He added, “He isn’t an axe murderer after all.”
It was a poignant example of perspective, one that I think of when I’m losing mine. My heart hurt for Uncle Sid. In his later years, on rare occasion I would go with Uncle Terry to visit – Uncle Terry, a podiatrist, would take care of his feet. Weather permitting, we would find him sitting on a bench outside his apartment building, part of a housing project in Sheepshead Bay. Taking a break from chatting with a neighbor, he would greet us with a gap-toothed smile, pleased as punch to see us, no trace of bitterness about his lot in life.