Dear Aunt Ethel
Ruth Z DemingOut of the blue, my Aunt Ethel, living in the Essex House in Shaker Heights, Ohio, sent me a check for ten-thousand dollars. My guess today is that it was a dividend check from one of her “holdings.” Is the Essex House still there today? Yes. When I used to visit, there was a diamond-patterned carpet when you entered. You buzzed yourself inside and were greeted by two magisterial yellow cockatiels in fancy cages.
A certain smell also greeted us. Quite pleasant. A bit of cigar smoke, cigarette smoke, and food that the residents – or their maids – would cook.
I would always run down the carpet to my aunt’s place. She was lonely, since her two husbands had died, and she would be waiting at her front door, either wearing her hairpiece or showing her balding head. This always surprised me, as I thought only men, like my Uncle Donny, went bald.
Although my family and I lived in a lovely house in Shaker Heights, to me, Aunt Ethel’s home was perfection itself. Every single room was filled with one-of-a-kind furniture. The den had a long sofa, its legs made of carved wood. A color television blared in the corner, one of the first ever sold. The living room had a soft purple sofa. When you sat down, you bounced. Its pillows flanked the couch and I always took a quick lay-down.
When she sent me the ten-thousand dollars I was living in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. My two teenage children, Sarah and Dan, lived with me. I began writing her letters on my Selectric typewriter, the one with the “ball.”
To this very day I have her letters. A couple of stacks of them bound together with rubber bands. If you touched the rubber bands now, they would snap. Too old.
Aunt Ethel passed away when she was about ninety-two. Mom had called her from Pennsylvania but there was no answer, so she asked Stewart and Marilyn to check on her.
Sure enough, Aunt Ethel, lay crumpled up near her door, as if she were trying to escape. She was dead, stone-cold dead.
That woman had a lot of money. The majority of it went to my mother, who, today, is ninety-six. Aunt Ethel’s photo regales the entry-way to Mom’s house, as do other family photos, like my late Uncle Donny.
Yes, we’re going fast. In every room of my house I have furniture from Aunt Ethel. In the bedroom, I have a long ivory-colored dresser that I’ve marked up with signs reading: sweaters one, sweaters two, sweaters three, pants, miscellaneous – this includes old Life magazines I bought at a garage sale.
Funny, but my hair, like hers and my mom’s, is thinning. I bought a wig but it’s too cumbersome to put on.
One of the letters I wrote told about how delicious Dole Sorbet was.
When she died, and Mom and I flew to Cleveland to clean out her home, we found the same sorbet in her freezer.
Who writes letters these days?
I do. Although my Selectric is no more, I play a game. I begin a letter half an hour before Mailman Dante arrives. In this way, I think on my feet, using my seventy-three year-old brain to get into the life of say, Judy Diaz, who moved to Colorado, or, my grandchildren, Grace and Max.
Letter-writing. It´s in the genes. Keep it up!
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