"Mary," he said sternly, "when you have a baby, you may take the day off."
I was trouble for Aunt Mary from the start. But she forgave me. That's why God made Aunt Marys.
When I was 10 I was somehow seized by the odd notion of learning to ski. Odd, I say, because we lived in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, which is as flat as Holland. Which didn't stop Aunt Mary who bought me a pair of skis and fetched them home in the subway during rush hour.
I did most of my skiing on the slopes of the Belt Parkway, the new elevated roadway, and got so good at falling off the Belt Parkway I graduated to Prospect Park. The following year for my birthday I asked Aunt Mary for ski poles. "Do you want one good pole or two cheap ones?" she inquired. I knew by now that two poles were the norm and said a couple of cheapies would be fine. But when Nov. 15 came around there was Aunt Mary with two fine tonkin cane ski poles for the lad.
She was petite and darling and awfully pretty and one summer some boy friends took her out shark fishing. To a small boy this seemed an extraordinary adventure. We had a cottage that year at Manasquan and the day they went out it was pouring rain. I couldn't wait for them to come back in with tall tales of ferocious fish. Instead, they came in soaked and skunked. Not a shark. But Aunt Mary gained a new and enduring family nickname, "Droopy Drawers."
She never married. There was a beau, "Brownie," a good guy we liked but he married somebody else. Then one evening over the radio in the kitchen came a news flash. A passenger plane had gone down between Chicago and New York. Among the dead were...
When she heard Brownie's name it was the first time I saw Aunt Mary cry.
In the mid-'50s my mother and her two sisters, Aunt Mary and Aunt Helen, got a few bucks together and off they went to Europe. I have a sepia photo of them at the Trevi Fountain in Rome, all three wearing hats and white gloves. Very proper, very stylish. Very Myrna Loy.
Aunt Mary worked as an executive secretary for Brown Brothers, Harriman, the fine old merchant bank, where one of her bosses was Prescott Bush, and it was why, though a Democrat, she always voted for his son George.
As they got older my mother and Aunt Mary lived together in the little brick row house where I grew up, where they would, as people do, bicker a bit. My mother usually won. But when at age 91 she died three years ago, Aunt Mary said she missed her so much. Even missed the battles. We all went to see Aunt Mary to keep in touch which we did with increasing difficulty because Aunt Mary was very deaf by now and declined to sport a hearing aid. She could still read without glasses, liked watching the NBA on TV and each a.m. read the Daily News.
And she enjoyed a Manhattan.
This past year it was my turn to spend Christmas with Aunt Mary so I got Dreesen's in East Hampton to cater a little dinner for the two of us and Aunt Mary's latest live-in companion, Jennifer Squires. On Christmas morning I drove 80 miles toward Brooklyn before I realized I'd left the catered dinner behind. So I made a U-turn and went back, telephoning that I'd be late, so embarrassed by my stupidity that I lied, claiming a blowout.
Eventually we had a fine dinner. A last one for Aunt Mary.
She died in her sleep St. Patrick's weekend, 93 years old and a little doll. My mother, I assume, is bickering with her already.