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Remembering and Returning the Love

On Sunday afternoon, my sister Sandy and I travelled from New Jersey over the Goethals Bridge to the same West Brighton, Staten Island neighborhood we had visited so many times before. We weren’t the giggly look-alike girls with the uneven brown bangs in the back seat of a station wagon, but grown women dressed in similar black wool coats and dress boots in the front seat of a minivan.
“Do you think the flowers we ordered will be big enough?” I asked Sandy as she slowed down in the EZ Pass lane. “I mean we’re the only relatives left on Dad’s side.”
“I guess so,” she said. “That was the largest size, so I think it’ll look decent. Remember how going over this bridge was such a big deal?”
“Yeah. We used to get so excited whenever Dad said we were going to the “island” to visit Aunt Diana and Uncle John.”
“Not just that,” Sandy said as she maneuvered the van into the far right lane. “We knew that meant the cousins…and the pets.”
“And the food.”
“Food?” Sandy questioned. “What was so special about the food?”
“Donuts,” I replied. “Aunt Diana always had plates filled with donuts on her kitchen table. I clearly remember her saying ‘have another donut, if you don’t like the one you took, take another one’.”
“I don’t remember that at all,” said Sandy, “but I do remember the camper. Uncle John let us play in there all the time. That was my all-time favorite. I know what your favorite was.”
“The playhouse?!”
“Yes, the playhouse. That ‘s all you ever wanted to do was hang in that house.”
“I know…it was unbelievable. Can you imagine building something like that? I think it was pink and had that old black telephone. I would have moved in there if they let me. Oh and I loved how Uncle John always called us dahls with that loud voice and the Staten Island accent. He never asked ‘Are you Mary? Or Sandy?’ It was just ‘hey dahl, have a cream soda’.”
We laughed until the GPS lady told us to take the exit on the right.
“Is this right? Forest Avenue?” Sandy asked.
“That’s it. The funeral home can’t be far from their street, Taylor. I remember a main street but I don’t think all these big stores were here. TJ Maxx wasn’t around back then.”
“I never paid attention to how we got there or what was around,” said Sandy.”All I know is that we always had fun and they always seemed happy to see us. That’s why I was so glad they came to my house last summer. I wanted to feed them and entertain them and, you know, just treat them as well as they treated us.”
“I know. That was a great day. I don’t know if everything registered …I mean they were in their nineties. Slow up,” I said. “Harmon Funeral Home, right there on the corner.”
Our cousin Diana, the youngest, was the first to greet us as we entered the crowded room. Though in her late fifties, she was still thin and petite and exuded a youthful energy.
“Mary and Sandy, it’s been so long since I’ve seen you guys.”
We hugged her and said we were sorry about Uncle John’s passing.
“We were all together on New Year’s Eve and he was fine,” said Diana as her eyes welled with tears. “And then on Wednesday he didn’t feel well and then he had the heart attack at the hospital.”
Our cousin Artie stood next to Aunt Diana who was seated in a beige wing chair. I hugged Artie and told him I was so sorry. I bent down, embraced our frail aunt and whispered ,”I’m Mary, your brother Gary’s daughter.”
She didn’t say anything but smiled sweetly and gripped my hand tightly. I wasn’t sure what she was able to comprehend but I bent down again and told her that I will always remember the love given by her and Uncle John. My sister did the same.
Sandy and I knelt on kneeler and said a prayer for our uncle who was laid out in a black suit, red shirt, and black tie. His hands held a black fedora and rosary beads. “God, he looks sharp for ninety-three,” I thought.
As we made our way toward the picture collages, our cousin MaryAnn, the oldest, rushed towards us. “Mary. Sandy. I ‘m so glad you came,” she said as she gave each of us a warm embrace.
“We’re so sorry MaryAnn,” said Sandy.
“You know we loved your dad,” I added.
“I know,” she said. With her dark hair and big brown eyes, she most resembled our dad’s side and possessed Aunt Diana’s loving manner.
“Oh, the flowers you sent are beautiful. They are over there. Right next to that brown chair.”
“Oh, good,” I said nonchalantly, giving Sandy a knowing glance, relieved that they were memorable.
“You know my parents really enjoyed that mini-reunion we had at your house, Sandy. I know I thanked you on Facebook but I really should have called to let you know about the ride home. My parents are so sweet. Every time I pick them up and take them somewhere and then drive them home, they always say ‘MaryAnn thank you for doing all that driving.’ So when we got back to Staten Island from Jersey that night my dad thanked me as usual. He also said that your food was delicious and that your property was so well maintained. He only had one question though…..’Who WERE those people’?!”
In a room full of mourners, Sandy and I simultaneously laughed out loud, knowing full well that we were the dahls from Jersey, returning the love.

Phone: 215-543-9339