I am not a youngster although most of the time I feel like one. It’s the cliché. My mind feels like eighteen and my body…I am sixty-six now and sometimes it feels sixty-six and sometimes it feels younger, but not all that much younger. I would say that sometimes it feels eighty, but I don’t know what an eighty year old body feels like.
That said, when I refer to my grandparents and even my aunts and uncles (because my father was the youngest of 13 children so most of my aunts and uncles were approaching my grandparents’ ages) I am talking about people basically born somewhere around 1900, and since my father and mother were born in 1918, it could be in the 1890s or even slightly earlier, hence circa 1900.
My Uncle Martin was really cool. He was a great cook who made his own coleslaw and sweet and sour stuffed cabbage and potato latkes and brisket, you name it. He was married to my Aunt Matilda who was my father’s sister. Aunt Matilda was a dear; she was the sweetest woman you could want to know, as I remember her, and as I write this I see her shy face with a smile on it that caused her dimples to show. But her eyes—they were the most kind and loving eyes, eyes that looked at you with pure love and adoration.
If Aunt Matilda was a softy, Uncle Martin was harsh and abrupt and opinionated and terribly, terribly outspoken. He always spoke the truth as he saw it, a good thing, but often it was critical and judgmental. When he went there, people would laugh embarrassedly at what he said and no one knew if he were telling the truth or joking. As a good example, my wife was a dancer, always thin and always concerned about her weight and waistline, but boy could she eat, and boy, she loved food, and she loved Uncle Martin’s food, ethnic food. She was Polish and Russian by heritage, mostly Polish. My Uncle was Hungarian. I am Hungarian and Czechoslovakian. Some of the ethnic foods are very similar, some aren’t. When my wife and I visited, usually at a family gathering like a birthday or anniversary, she would eat and eat and eat, happily so. My Aunt Matilda would look at her lovingly and enjoy watching her eat. Uncle Martin would say something like “Why don’t we just put all the food in front of her?” There were many variations. Sometimes he would push the serving dishes to her and say “Here, this is for you,” or “Is this enough?” or “Where does it go? You’re feet aren’t fat.” Sometimes he would just spoon more food on her plate and say, “Here, have some more.” Aunt Matilda would ameliorate, telling him to leave her alone or telling her he was just kidding, and everyone would laugh but no one knew if Uncle Martin was being funny or bitterly sarcastic. Much to her credit, my wife didn’t care; she just enjoyed herself eating.
When I was a kid, well before my wife, we thought Uncle Martin was cool because he had pin-up pictures inside his dresser. Like good old furniture (I still have my parent’s bedroom furniture, two dressers, one of which was a chest of drawers), his dresser was a chest of drawers that had cabinets on the top which had doors inside of which were shelves. The pin-ups were on the inside of the doors. The one I most remember was Jayne Mansfield sitting with her legs folded under her. She was in a bathing suit and you could see her big breasts almost fully bare. He had others around, Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable and more. None were real nudes, though he had magazines too that were nudie books, but for kids back then, he was real cool.
There are lots of stories about Uncle Martin and Aunt Matilda. More to come.