Two Friday nights ago, after Dave asked me to marry him, I called my great aunt Florence.
I called a bunch of other people too: my parents, my friends, my brothers. And I got some choice reactions, like from Jacob (“Ray, this is wonderful news,” he said, sounding like he very much meant it) and Evan (“is this a joke?” was the gist of it, I believe) and loud, real tears from Meg. But my favorite reaction, by far, was from Florence herself, the sister of my late grandfather, reached at around 9 p.m. at her Long Island nursing home.
“You’re talking too loudly,” she told me, a tad sternly, in her throaty voice, still thick with a New York accent after all these years. “Calm down. I can’t understand you.”
That was her. Ninety-five-years old, still correcting people, still telling it like it is, afraid of no one and nothing. Still better at names and dates and simple math than my mother, still unafraid to berate my oncologist of an uncle for refusing to inform her of each and every side effect of the cancer drug he had recommended. The woman was fierce.
I can’t say I was that close with her; after all, she wasn’t my grandmother, and she had enough grandchildren with enough talents (successful, beautiful, also dating Jewish med students) to keep her busy and proud, rattling off their stats to anyone who would listen.
But as someone who never really lived close or felt close to her grandparents, who hasn’t had any grandparents at all, near or far, for years, I think of her more often than you might guess. And, now that she’s gone – on her own terms of course, without much pain, I think, on Sunday night – I’m trying to remember what she told me, before that whole engagement thing even came to pass: “Hang on to him. And behave yourself.”
The first part is easy, now that it looks like I’m stuck with him for, well, ever. And the second part?
I’m going to give it a try. Since it’s what she wanted.