My Aunt Stella passed away earlier this week. (This is a picture of Aunt Stella, Aunt Mitzi, me, Aunt Esther.)
Growing up we were a family that traveled like a nomadic tribe. Sundays in Brighton Beach. Summers at Schimmels bungalow colony. Camp Merrimac visiting days. Miami. London.
There were many years when we made the annual family trip to the Borscht Belt in the Catskill Mountains. We traveled en mass. Descending on some unsuspecting hotel like a swarm. Back then Saturday night was a glamorous affair. Friday night was, so to speak, more "casual". My earliest memory of my Aunt Stella was at one of those hotels. I think it was the Raleigh. Friday night she came down to dinner in this elegant cocktail dress. If I remember correctly it had spaghetti straps and marabou feathers at the hem. I’m not sure about the color. Maybe pink. Saturday night, being formal, called for a gown. Same dress. Black. Floor length.
The Urban Dictionary defines a "fashionista" as a positive, powerful woman with a natural flair for style. Stella was, without a doubt, a "fashionista" before Carrie Bradshaw and The Devil Wears Prada. I don’t remember jeans. Or sneakers. Nothing less than a full ensemble. Not a moment when she wasn’t impeccably dressed. Always with flair. She definitely had presence.
She was, though, much more than that.
My Aunt was generous. Her home was always open to family and friends. Everyone was welcome. Uncle Eddie and Aunt Stella moved from Elmont to Jericho when I was starting high school. Susan had gone to college already, but Marci and I were in the same grade. We had the same friends. We had parties and we invaded their house on Sutton Place on a regular basis. While I’m sure we were a handful, I never heard a complaint.
You know, the things we remember are often random. And then there are those moments that teach you the meaning of a word like generosity. One day my mother and I were visiting. Aunt Stella was showing us a slide necklace that she had picked up at an antique fair. A long gold chain with a round sliding charm…diamonds in a circle and an opal in the middle. It was the most beautiful thing, and when I told her how much I liked it she gave it to me. Just like that. On the front steps of her house. It took me a long time to collect enough slides to make it a bracelet, but when look at the finished project it’s still the one round charm with the diamonds and the opal that is my focal point.
My Aunt was unfailingly loyal. All families have their differences. For our family, sometimes those differences resulted in rifts that lasted years. Sides are taken and disagreements can take on a life of their own over time. Aunt Stella never got in the middle of it. Truly…I never heard her speak a bad word about a member of the family. She knew that time heals and that eventually whatever it was would be resolved. She was unwavering in her loyalty to the family and tried always to bring people together. It was often difficult to do, but she pulled it off. I learned a lot from her and try hard to follow her example.
Most of all she was fiercely devoted to her daughters, Marci and Susan, their husbands, Lenny and Joel, and her four wonderful grandsons. And to my Uncle Eddie. Last winter he was in the hospital. He was quite sick and my parents were flying down to visit. Aunt Stella called my cell and said, "Listen…you get hold of them before they come to the hospital. I’ve told Eddie that your father has to come down here on business. I do NOT want him to think he’s so sick that they had to fly down." Fiercely protective and as wild for him then as the day they got married.
Stella was a special aunt, sister, grandmother, mother, and wife. The family wouldn’t have been the same without her. She’ll be missed and remembered always.