My Golden Oldies: Aunt Rose and Uncle Arthur
I have been away for a few weeks because my dear Aunt Rose passed away on March 28th, 2009 at age 95 in her home in New York City. Uncle Arthur, her husband and soul mate, predeceased her in 1994. While I was away for only four days, the trip took me back decades in our family history and I’ve been steeped in this “time trip” since my return. They were an extraordinary couple and I’d like to share some thoughts about them with you.
As a youngster, I thought Rose and Arthur were quite Bohemian.
Rose was my mom’s sister, 4 years younger than she. Some of my favorite childhood memories are when Rose and Arthur visited our home on Long Island. They’d take the train out from New York City, we would meet them at the train station and walk back to our house. I thought it so unusual that they didn’t drive a car.
Every time I would see Uncle Arthur, he’d say to me, “Linda, say Happy Birthday, Uncle Arthur!” I would usually giggle and say “Today’s not your birthday!” Indeed, I knew exactly when his birthday was. Then he would smile a Cheshire grin and reply, “Every day’s my birthday.” What a powerful life lesson he was teaching me — and before I could even understand it.
Uncle Arthur could also wiggle his ears — not using his hands! That would have me in gales of laughter as I’d demand, “Do it again! Again!.” They almost always came to spend Christmas Day with us and would bring a box of ribbon candy for me as a treat. (I still don’t know if that was the only time of year it was available in NYC or if that’s just when they brought it.) In the summer, he would enjoy sunbathing in our backyard during their visits — Uncle Arthur was a huge sun worshiper his entire life. He always wore bikini bathing suits — even before Speedos were in vogue for men to wear as far as I know. Aunt Rose and my mom would enjoy the garden while Uncle Arthur soaked up rays.
They were both lifelong New Yorkers, living in Manhattan all of their lives. For many years they lived in a very tiny studio apartment in Greenwich village and then in the 1980’s upgraded to a one bedroom cooperative apartment in the same neighborhood, where they lived the remainder of their years. They didn’t own a television set until some time after they moved, which was highly unusual during the great Age of Television.
Both of these homes were decorated with unusual plates, statues, and other beautiful artwork from their travels around the world. While they both had successful careers in accounting and office management, their real passion was traveling. One cruise alone took them on a 3 month journey around the world, and I understand their travels took them around the world a total of seven times! Cruising was their pleasure (the Sagafjord was their favorite ship), and it was only in later years they deigned to fly, and I suspect it was because it was the only way to reach destinations they still wanted to see.
Uncle Arthur made silver jewelry as a hobby. Aunt Rose was a jewelry maker and dress designer extraordinaire in her free time, and sewed beautiful evening dresses, especially sari’s, to wear to the many Captain’s Dinners they were invited to while cruising. He loved opera, and they had season tickets to the Metropolitan Opera for many years. When I was in high school, Aunt Rose stayed home one evening and I was Uncle Arthur’s escort to the opera. He had me listen to the music in advance and told me the story so I could follow it. I totally enjoyed the Metropolitan experience that evening, but sheepishly admitted to him later on that opera wasn’t my favorite musical genre.
As I grew older, I realized that Rose and Arthur were not Bohemian at all, but actually conservative citizens.
To illustrate I’ll share one memorable evening we had together in San Francisco. They had been on a cruise that ended there, and a friend and I met them at the pier, took them to their hotel and had dinner with them that evening. My friend, young and idealistic in his 20’s, was dissing our country for something or other, and Uncle Arthur went on a rant (he was nearly yelling at us) about how much poverty, disease and horrible things they’d seen in so many other countries, the United States was the best country in the world and we’d better not ever forget that fact! Yikes! I haven’t forgotten it, Uncle Arthur.
Dancing was another passion of theirs (which I’m happy to say I’ve inherited) and they were excellent at it. Aunt Rose told me how the ladies would line up to dance with Arthur, and she was proud to say they were more skilled than some of the dance teachers on the ships. Another favorite moment in my mind’s eye is of them dancing together at my wedding, he in a white dinner jacket, she in a pink brocade evening dress and matching jacket.
While the photograph above doesn’t show it, Aunt Rose wore her hair in a beautiful, perfectly formed bun near the top of her head for most of her life. After Uncle Arthur died, she cut her hair short and had it permed. I never realized she wore it that way for him all of those years! She also loved going to museums and reading the Wall Street Journal daily.
Aunt Rose was Uncle Arthur’s nurse during his battle with throat cancer, which he lost in 1994. After that she didn’t travel to exotic places any longer, but did make trips to Florida and California to visit her two brothers, her sister and their families. I believe her last trip was to attend my son’s bar mitzvah in 2002. How very lucky we were to have her there!
Their Legacy to Me
Rose and Arthur instilled in me a love of travel, art and dancing. I will continue incorporating these three things in my life, and our son’s as well.
Their relationship was a true romance story, and their ever-lasting love and devotion is a wonderful model for everyone to aspire to. (So far so good, as my husband and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary tomorrow.)
And I promise to live every day as if it’s my birthday!
I’ll close by signing off the same way I always would in my letters to them —
Aunt Rose and Uncle Arthur, I love you and miss you TONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Photo Credit: E. Antonovsky, N.Y. — circa 1940