NOT NEWS – Aunt Aline (Part 1)

studio-grand

While I sat in the back of the Uber on my way to my mother’s apartment to find out why she was not answering her phone, I imagined a range of circumstances, none of them good, and I thought about the last time I went out on a similar mission, when my late wife Dorit could not reach her Aunt Aline on the phone. Aline was Dorit’s father’s sister. She was about 80 at the time of this story and lived alone on East 87th Street. When she came over from Poland in the ’30’s she was married to a conductor, Walter Eiger, who went on to build a significant career in Canada, where they both went initially until Aline moved to the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan which was, in the ’40’s, packed with refugees from Poland, Hungary and Germany. She played piano, like her younger brother (who had gone overland from a Russian prison to Palestine), and was able to make a living playing at the many piano bars and social clubs that catered to the sophisticated mittel europe clientele. She also, if Dorit is to be believed, maintained a salon in her small second floor apartment and enjoyed the favors of more than one generous music lover. I have seen a very old nude photo of Aline, a risque move to make in the pre-selfie past. By the time I met Aline she was a frail-seeming little old lady and, I thought, adorable in her well-kept vintage suits. She was, by many criteria, a nasty piece of work. An antisemite notwithstanding her jewishness, she also hated the “darkie” peddlers on 86th Street hawking children’s books which Aline assumed were stolen. She dropped french words into her speech, mon chere. She arrived with a cloud of violet powder trailing her and never went anywhere without a gift which initially might be a book for samara but soon became free discount coupons and used wrapping paper. What Aline loved most of all was opera. “Mon chere, it is the bouquet of all the arts.” She would stand on Lincoln Center Plaza in front of the Met, looking both cute and pathetic, until someone would gift her with a spare ticket, then she would stand in the back of the orchestra for the first act (she was well known to all the ushers) and finally, at intermission, would be ushered to a seat that had been empty up until then and sit in the orchestra for the rest of the performance. Dorit had been visiting Aline every week or so but as Dorit’s cancer came to limit her more and more, the routine devolved into a weekly phone call which was how there came to be a day when Dorit called and Aline didn’t answer the phone. I grabbed a cab to 87th street. I had no keys and so searched for, and located, the super to ask him to drill the lock but lockdrilling was not within his area of competency so he just busted down the door. There, on the floor, was Aline, wearing a nightie and blue bathrobe, eyes wide open and smiling but unable to speak, unable to move in any respect. She had spoken on the phone with Dorit just a week earlier and seemed, perhaps, a little confused but was mostly as she was when we last saw here. She obviously had been worse than she let on. Her toenails were long enough to curl over. The only thing to eat in the apartment was a box of cake mix. While the super called 911, I knelt down beside her and she lifted her arm and grasped my wrist and pulled my hand over her breast, a gesture I remembered my Grandma Bea doing once in the midst of family chaos generated by her husband’s, my grandfather’s, dementia. The EMS team arrived, put her gently on a stretcher and took us to Cornell Medical Center.

One Response to “NOT NEWS – Aunt Aline (Part 1)”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Hello! My name is Dorota Liliental, I am from Warsaw, Poland. My great grandmother, Regina Lilientalowa nee Eiger was Walter Eiger’s father’s sister. ( Jakob- Jewish name- Kiva Hershek from Lodz). I would love to get in touch with you! Could you get in touch with me , please? My e-mail address is: doralilie@wp.pl

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