Esther, the unforgettable aunt in our family
There was a comedienne in our family in the person of Esther, our mom’s youngest sister. She came from a low-income family, and her marriage to a not-so-successful farmer didn’t improve her financial situation. I’m convinced that talent develops more easily in poor families than in well-off ones. We make our own fun.
The year Mom turned 52, Esther couldn’t afford a birthday card so she wrote Mom a birthday letter with a little poem in it: “I hope when I turn 52, I’ll look so very young like you.” Mom treasured that greeting probably more than a store-bought one.
Esther’s husband built a pantry which was separated from her kitchen by a metal accordion-pleated door which pushed open and pulled shut. (This was during our Cold War days with the Soviet Union.) Esther called the door “The Iron Curtain.”
She was a master of the one-liner. Once when Mom and Esther were talking about Christmas, Esther said, “I send expensive Christmas cards to my friends and cheap ones to my enemies.” Mom touched Esther’s hand as if to say, “You? Enemies?”
It’s a temptation for a wit to be unkind, but Esther didn’t seem to succumb to that. She was one to recognize the strengths of others – without any envy. When someone mentioned my sister Evelyn, Esther exclaimed, “Isn’t she stylish!” And when my dad had to wear glasses, this was the last straw for him. His good looks as a young man had been ravaged by the hot sun all the years he rode a tractor without a canopy. Then he started balding and graying. When he appeared at Esther’s house wearing his new glasses, she told him he looked “distinguished,” and he took it to his heart.
During Esther’s middle age, she worked keeping accounts for a propane company. Her only coworker was the owner – to whom she was a ray of sunshine. One day the owner introduced her to his wife, who said, “I’ve heard so much about you. I didn’t know if you’d be glamorous or what.” Evidently the owner would, at the end of the day, insensitively regale his wife will tales of Esther and all her verbal “gems” and the wife would feel upstaged by Esther’s talent. And as any normal wife would , she wondered if Esther also upstaged her in the looks department. Esther must have sized up this situation in the couple of seconds she had to reply, and she came up with, “Well, now that you’ve seen me, you know you don’t have anything to worry about.”
The church at Esther’s funeral was packed. My husband was squeezed into the corner of a pew, and I had to sit on his lap. The minister, a glum-faced young man, harped on “Esther’s sin.” This referred to her cigarette habit which gave her the emphysema which killed her at 78. (I think he had too rigid an idea of a minister’s job description.) He said nothing of Esther’s gifts of original jokes and upbeat outlook. But he wasn’t the real runner of the show. He missed his chance. The show was Esther’s – and her fans proved their devotion for her in the only way they could – by showing up.
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