Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Aunt Lane - A Eulogy

I can hear aunt Lane’s voice in my head now.  “Be brilliant kid!”  Wow, thanks for the pressure, Lane!  I’m nervous enough as it is! 

I will miss Aunt Lane.  She was very playful with me, especially when I was younger.  She would walk around the kitchen of the Beverly Drive house while she’d sing some children’s song or rhyme to engage me, and which cleverly applied to something we were doing together.  It was this kind of stimulation, which Lane provided that I believe resulted in her four children being such interesting and insightful people.  I can only assume that they were taught from an early age to look at the world with a multitude of perspectives. 

It always felt to me like our short visits were emotional check-in's to see how we were both doing, but really, mostly how I was doing.  She seemed to be able to unravel me, and what I was currently up to, in mere minutes. She prompted me with just the right questions that challenged my answers, getting directly to the heart of my inner life. 

One time not too long ago, she asked me what my twenty-something-year old niece was up to.  I told her that she was working at Nordstrom’s and that she was also doing some writing.  Lane asked, "Have you read anything that she has written?"  "No," I said, realizing that I had never thought of it.  She suggested, "Why don’t you ask her to send you a sample of her work so that you can read it and comment on it for her.  I'll bet she'd love it!”  And that I did.  And Lane was right, of course; Erica enjoyed talking with me about her writing.  What a great idea. 

Lane was so proud of her family.  I can tell you because I witnessed this each and every time that I arrived at her room.  She always enticed me with her Zha Zha Gobor admixture of Jewish-mother’s voice, "Come in dar-link!  Have you seen this article that K.C. wrote for the New Yorker?  Take a gander at this latest picture of the gorgeous Sarah Golden!  My Dana-baby has just co-written a book with her mother. Oh, how could she grow up on me like that?!  And, look at these photos of my beautiful Shana, and Serena and Keila here.  And, there’s Jonah. He’s such a good-looking man now.  Are they to die for?"  And then she’d put the back of her hand to her forehead and give her well-known Scarlet O’Hara mock fainting pose. ”Oye!”  The accolades went on and on…every time.  I always giggled inside because I knew that her children and grand children's ears were constantly burning. 

Lane’s insight was surprising to me.  It shouldn’t have been, knowing her, but it was.  There was a time in my late twenties when I had been living with a woman who literally up and walked out on me without any warning.  I felt devastated.  Of course, by the time that I saw aunt Lane, she had already known about it as my mom and she had that direct telephone conduit flowing at all times.  When Lane finally saw me, she gave me a hug and told me that she was sorry to hear what had happened.  And then she added, “You know Fred, it’s very uncommon for a woman to break off a relationship without wanting to try to work it out and process it in some way first.”  I remember that this simple sentence permeated into my soul over the next few days and weeks. I had felt a great sense of fault for the relationship having failed.  Yet, with her words, I realized that she was telling me in a simple way that the odds were stacked against something like that happening again, and that I shouldn’t be fearful of entering relationships in the future.  And I believed her, and it helped me greatly. 

There was another time, much more recently, when she was telling me about one of her grandchildren, I think it was Daniel, going to Argentina or Costa Rica to learn a language, or maybe he was studying astrophysics there or, wait, no!…I think he went there to run the nation of Costa Rica itself.  Daniel could do that, you know.  But his travels abroad evoked in me the occasional wish that I had gone to university in another city other than Los Angeles; maybe the  east coast, or maybe in northern California, or Washington State. 

And as I felt this faint regret percolating up, I told aunt Lane that, though I wished I had experienced living in another city in my youth, I just hadn’t felt ready to leave L.A. at that time.  And Lane said, “You know, I think it was that you didn’t want to be far away from your parents.  It’s like, ‘They got me once. Ha! They’re not going to get me again!’” referring to my having lost my biological parents at an early age and having to go through a major transition, and then, wanting to stick close to home.  And when she said it, Lane was exactly right.  She encapsulated in her remark precisely what I had felt in my late teens, but had never given a voice to.  Smart woman, she was. 

And I think we all knew Lane's not so hidden talent of being able to hear three or more conversations going on at once, and more specifically, the eerie amount of detail that she could willingly un-jumble out from any of them.  Sometime in the late 1980’s, Lane was talking to my mom at our dinner table at the Ethel Avenue house while my father was telling Jack a story of an African American man that he had become acquainted with.  While Lane and my mom were talking, my dad said something to Jack like, "James is a black man, but he's very successful in his career."  Immediately, Lane turned out of her conversation to him and said, "Watch your conjunctions, Bill!"  It took me a good minute to figure out what had just happened, and then I just sat there gazing into my mashed potatoes and gravy, impressed by my aunt’s quickness for a whole boat-load of reasons. 

Lastly, and maybe most importantly to me, I thoroughly loved Lane’s sarcastic side. The short doses that I was exposed to during our visits always made me laugh because of the metaphorical and character-related connections she was able to conjure up in her head at a moment’s notice. She was always aware of what was going on in the various worlds of entertainment and politics and could apply irony from one situation to another seamlessly.  “You should have been a comedy writer, auntie Lane!” 

And that's the thing.  There was never a time that I was with aunt Lane that she didn't make me laugh about something.  Being with her made me happy! 

I will always love you, aunt Lane.