Saturday, May 20, 2006
Happy 90th Birthday, Aunt Etta!
Today, May 20, 2006 is my Aunt Etta’s 90th birthday. To celebrate, I’ve gathered a few photographs to share, as well as an excerpt from THE DIVISION STREET PRINCESS.
Joining me in honoring my wonderful aunt, are Etta’s two children: David and Estherly
(and spouse Leonard Reifman), as well as Etta’s grandchildren Alan, Lynn (and spouse Jeff Richman), and Steve; and her great granddaughters Ari and Jordyn. Estherly describes her mother as, “caring, loving, smart, and thoughtful, with an amazing inner strength.” Those of us who know and love Etta couldn’t agree more, and we encourage you to leave your good wishes for this kind and compassionate woman in the Comment section at the end of this post. Your greetings will be shared with her as a special birthday surprise.
For background: Etta Elkin Kaplan, my mother’s younger sister by three years, is in many pages of my memoir, as is Estherly, who is one year younger than I. When we in lived on Division Street in the 1940s, all of the Elkins – including their spouses and children -- were close- knit. (We still are to this day.) Back then; we often counted on one another for support, companionship, and at times, food and housing.
There are many excerpts I could have selected that would have illustrated the love between my mom and her sister, as well as between Estherly and me.
The one I chose is from a chapter called “Searching for the Spotlight,” in which I describe my brother Ronnie’s Bar Mitzvah (58 years ago to the day!) and Estherly’s and my dance recital. This is poignant because it marks the time the Kaplans left Division Street for Chicago’s South Side (to be closer to Uncle Maury's butcher shop), and when the neighborhood itself was beginning to drift away.
But first, more photographs:
A surprised Aunt Etta, sometime in the 1940s or 50s.
A Division Street scene in the late 1940s. From left to right: me, my dad, my mom, Estherly, Etta, Rose Elkin Levy. In the front row, cousins David Kaplan, Jay Levy, and Norman Levy.
My Uncle Maury (another prominent character in my memoir) is pictured between his children David and Estherly.
The Elkin family passport in 1922 with six children who were born in Russia (two more were born in the U.S.) My mom, with the big eyes, age 9, is on the far left, and Etta, age 6 is front and center. (You can meet all of the Elkins in my book.)
And now, the excerpt:
“A few weeks before the recital, Aunt Etta and Estherly came to our store to meet Mom and me for our Saturday activities. The two sisters would be joining Molly and Rose for department store browsing, and my cousin and I would be off to final rehearsals.
That’s when Aunt Etta broke the news. ‘Maury found a place,’ she said. My mother remained silent. ’It’s a butcher shop in South Shore, and we’ll be renting a beautiful six-room apartment nearby. Maury can walk to work from the building.’
‘Are you moving’ I asked, turning from my aunt to my cousin. To myself I thought, no more Sunday rides together in Dad’s car? No more play-acting on the streetcar? No more dance lessons taken together?
As my cousin looked to her mother for an answer, my own mother found her voice. ‘I’m happy for you, Etta,’ she said, but her tone was serious like the time she challenged her father about the cost of Ronnie’s party. Then, she put her arms around her younger sister and said, ‘Six rooms? So Estherly and David will have their own bedrooms? You’ll have a dining room?’
Stepping back from her sister’s embrace, and taking both of my mother’s hands in hers, Aunt Etta said, ‘Wait and see, you’ll move from Division Street one day, too. You’ll get rid of the store. You’ll get a bigger apartment in a better neighborhood. Be happy for me; this is good for Maury, for our family. We’ll still meet downtown on Saturdays. We’ll still see each other, just not every day.’”