Full Circle: On the Way to Aunt Mae
My family had secrets. Lots of secrets.

My Aunt Mae was born in June. I never understood that.

“Why do we call her Mae if she was born in June?” I asked my mother.

“Because her name is Mae.”

“But if she was born in June, her name should be June,” I said, in my most philosophical 8-year-old voice.

“Her name is Mae,” my mother barked, “and that’s the end of it. Now finish your jelly Krimpets and leave me alone.”

Aunt Mae was a large woman. Not fat. Just hefty. She wore her gray hair in a tight bun. She had cat’s eye glasses and wore dark cotton dresses that almost went down to her black orthopedic shoes, the ones with laces.

Aunt Mae was a bookkeeper at the synagogue, the one in the little white house on Bustleton Avenue, the place where I had my Bar Mitzvah. As keeper of the books, Aunt Mae knew everything about everybody, especially when it came to money.

It was my Aunt Mae who knew exactly who gave what to the building fund. And who didn’t. It was my Aunt Mae who knew that Eddie Fisher’s uncle pledged $500 every Rosh Hashanah, and had the rabbi read that pledge from the stage. And it was Mr. Fisher who never gave a nickel.

Aunt Mae lived in a two-bedroom apartment over the drugstore, across the street from Frankford High. It was prime real estate. Especially when school let out. Did I mention that the drugstore had a soda fountain?

She lived there with my Uncle Morris and my cousin Anita. Since my mother didn’t drive, we had to take two busses to visit them. But the soda fountain made it worth the trip.

I spent a lot of time with Anita, while my mother stayed upstairs and yapped with Aunt Mae. Anita ran the soda fountain. She would give me free cherry Cokes and all the hot dogs I could eat, fresh off the spits of the automated grill. There was nothing like a freshly burned hot dog.

Anita was older than me, somewhere in her late teens, already out of high school. I had never seen a girl like Anita. That’s because Anita looked like a boy. She had a very short haircut. Almost as short as mine. And she wore a blue button-down shirt with slacks. Not capris, which were the look of the ’50s, but man-tailored slacks with cuffs that broke just over her penny loafers.

“Mom,” I would ask, “why does Anita look like a boy?”

“Don’t you worry about that,” she said. “And never say that to her. Ever.”

In fear of the wrath of Mom, I never did. In between hot dogs, Anita and I would talk and talk.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” she asked.

“A baseball player,” I said. “I want to play first base for the Phillies.” A big smile broke out on her face.

“Hey,” she said, “that’s what I want to be, too.”

I didn’t get it. “Girls don’t play baseball,” I said, thinking that a high school graduate would have known that by now.

“They will,” she said, “they will.”

I became quite indignant. “But you’re a girl. Girls don’t play baseball.”

This was always the moment that mothers appear. Mine grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and pulled me out of the drugstore, my arms flailing like a drunken man who’d been pushed off a skyscraper.

“What did I tell you?” she yelled. “What did I tell you!” And her grip on my neck got even tighter.

“Where are we going?” I squealed.

“We’re going home,” she said.

“But, Mom, I haven’t finished my hot dog.”

“Hot dog?” she said. “I’ll give you a hot dog.”

And she grabbed what was left of the wiener and threw it in the trash.

“That hot dog’s not kosher,” she said.

Well, something’s not kosher, I thought. We walked to the corner and waited for the 59 bus. In total silence.

October 2019
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