Thanksgiving Tribute

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I delivered the following remarks at the memorial service for my aunt in October. My husband suggested it would be nice to include them here on the blog and I agree–especially as Thanksgiving was the holiday that my aunt and uncle hosted lovely gatherings to friends and family for decades. I also have found that the accumulation of posts here has become important to me as a resource and repository that can be accessed for family recipes wherever we are, so it seems fitting that a portrait of my Aunt Lois should be part of this online album.

May everyone’s Thanksgiving holiday be happy and a meaningful time connecting with who and what we love – we are making memories along with the cranberry sauce!

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Remarks delivered in Scarsdale, NY, October 7, 2018:

The French novelist Marcel Proust, a man who adored his Jewish mother, said “Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” 

I am Lois’s niece and I would like to share with you ways that she was a charming gardener to so many whose spirits she touched in her long and fruitful life. And also to reflect for a moment on Proust’s gentle imperative, ‘Let us be grateful.’

Thanksgiving was Aunt Lois and Uncle Marvin’s holiday. They hosted the annual feast at their home or in later years at the Harvard club. As a number of you know, Lois and Marvin were married on Thanksgiving. Very typically for them, they translated their special day as a platform to generously entertain and sustain their nearest and dearest, though as a kid I was most impressed by and interested in seeing the traditional foil chocolate turkeys, the wax pilgrim candles, and the decorative balls of butter on the table that I had never seen anywhere else.

If the images from these annual gatherings are a fertile ground of memory, I also recall the pace Aunt Lois set that I didn’t realize then how much I admired. She never seemed rushed or stressed, and I don’t recall ever coming to their home for dinner when the table wasn’t already set, when she wasn’t all ready to focus her full attention on her visitors. I’ve been her passenger over the decades when she drove into New York City, and she always kept that same low key graciousness and unflappability on the road and never, ever got lost.

The last time I was driven by Aunt Lois somewhere was about 4 years ago when she introduced me and my daughter to the Cloisters. She had made a point of being the one to get Lydia to the Metropolitan Museum of Art two years before that and had enjoyed getting to know her better through conversing with her about her reactions to the treasures there. On that visit, Aunt Lois proposed another museum trip the next day and Lydia confided to me that she was worried she would disappoint Aunt Lois, but she was feeling too tired. I was amused that my octogenarian aunt had worn out my ten year old but I assured Lydia, accurately, that Aunt Lois would say that was just fine – what did she want to do? We spent a happy hour or so browsing the shelves of the nearby Barnes and Noble and then, indulging my request, we visited the shore of the Hudson River at Dobbs Ferry.

Some can recall memories in their mind’s eye, but I will hold traces of my Aunt Lois more closely in my mind’s ear. The way her voice perked up warmly with a “Hi Jan” on the phone and asked how everyone was doing, or when she would refer playfully to Marvin as “Marvy.”

Sometimes when me and my brother and sister were back in Edgemont from college or beyond, after our visits with Lois and Marvin we would check in with each other for a post dinner analysis of whose turn it had been to be “grilled” by Uncle Marvin with a penetrating line of questioning about our future plans, our attitudes, and how much any of these held water. But I learned that in the absence of Uncle Marvin, Aunt Lois could conduct a fairly stringent interrogation herself.

She cared. She listened. Her thoughtful gifts endured.

I feel so blessed and fortunate to have had an Aunt I considered as a second mother to my own amazing mother, Sonya. Their remarkable devotion to each other has been a model for my sister and myself who for the past 15 years have lived a short drive – by San Francisco standards – away from each other.

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Sonya and Lois

Whenever the clan gathered in New York, Aunt Lois always urged us to stay with her at her home and my husband, daughter and I always accepted. A day didn’t go by in any of those visits, whether it was twenty years ago or four, without the phone ringing at some point with a call from someone special in Aunt Lois’ or her family’s life – people who treasured their conversations with her as much as I did, who were reaching out and checking in with their charming gardener, who reaped what she sowed in her wonderful life with acres of loving friends, colleagues and family.

Fruit cornucopia by Lois. I’m so glad I have a photo of it.