Aunt Mickey by
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(120 Stories)

Prompted By Aunts & Uncles

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A few months ago, the last of my ten aunts and uncles died in Israel. Along with the deaths of my parents, his death represented the passing of that generation in my family, making me the matriarch on my father’s side and third in line on my mother’s side. This transition feels surreal, as growing up, aside from my aunt and uncle in Israel, I was surrounded by four sets of aunts and uncles who were a regular part of my life.

She was the fun aunt – the one who let me do everything my mother forbid.

Among all of them, Aunt Mickey had the greatest influence on me. Because she was my mother’s sister and we lived with her family until I was seven, she was really more like a second mother to me than a traditional aunt. Her daughter, my beloved late cousin Annette, and I were nine months apart in age. We shared a two-flat in Detroit and were more like siblings than cousins. When Mickey (Mildred) Schneider died in 2008, I wrote these words (updated for 2020) to share with her children.

Aunt Mickey and my mother

My Aunt Mickey always got whatever she wanted for herself, even in the way she decided it was time to die. It’s so hard to believe she is gone because to me she personified life itself. She was the fun aunt – the one who let me do everything my mother forbid. I can still see her dancing at parties and hear her laughing at one of her own stories or jokes. She was so full of energy and had strong opinions about people. If she loved you, it was unconditional and forever.

I have so many memories of her from my childhood when we lived together in Detroit. She was like a second mother to me, not the one with rules and boundaries but rather the permissive one who would swear and tell me it was a great idea to shave my legs at age ten. No matter how much time had passed, even after I had moved to Chicago fifty years ago, whenever I saw her it was like there was no distance at all. She told my kids to call her Aunt Mickey Mouse and made French braids in the girls’ hair. She came to all of my kids’ Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and weddings and danced a mean hora. Even at my youngest daughter’s wedding, when she was well into her eighties, she danced into the room — I can still picture that in my head.

Aunt Mickey was one of the most honest people I’ve ever known. She never pulled any punches. If she didn’t like what you were wearing or what you did or said, you would hear about it.

She and my mother got into so many disputes over almost anything from memories of their childhood to their spending habits to their friendships. One of my favorite possessions is a cassette tape of them trying to agree on their family history and interrupting and correcting each other constantly.

Unlike my mother, who was a great bargain hunter, Aunt Mickey was more like her own mother in her relationship to money. My grandfather used to leave a $5 bill on the dresser every day for my grandmother to spend, and spend it she did. If Aunt Mickey liked something, she bought it. Much to my mother’s horror, she shopped at Saks and paid full price for all of her clothing and jewelry. It is only with the hindsight of age and greater psychological understanding that I now see how material goods helped her to overcome the struggles of being married to a man who was bipolar and was often hospitalized for depression. For my aunt, these manic spending habits masked the difficulties of living with my uncle.

My mother was often critical of her older sister. While I found her swearing and off-color jokes amusing, my mother was embarrassed. Once, when my parents brought her to Chicago to visit me and my then fiancé, Aunt Mickey put on her usual “life of the party” performance. My future husband thought she was great, but my mother was mortified that she would use crude language in front of him. But despite all of my mother’s critical remarks that started with, “my sister…” they loved each other dearly.

One of my favorite memories of my aunt is visiting her in her senior living facility in the last years of her life. She showed us around and seemed to have tons of friends. The secret, she claimed, was just to say “Great” when someone asked how you were. “No one really wants to hear your problems and complaints.” My mother was very unhappy with her sister when she refused to try harder to stay alive near the end of her life. But I understand how a woman so full of life no longer wanted to live as a bedridden invalid. And while I still miss her so much, her amazing spirit will always be a part of me.

Loving sisters up to the end

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Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Laurie,
    What lovely memories of your full-of-life aunt Mickey, and how she maintained that positive outlook despite her husband’s mental illness.

    May her memory be a blessing for you.

  2. Marian says:

    This is a lovely tribute to your aunt, Laurie. It’s wonderful that you had her in your life as the “permissive” one. How fun. Having only one uncle and one aunt, I will use my imagination about your large family. Interesting comment about becoming the family “matriarch.” Once my mother is gone, that role will go to me.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      It is so strange to realize I am now the matriarch, Mare. My aunt was fun for me but a tough mother for my cousin to have. Maybe she craved some order and discipline which my cousin never received.

  3. Suzy says:

    Laurie, this is a great story about your Aunt Mickey. It goes hand-in-hand with the story you wrote about Annette on the Cousins prompt last year. I love that she was a second mother to you, “not the one with rules and boundaries but rather the permissive one.” I think everyone should have an aunt like that. But most aunts don’t get to spend as much time with their nieces as Mickey spent with you. That arrangement of living together in a two-flat (is that like a duplex?) must have been wonderful. You were lucky to have her.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Suzy. I think because of our unique living arrangement (sharing a house, one floor for each family), I grew up with two “mothers,” and my aunt was often the good cop. My cousin shared in later years that having a fun and carefree mother wasn’t always so great, and she relied on my mother for stability.

  4. Both my mother and father were only children, so I don’t have any aunts, uncles, or cousins. The couple I wrote about were really my “great” Aunt Blanche and Uncle Ernie but were never referred to as such. So you can imagine how much I envy your having grown up with five sets and cousins to boot! The first photo of Aunt Mickey with your mom is dazzling, the second particularly endearing…and I love that you even have a recording of them that encapsulates their difficult but loving relationship. What a beautiful tribute, Laurie!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Barb. Never having had a sister, I didn’t fully appreciate the dynamic at play between them. Love but also jealousy, loyalty but also disapproval. My cousin Annette was close to having a sister when we lived together, but our mothers played out their rivalry through us. Still, I loved my cousin despite our differences, so I understand how our mothers felt about each other.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    Just beautiful, Laurie. And, as Suzy noted, this fits in so perfectly with your wonderful story about Annette.

    As far as I can tell, Aunt Mickey had only one flaw: paying full price at Saks. Oy, vey!

  6. Wonderful story Laurie. The phrase “larger than life” is so over used that it seems to have lost all meaning. Usually. But your Aunt Mickey (nee Mouse) and your telling give that the lie.

  7. Betsy Pfau says:

    Laurie, the passing of the generations is a difficult milestone and I grieve for you, my friend. But I do love this portrait of your fun-loving “second” mother. I LOVE that first photo of your mother with her sister. They were both beautiful women, so different, yet good counter-balances in your life and that of your cousin. She does sound like such fun; full of life, dance, energy. But I understand the dark side of no rules and no boundaries, so it was good that you had your mother to provide the discipline a child also needs.

    Funny that your favorite possession is that tape of them fighting. I agree; it IS a treasure, both to be able to hear their voices still, but also to hear them in action! As you say, you know they could fight but still love each dearly and that’s what life is all about. Thank you for sharing your Aunt Mickey with us.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Betsy. I posted that picture of them because it is one of my favorites. I am looking at it framed on the shelf above my computer right now. I gave it to my mother in a frame with a cut out of two pears above the photo. They were six years apart in age and very different in personality, but they loved each other fiercely. I have the tape but nothing to play it on anymore. Will have to see if it can be digitalized.

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