Today all is red-white-and-blue, barbeques burn hot, beer is drunk and I dare not tune the TV to any major network. There I'm sure to find politicians and pundits spouting in imbecilic terms about the virtues of freedom.
Freedom has become a weak word.
Independence. Much better. Self-reliance. Even stronger. When I think of these words, I think of Nora.
She was my great-aunt, one of a family of sisters, female "greenhorns" who came from Ireland, with nothing. Her siblings went to great lengths to quickly lose their brogues, to become "American." Nora never changed her accent, her way of talking, or her original way of thinking. She knew she didn't have to.
She married a guy named Tycie, a drunk. A man with rheumy eyes and faltering step, a human who, when I was a child, frightened me and made me cry every time I saw him at a clan gathering. To Nora, he was OK, the deal she had made, and one she never abandoned. But she didn't let him stop her. She was too smart for that. Nora created a life she never blamed on anyone else.
She was always open to exploring new technologies, including a butterfly chair, positioned on the outside patio of our home in Connecticut. She got herself in there, thought it way comfortable, then couldn't get out of it. "You had better give me a hand, boyos," she admitted. "It could be dangerous for all if I am left here to ponder the worries of the world." And she laughed hysterically as the clan gents pulled her from the chair, and set her on her feet again.
And she would let you know when something on this earth displeased her. When conversation around the dining room table turned to current events, and the topic pointed to the entertainer Danny Kaye, Aunt Nora remarked,
"Now that guy's a load a crap."
It delighted us, as it caused my mother's eyebrows to raise, and my father to laugh. We were never allowed to say such words.
And she would teach you life lessons as you walked down the street in Jersey City. One time, when I was eight or so, we encountered a man who had no legs, positioned against a building's brick wall, begging for support from passersby. She walked up to him, put some coins in his cup and asked, "How are ya doing today, dahrlin'?" "OK," he said, and smiled at her. We walked to the next corner. She stopped me.
"Are you afraid of that man?" she asked.
I replied, "I don't know what to do."
"You walk up to him, and you look him right in the eye, and you give," she told me. "You are no better than him, darhlin'," she said. "And don't you forget it."
And Aunt Nora liked dogs, particularly a bassett hound of our childhood named Napoleon. My mother was dismayed when she found Nora feeding a good portion of a holiday ham, off limits to family as a foodstuff for "company", to that hound. "Oh, I'm just giving Nappie a little treat," she said.
Knowing she was in trouble, she leashed the beast and booked it out of the house "for a stroll down the avenue." And he dragged her down the quiet road, he of big paws, she of high heels. I remember them venturing off in the twilight, away from the vigor and personalities of the clan, he searching for new smells, she talking to him like he was something real.