The first time I visited Maureen, I was with you. She had just married, and the newlyweds were in an apartment in Teaneck, about a half hour’s drive from the house on Mill Street in Westwood, where you and Mom raised all seven of us. Maureen was number five of the seven children, me being number seven. However, for twelve years Maureen had been the baby of the family till my brother and I came along. I think, Dad, that in your heart, Maureen was always your baby.
On that Sunday afternoon, you announced to Mom that you wanted to go see Reeny, the name only used by family. For some reason, I went along with you. Reeny was given no warning. We just showed up, which in retrospect, was probably part of your plan. A parent myself now, I imagine you wanted to see how things were going in Teaneck for your daughter. There was some surprise on her part upon opening the door, but what quickly followed was that warm, enthused greeting of hers and what always seems to be genuine delight at seeing you that makes every visitor feel not just welcome but special. As we went in, it was obvious the two of them had been relaxing on the couch in the living room, listening to the The Mamas and the Papas on the record player for it had been turned up loud till we knocked. Eleven years old at the time, I thought it very cool to have a sister who lives in an apartment and listens to The Mamas and the Papas. Loud. We had something to drink and there was some chit-chat and after a half hour or so, we returned to the house on Mill Street. Mom, who was in the kitchen, asked you how the visit went, to which you replied ”Bessie, he calls her BABY.” I recall the two of you looking at each other in confused disbelief.
The next time you and I visited Reeny was almost ten years later when you were in that last stage of cancer. And again, it was a Sunday afternoon. However, Mill Street housed only Mom and myself as your other sons and daughters had married by then. You asked if we three could go out for lunch to a certain restaurant. Although I forget the name of the restaurant, it was in the direction of Wyckoff, which is where Reeny lived with her husband and two young toddlers. After lunch, you looked at Mom and me over the top rim of your glasses and announced that you wanted to go see Reeny. I have often thought back to that Sunday afternoon, Dad, and if I were dying of cancer, I would want to go see Reeny, too. We arrived, again unannounced, but were greeted as if she had just wished herself that we three, and only we three, would pull up the driveway. They were clearly in the middle of what families do on Sunday afternoons, but all was stopped as tea was made and Maureen humored us as only she can. We visited for a while, and then drove back to Mill Street, the visit having been such a welcome respite from the quiet in the house on Mill Street.
It was shortly after Maureen had married that you planted a weeping willow tree on the side lawn at Mill Street. I sat in the grass while I watched you go through the process of digging the whole, fertilizing the dirt, putting the tree in, and mulching around the base. You said to me then that you would do this each time one of your children married, but I only recall this happening when Maureen married. I think you missed her, Dad. And we all know why – we all missed her, too.
About two weeks ago, I announced to my husband that I wanted to go see Reeny, who is now retired and living in Florida. When I called and told her I was coming, her response was delivered with the same warmth, delight, and enthusiasm that defines my sister. I stayed with her for three days, and from eight in the morning till five in the afternoon, I rode shotgun while Maureen never stopped from boot camp golf lessons to her Shakespeare discussion group to the park where she does her watercolor painting to the botanical gardens to a walk on the beach. Driving around Florida with Reeny reminded me of trips I made with you, also sitting shotgun, while you drove summers through Ireland, England, France, Germany, and Switzerland, and winters skiing Vermont. You never stopped either, Dad. She is a match to your own determination to live each day in its entirety.
Every appliance in her Florida home is the most current device money can buy, which is also Maureen. As I recall, you were the first judge to go to work in bell bottoms, much to Mom’s chagrin. But on Reeny’s kitchen counter, among all her modern appliances, is a sugar bowl from Mill Street. This item has not been cleaned up, but is just as it was on the kitchen table at Mill Street. I delight whenever I go to a sibling’s house and see some small thing from Mill Street, our childhood home which was so long ago dismantled. These items, such as that sugar bowl, are tangible reminders of our profound connection to each other and our parents.
Maureen and her husband celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last August and he still calls her Baby. But even if she is not your baby any more, Dad, she will always be your daughter.