It’s been a long time since I’ve visited New York. Since Uncle Frank and Uncle Don picked us up at La Guardia stopping at a favorite place on the way home to eat before whisking up weary Californians to Pelham Manor and aunt Dorothy with the perfectly manicured and finicky everything was there to greet us.
This one will hit me hard. In her lucid moments I’m betting it’s hitting my grandmother the hardest. My grandmother is 96–out living her mother and father and many others by decades. And now her sister Dorothy at the age of 92 is gone too. R.I.P. My grandmother IS the last of her family.
I always counted myself luckiest among my cousins on my grandmother’s side (the Scottish Grant side). I was the oldest grand kid and I lived at my grandmother’s house in the 80s. So I got to hang with the old New Yorkers in their prime. I’d also lived back East when I was a kid and we’d spent a Thanksgiving with Dorothy’s family. I still remember something like a nine course meal or something like that and my 2nd cousin Gloria taking me on a long walk in the hopes that the exercise would make us just a tiny bit hungry again.
Every summer at my grandmother’s in Whittier, aunt Dorothy (from New York) would come out and bring a New York grandchild for a visit when that child turned 7. And when she ran out of grandkids turning 7 she just came alone. She–and her daughter Gloria–were the ones that always came out and so they were the ones the California side knew best. My grandmother had been the only one who moved out of New York and back in the day when it was far too expensive to visit and phone calls could only be so long before they were expensive too, she missed home. So she named her two daughters after her sisters, Peggy and Dorothy. Dorothy in turn named her daughter Gloria. Which is why we always referred to Dorothy as (from New York)–so as not to confuse her with our Dorothy here.
My grandmother–sarcastic in the way only people from the Bronx can be, was also very reserved and preferred to be gracious and quiet and not make waves if she didn’t have to. Even if she was mad it came in mutters under her breath first. Not so her sister Dorothy. Dorothy sent back the dinner if something wasn’t right. Dorothy told you when you weren’t living quite right. Maybe they thought the same things but Dorothy was the one to let you know.
I love my grandmother to the ends of the earth but it was Dorothy that intrigued me. She just knew things. She had country club glamour, but had an absolute and brutal honesty at the same time.
My favorite memory of her however had nothing to do with her annual trips to California. My grandmother and I had flown to New York because aunt Muriel on Long Island wasn’t doing too well and word had it the cancer had spread. So I went with Uncle Frank to drop grandma with Muriel for a couple of days. He dropped me at the office with Dorothy and the two of us hung out alone for the first time ever. The moment we were alone our relationship changed. We talked about everything under the sun (and also about everyone under the sun). In spanish I’d say we were chismosa hounds that day–getting each other’s take on every family issue and every family member. Dorothy weighing in on everything. Dorothy giving answers to some things I’d always wanted to ask and some I didn’t even know enough to ask. I always attribute my obstinance and argumentative style to the Garcia side of my family, but Dorothy proved me wrong. It’s on both sides.
She spoke with me at a time of transition. When I was feeling less than sure of myself and my next move. I was divorcing my first husband and accepting a teaching job in Japan to get out of coping with San Francisco rents. I’d always wanted to go and it seemed the perfect time to escape. She gave me her blessing. Told me I needed to embrace my life and who I was and just go do what I wanted to. I didn’t have children yet. I wanted to do things. What was I waiting for?
We were talked out by the end of the day. The next day I took off to Manhattan by myself tourist style, went to the Met and bought shoes Sex in the City style. And I committed myself to not looking back. I never really thanked her properly for all that. She came to San Francisco to visit me with my grandmother when I returned from Japan. And I’d seen her off and on in southern California after that.
It’s nearly impossible for us (the California family) to separate Dorothy out from grandma and their other sister Peggy who died in the 1980s from cancer. The Grant Girls were a trio of loveliness–and the absolute life of any party. I love to look at old polaroids of them from the 1960s and 70s. Backyard parties at my grandma’s. Peggy cracking jokes and cracking wise. Dorothy holding court. My grandmother fussing too much. All of them laughing. All of them singing. They really belonged together as a trio.
In these last years, the annual visits just couldn’t happen anymore. The two sisters could barely understand each other on the phone due to hearing loss and stroke. Dorothy had always made New York so close for us. It was because of her that we knew who everyone was back east and who they married and what they were doing these days. Without her we just never would have established a foothold in the New York my grandmother left for sixty years ago. Dorothy made it present for us.
She was hospitable and gracious and kind to us and made us feel –and especially made my grandmother feel–like New York wasn’t that far away at all.
I will miss her deeply.