Sunday, October 17, 2010

All Things Being Relative

My mother had five brothers which left me with five uncles all of whom bequeathed me with cousins. I have faint memories of a few going back over sixty-five years ago when I last saw them. Soon after, a family argument estranged my mother from her brothers and left me cousin-less.

Even as I write this I’m aware it is a lame rationalization. I had ample time to re-cousin myself, and didn’t. In fact after moving to Los Angeles my mother developed a correspondence with some of her sisters-in-law. But, alas, they were now on the other side of the continent and I was erasing my New York past for no good reason I can now think of.

There was one cousin whose picture had found its way into our family album. I was on the monkey bars with my older brother and cousin, Mildred, about twice my age, was pulling up her dress. Did she have any designs on my brother? Had they already played doctor? Such questions belong to a fevered imagination.

This much I know…… whenever my mother referred to Mildred, down through the years, she was always quick to add that she “never got married.” Over time, I referred to her as Mildred-Who-Never-Got-Married and that is how she is now known.,

Along the way I started thinking about this from Mildred’s point of view. I imagined her overthrowing her bourgeois beginnings, living a Bohemian life in Greenwich Village have fallen from grace on the Grand Concourse. I saw her as Thoroughly Modern Millie in a long term liaison with a jazz sax player who blew in and out of town like Be Bop riffs.

Or maybe she opened an art gallery in SoHo where she hobnobbed with the Minimalists until disappearing in a white canvas. Then emerged as a buyer for the United Nations gift shop and traveled the world snatching up Ghanan masks, Japanese netsukes, Oaxacan woodcarvings and Tlingit baskets. On top of the world, she scared men as the one consenting adult.

Watching a ballgame recently, as if for the first time, I marveled how the outfielder settles under a fly ball. From the crack of the bat he gauges the trajectory. Maybe Mildred stuck out her mitt and muffed her chance, never having experienced that confluence of being well-met. Timing is all.

More likely, her preference was not for a man at all. She probably snared whom she wanted, roaming her own ground, having turned her back on expectant eyes long ago. There are multitudes of Mildreds out there and she found hers. A family secret then; hardly a raised eyebrow now.

About twenty-five years ago when I was diagnosed with some neurological condition my doctor asked if there was any family history. I called one of my aunts in the Bronx whom I hadn’t spoken to ages. After identifying myself as my mother’s son, I asked about my cousins, including Mildred. She immediately said, You know, she never got married.


  1. I saw Mildred the other day, hiding out in my neighbor's house. She said that she remembered your ruddy face and hoped that some day you would give her a call and invite her to dinner and a game of chess.

  2. It seems that Mildreds are universal...and they all look like Zasu Pitts.