I’ll never forget the day my mom was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. From her hospital bed in NYC she called and told me the dreadful news. I quietly and quickly bought a ticket and flew up to the city the next morning. I went straight from the airport to her hospital room. I remember walking in and seeing my mom sitting up in bed in her silk Donna Karan robe, make up, and hair all combed and in place. What struck me most though, and has never left me, was the absolute way her eyes lit up when I surprisingly walked in the room. To this day, I realized there are few people, if any, whose eyes light up, the way my mom’s did that day, when I walk in a room. To tell you the truth, I noticed, most times people don’t even bother to look up at all. Which lead me to think about unconditional love and Aunt Tootsie.
Aunt Tootsie. That wasn’t her real name, though that’s what we called her. She wasn’t even our Aunt. Though she sure was a great substitute. She was a 4’11” cracker jack, spitfire of an older woman. I only knew her as an older woman. Though family folklore had it that back in her younger years, she and my grandmother hung out with the real Bugsy Malone, “the,” Bugsy Siegel.
All that to say, Aunt Tootsie loved my mother, and apparently all three of us kids, as she would visit often, always, and memorably with a box of chocolates in her white gloved hands. Sometimes we would visit her in her Lincoln Center, NYC apartment with a view of the river. She was always put together, head to toe, make-up, stockings, heels…the whole nine yards of pure style. What I loved the most though was the little notebook of dirty jokes she collected and carried with her and did not hesitate to share in the most lady like of voices. She dazzled us with stories, laughter and fun, and to this day I can vividly recall the uniqueness of her just being her around us kids. And of course that sparkle in her eyes whenever she saw us. Being around her was pure joy every time. One of the big life lessons from Aunt Tootsie was that, while we were not related by blood, we were related by love.
Lately, I’ve had the gift of spending time with my co-worker’s almost four year old daughter. I’ve known her since she was born. I realize that while I don’t have grandkids of my own just yet, I’ve had the gift of getting to watch her grow and foster a relationship that has now turned into little shopping and lunch dates. I’ve been given the opportunity to channel my inner Aunt Tootsie, minus the notebook and gangsta lifestyle. And whether it is noticeable to my four year old little friend or not, I hope one day she may recall the stylish older woman friend of her mother’s at work, who sometimes took her on shopping dates to the mall and taught her songs from Barney the dinosaur to Diana Ross and the Supremes. But most of all, I hope she remembers the way someone's eyes lit up every time she entered the room and though we though there may be people in our life who we may not be related to by blood, we can always be related to by love.
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