A few weeks back, I got word from my dear friend Aimee, currently an international aid worker in Afghanistan, that her mother Arlene and best friend Suzanne were traveling from L.A. to New York City and could I give them a behind-the-scenes tour of the studio (a.k.a. my Washington Heights brownstone). The last time I had seen Arlene, who works for a rabbi at her temple, was probably ten years ago when Easter and Passover coincided, and she was invited to a very special episode of Alphabet City featuring dyed eggs and matzo. Any guest star that can survive that schmaltz is welcome back anytime.
Not only did Arlene and Suzanne come bearing gifts, but also they fawned over the house and insisted it must have risen in value despite the real estate crisis. From their lips to God’s ears. Once we Skyped in Aimee, Arlene asked that her daughter move the camera around so we could see her living quarters, and took special note of the curtains. But what really brought tears to my eyes was Arlene gently stroking the image of Aimee on the screen because she missed her so much. You don’t ever see that on Oprah.
Later over lunch at my go-to impress the out-of-towners neighborhood spot New Leaf Café, I marveled at Arlene and Suzanne’s fun loving, sweet and open outlook on not only their trip, but also life. There were no tales of airport woes, crowds at Macy’s, or the bitter cold. Instead, they were filled with tales of anonymously buying the lunch of a group of strangers who had been with them on a tour of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum because, “Those girls asked such good questions. They were sweet.” Trying to ignore the fact that Dr. Ruth was sitting at the next table, I remarked how refreshing it was to be with such optimistic ladies, Arlene shrugged and replied, “My rabbi always says, unless someone died, what’s the big deal?” Words to live by.
As I escorted them to The Cloisters museum just a five-minute walk away, a brisk wind kicked up and Suzanne decided she was too cold in just her Burberry wrap. Now a true New Yorker, I rolled my eyes wondering, “Who comes to the Big Apple in winter without a coat?” Slightly embarrassed, I popped back into the restaurant and asked them to call a car, for the all of two-minute drive to the museum. The hostess laughed.
As we waited, a young lady with a couple of puggles fresh from the dog run around the corner showed up, and wondered if the restaurant had a bottle of water—the dogs were thirsty and there was no water in the park. The hostess grabbed one from the bar and asked for $3. The dog owner hoped she could use her credit card, she didn’t have the cash. The hostess shook her head, and as the little pups jumped at my feet, I fished out my wallet and handed over the money. Arlene and Suzanne beamed. The young woman thanked me profusely.
“No problem,” I said. “My Aunts here taught me to be generous.”
My just-adopted relatives gave me big hugs and kisses as I dropped them off.
“We love being your Aunts,” Arlene said. “Now when are you coming to visit?”
Arlene and Suzanne affected me the rest of the day. Most of my life, I’ve not had a true maternal influence in my life. So when one shows up and does simple, and typical, mothering things like fawning over my apartment, I get kind of emotional. It’s the same response I now have with my mother-in-law who insisted that I come for dinner at the family home in Mexico City when I was there recently by myself on business, “Ay, it’s your home. Of course you’re coming for dinner!”
So thanks Aimee, not only for your amazing work in a conflict ridden part of the world, but also taking time to serve up a little holiday slice of your Mom. Add that to my favorite things list. And top that Oprah.