I reached into my nightstand drawer and pulled out the fondest of memories with my blue dolphin nail file. As playful as dolphins jumping out of the water, like “Flipper” from my childhood memories of the 1960s television show, featuring a Bottlenose dolphin named Flipper, my real life memories of my cousin Flora emerged. She was the one who gifted me things such as colorful socks and the whimsical nail file.
Flora was one of a kind. Kindhearted and well-meaning, she suffered greatly in life. The demons were overwhelming at times; however, she reached out, and hopefully I gave her some comfort. After some deaths in our family, when she no longer had my Aunt Cerna to socialize and vacation with, and my Aunt Fannie was no longer there for her to seek advice, she turned to me.
I’ll admit, at times, such as when she called every night while I was preparing for my eldest son’s bar mitzvah, questioning if she was wearing a dress of the proper color, it became a struggle to keep up with the reassurances, when I myself was beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed. Nonetheless, I kept telling myself that I needed to remain calm and be here for someone who meant so much to our family. To place her in the family tree, Flora and I were second cousins; our grandfathers were brothers. My grandfather had settled in Newark, New Jersey, hers in Philadelphia. They managed to keep the families familiar with frequent enough train trips and they made a point of being together for family celebrations.
Flora’s December 25, 1955 marriage, when I was two, started out dreamily. My older brother Al only recently mentioned again about the lovebirds that were released after the ceremony at her Philadelphia winter wedding. That memory stuck with him all these years, even though he was merely 12 at the time. Flora and her husband Barry had a son who has excelled in life, and with Flora’s help became a physician. Married with two children, he was her naches from her otherwise life of tzuris.
Nothing says, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” as much as Flora’s life. Her husband battled physical ailments stemming from his time in the military, coupled with the effects of his wife’s mental issues. Yet, she was there for him in his times of need. Together they endured a hardship no parents should, when they had not one, but two daughters with cystic fibrosis. I remember how much she wanted her children. I was there when she was glowing and back when she was grieving.
Three of our last hurrahs were: When she came, bringing flowers, to see our daughter’s middle school performance in Anything Goes; when she appeared as a guest on my husband’s radio show, talking about helping the young children put on their boots and coats in her job as a teacher’s aide; and when she took a bus up from Philadelphia to spend some overnights with us, including celebrating Passover (or was it Hanukkah, or both?) at our house.
I choose to smile for Flora every time I take the blue dolphin file out of my nightstand drawer. I’ll always love and remember my cousin Flora, no matter the time that goes by, or maybe just because of the circumstances of her time on earth, and her ability to accept, forgive, and show her love.