A Life of Letters

Liszt Requires Technique

Posted in 1998, Aunt Kaye, Family by southpawcom on February 3, 2010

A treasured letter from my Aunt Kaye, whom I introduced to you in this post. Here in this letter, which was written a good seven or eight months prior to the one in the earlier post, she waxes nostalgic not only about her musical youth, but also of her courtship with Uncle Ger, the Depression, some great historical observations of Rachmaninoff, Dad when he was well, and Mom when she was ill.

Like all good writers, she wrote exactly as she spoke, punctuated and emphatic. (That last word reminds me of one of her pet sayings…when someone would mispronounce a word, she would correct them by saying, “My dear, you have placed the em-PHASS-is on the wrong syl-LAH-ble…”) She was a joy, and I would miss her more if my memory of her and her blithe spirit weren’t still so alive.

How Divorces Start

Posted in 1998, Aunt Kaye, Family by southpawcom on January 16, 2010

If I were literary, someone who didn’t spend his leisure reading time with his laptop propped on his belly in bed reading old Life magazines and Baseball Digests on Google Books, I very likely would be able to point to a parallel in literature to my Aunt Kaye. Her voice, her laughter, her spirit filled any room she was in. It’s possible Joyce, Bellows, Tolstoy, or Frank McCourt had an Aunt Kaye in their works, but I wouldn’t know.

She wasn’t really my aunt, just a neighbor that Mom and Dad got to know, together with her stately husband, Uncle Gerry, at Lake Oakland near Detroit in the mid-1950s. Aunt Kaye was an extrovert, an intellectual, who loved to sip beer and smoke Tareytons, one after another. Her eyes sparkled and her red lipstick shone as she sat at our kitchen table and sang the melody to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, “Dee dee dee..de de de dee, duh dee, duh deeee….” in her raspy tenor. She and my Dad were avid crossword puzzler doers. It wasn’t unusual for Aunt Kaye to call on a Sunday afternoon, with the Sunday Detroit News crossword puzzle spread on the coffee table in her home in Detroit, and her beloved opera playing in the background, and ask my dad, “What did you get for 27 Down?”

She and Uncle Ger were without a doubt my Mom and Dad’s closest friends, and they had four daughters who roughly were equal in age to us Nowlin kids. We would vacation together and spend holidays and long, summer cocktail parties together. Even after Dad died in ’81, “The P’s” would usually stop and see Mom in Kentucky on their way to or back from Harlingen, Texas, where they wintered.

One of my first memories was of standing in my crib at our house on Sashabaw Road, peering down the hallway from the open door of my nursery at Auntie Kaye and just jumping up and down with delight in seeing her. I loved her, and the feeling was mutual.

My Mom had been dead for nearly three years when she wrote this letter in the fall of 1998. You can see her indomitable spirit still strong in what must have been her mid 80s. I must have written her a card to which she is responding. I don’t know why she would have been writing about my divorce from my first wife, Julie, as that was already more than four years in the past by that point. Although she had plenty of opinions, it was not like her to proselytize.

I’m nearly certain this was the last I heard from Aunt Kaye, as she died the following spring. I remember attending her funeral in Detroit with Evan, who was still 6 years old. It was a long Catholic mass, very traditional, and I was a pallbearer. I remember how still and beautiful she looked in her casket, but how utterly unlike herself. No Tareyton, no screwdriver (she switched to vodka from beer several years before), no smeary red lipstick. Evan and I even went to the gravesite and watched her get buried.

God bless Aunt Kaye and Uncle Ger, who outlived her by close to a decade, I think. God bless “the P’s,” wherever they are.

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