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    A Simple Gift 

I lived the first six years of my life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn when it was a place to move from, not to - not the Williamsburg of hip, trendy  clubs, art lofts and cool cafes, but a place of broken bottles, street corners and abandoned lots.

​We lived in an extended family brownstone full of tiny, noisy apartments, with aunts and uncles and cousins on every floor. It was heaven for the kids and complete chaos for the adults.

​One by one, though, we all moved away. Only my Aunt Ted and her family stayed in Williamsburg, or the Burg as everyone called it.

​As years went on, whether it was a touch of agoraphobia or just common sense, my Aunt Ted rarely left the house. And every holiday season, I went  back to visit her.

One year, when I was in college, I took my girlfriend along. We made sure to park her little gray Volvo right out front, in plain sight. Across the street the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway roared  past.

I opened the gate to the front yard and looked at the old brownstone, taking in each detail, remembering the familiar feel of  the yard and the climbing tree that now seemed so small, and the heavy iron door to Aunt Ted’s basement apartment. I rang the doorbell and my aunt appeared, all smiles in a faded housecoat, and with tears and kisses, swept us through the narrow hall to the back kitchen. 

​​As we sat and talked, my cousin Karen came hurrying in. She had taken over the three-room apartment one floor up where my family had lived and added some designer touches — shades of the Williamsburg to come. My aunt busied herself in the kitchen while Karen took us upstairs. We feasted on each platter Aunt Ted brought us- laughing and joking and telling stories.

Between glances out the iron-grated windows to check the car, "they'll steal it in a minute if you don't watch," my cousin pinched my cheeks and told my girlfriend to "be careful” because she “just might steal me away.” My blond, Maryland born girlfriend was charmed and entertained, but didn’t quite know what to make of all these touching hands and thinking-out-loud conversations.

After I got my fill of family gossip, we came back down the basement stairs to see Aunt Ted. We sat on her old sofa, and she asked about parents and college and music, reaching out and gently resting her hand on my arm the whole time. The air was rich  with memories and dreams and tender feelings. After a long while, the afternoon sighed and settled. It was time to leave.

Then the ritual began.

Greeks do not say goodbye quickly or easily. If there are three rooms in a house, we will say goodbye in each one of them.

By the time we  got to the foyer, my aunt and I both knew what was coming. As we hugged and kissed, she slipped a five dollar bill into my pocket. I laughed, protesting, and slipped it back into her housecoat.

​Back and forth we went, each exchange accompanied by an embrace. The bill traveled to my other pocket, to her hallway desk, to my hand and back again. She tried to enlist my girlfriend: "Take this. Go have some fun together.”

Finally, she waited till the last possible minute, slipped the bill in my jacket and closed the iron door, all in one grand sweep. Aunt Ted always prevailed somehow.

As the sun set and my girlfriend and I hunkered down in her little Volvo through the Brooklyn streets, we laughed, and I watched the old neighborhood go by. I spent the crumpled five dollar bill long ago.


But the gift of Aunt Ted and her enormous heart has lasted me a lifetime.

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