Today September 8th would have been the 103rd birthday of my first best friend’s mother. She died last month a few weeks before our 50th Bennett High reunion. At her bedside, near the end, Inez started to sing to her. She said, “Enough already.”
I doubt Janet meant enough living. I know Inez. I know how she sings.
Below is an updated, somewhat different version of my Sept. 4, 2012 blog post, an open letter to Inez’s mom.
Dear Mrs. Erenstoft,
Until 1991, when I read Molly Katz’s book, JEWISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE, I thought you invented the phrase “little sweater.” The first time I was at your house, a week after the first hour of the first day of first grade when I asked Inez to be my recess partner and we clicked big time, she and I headed out to your yard to play hopscotch and you called after her, “Take a little sweater.” Then, every morning when I picked her up to walk to school, you, in your ‘space shoes’ and short sleeve bathrobe, made sure that after she finished ALL her breakfast, and brushed ALL her teeth, she had “a little sweater.” Once I became family, you made sure I had one, too. Sweet. Until 9th grade when Inez and I wanted bids from Phi Epsilon, went to their sorority barbeque, and you ran over after the party was underway and said to the sorority sister who answered the door, “Inez and Nancy forgot these and will probably need them.” And you handed her two sweaters. We got bids, anyway. We did not accept (We weren’t sorority girls. We wanted invitations), but that night we were utterly mortified.
Oh Mrs. Erenstoft, it’s my nature to poke fun. I loved 95 North Drive. You left us fresh fruit and cookies. Your freezer was full of Eskimo Pies and parfaits. More important, you left us alone. Whether we put on puppet shows in your basement rec room, played dress-up or paper dolls in Inez’s room, or put cast albums of Broadway shows on the living room stereo and sang along, you gave us space to be.
You had your own space. I saw that. If you weren’t on the phone or cooking, you were coming and going—in your pretty matching skirt and sweater outfits—to bridge, a meeting, a luncheon or a concert with Mrs. Fishman, Mrs. Bikoff and your zillion other friends. You had a fun life with the girls and a huge, fun one with Inez’s dad.
I never called Dr. Erenstoft ‘Sam,’ or you ‘Janet’ but we had a hoot substituting your names when we’d sing SOME ENCHANTED EVENING. My parents, too, burst into SAM AND JANET EVENING when they picked me up at your house and when we played SOUTH PACIFIC on our stereo.
On your 100th birthday I asked Inez for your longevity secrets. She said you ate three meals a day, did not nosh, have never been overweight, ate dinner early, never complained, walked every day, loved music, did volunteer work, played games, had lots of interests and friends, got to where you had to go early, and had many places to go. She also said you loved your routine and didn’t deviate from it.
Brava! Particularly to loving your routine and to NOT kvetching.
From knowing you since you were only 41, I’d say you also liked yourself, engaged in whatever you did, and gave and received so much love. As Robert Frost wrote, “. . .and that made all the difference.”
You made a difference in my life. You gave me my first friend. At our recent 50th reunion, we laughed and danced and hugged and held hands not wanting to let go. At our previous get-together in New York in 1997, we walked up Park Avenue backwards in the snow like we did to PS #66.
I’ve gotten over the years of hearing “Inez is pretty and Nancy’s good in math” and the years when all the boys at camp and school loved Inez while I spent my summer saving drowning victims in junior life saving and still having the hang of math.”* Until boys mucked it up, Inez and I had a great thing. We found it again.
Remember your housekeeper, Bertha, who weighed well over 200 pounds? Remember Mary Martin flying on television as Peter Pan? Remember that beautiful rattan chair in your basement? And how badly it got broken? Remember Inez saying she broke it? She DIDN’T. It was my idea to drag Bertha from the laundry room, put her on the chair, tie a rope around her neck, and the rope to the ceiling to see if, like Mary Martin’s Peter, she could fly. We got as far as standing her on the chair. It broke. You came home. And hollered. Inez didn’t tell you we tried getting Bertha to fly and it had been my idea. She took the rap and told you she broke the chair.
I am sorry for being the instigator. Sorry, too, that Bertha couldn’t fly.
My spirit soared in your basement. All over your house. And in your yard. Remember our Saturday carnival when we were in fourth grade, had food and booths in the front and back, and dressed your mother—Grandma Coleman—as a gypsy fortune teller? Did she ever tell you how much money she made for us reading the neighborhood kids’ palms on your back porch? But Inez and I, the Main Attraction, made more singing “Side by Side” in the driveway in our black toreador pants and white leather(okay, plastic) jackets. When we burst into that song last month for members of the class of ’65, no one gave us a dime.
The day of the reunion, I drove through the old neighborhood, paused at your house, actually went inside mine(the owners invited me in and could not have been more welcoming) and up to the attic where Inez and I played. I miss playing at each other’s houses. I miss our straight-face contests, dressing our Ginnies, and speaking Pig Latin my father’s way.
At the event later between the reunion speeches and dancing, Inez got cold, went up to her room and returned with two sweaters. I wore one for a while in honor of you.
Thank you for my lovable, sweet friend.
You and Inez occupy a big place at the core of my heart. It was—will always be– a SAM AND JANET EVENING. When I think of you, I sing.
Love ‘n Stuff,
*I haven’t completely gotten over it, but it’s the mature thing to say.