Each winter for many years, a big box from West Palm Beach would arrive at our door. Bulging slightly from the sides, it was from Dillard’s, a department store I was not familiar with, but now know is very popular in other parts of the country.
The package would be from my mother-in-law, Bea, a Florida snowbird, inveterate shopper and fashion maven. Packed inside, their price tags attached, were the most darling clothes for the children. You see, my mother-in-law was also a very savvy shopper and would hit the stores during their final clearance sales. So the red velvet party dress with its sweet crinoline for Shaina, and the name brand navy sweat suit meant for Yehuda, were purchased for a song.
The only hitch: while Shaina was 2 years old, the dress was a size 7. I squirreled it away in a box in the closet, hoping that when Shaina was five years older and wore a 7, that the clothing’s appropriate season would match her size. That fuzzy hoodie — no matter how cute — could not be worn during a sweltering August. But whenever the children did wear the clothes, they looked wonderful and fetched compliments.
I remember another time when the television signal in the United States changed from analog to digital. We had two hulking televisions. The change was coming and if you didn’t get some sort of converter, you would be lost. I was ready to go television-free. But my mother-in-law insisted that was not to be. She purchased — with Sony points earned on her credit card — a slim television that would adapt easily and that would allow us to watch television.
Yes, shopping was a feeling for my mother-in-law. She loved to look good, loved making everyone else look good, loved shopping at Macy’s Herald Square — and, of course, loved her family: her older son, Jeff, my husband, his brother, Frank, and their families, including five grandchildren.
After 93 years, she died last week. A life that started in Queens, N.Y., ended in Queens, N.Y. Not to be reductive, and who could sum up a life anyway, but it included decades of hard work, outliving two husbands, raising two sons, taking trips around the world — a life that was lived her way. Left a legacy of memories, history and love for her family.
She was also a distinct personality.
How many senior citizens wear multiple earrings — that is, more than one piercing, keep up with the latest fashion trend, and tattoo eyeliner underneath her brown eyes in her 80s to always look made up?
That was my mother-in-law, ever in style, ever with it, ever young. A fiercely independent woman, she watched her stocks and her shows, like Shark Tank, with equal interest.
I remember when she would come over for Shabbos lunch. She never came empty handed. There was always a tchotchke for the children, a tie for Jeff and some motherly insights for me. I would make sure to include corned beef on the menu because the salty, fatty meat was a favorite of hers.
I remember when we visited her many years before, when she lived on Long Beach, Long Island — where she raised her family. We were going to hit the sand and, not being a beach girl myself, I didn’t have the right clothes. Bea to the rescue. But of course, she had the right clothes! There is a photograph of me wearing her white terrycloth cover-up on top of my bathing suit, playing with baby Yehuda.
Thanksgiving was always a tradition spent with Bea. For years, our family would take the Long Island Railroad to Frank’s house in Jericho, and the whole family would gather for the meal, and then some.
This Thanksgiving, sadly, there will be an empty seat.
But this Thanksgiving, I will try to fill it with thanks.
I will be thankful that Bea was a grandmother to my children. I will be thankful that we had her for so long. I will be thankful that she was here for us when we needed her. And most of all, I will be thankful that as a mother, she raised my wonderful, loving and kind husband.
Wishing all gratitude.