Scenes from My Life On Hemlock Street: A Brooklyn Memoir by Arlene Mandell
Aunt Minnie’s Second Wedding
One of our family’s best kept secrets was the existence of Cousin Danny, the only child of my mother’s sister Minnie. She was a divorcee who dyed her hair blue-black, wore pearl chokers, and dressed in smart suits that came “off the rack” in the garment district. I heard my aunts whisper that her first husband was a gambler and a womanizer!
Danny wasn’t always a secret until the months leading up to the second wedding. To everyone’s delight, Aunt Minnie was marrying again, to a Russian Jew named Max, “an educated, soft-spoken man and a good provider.”
I was proud to be the only child invited to the wedding. My aunts chipped in for a peony pink party dress with lace at the neck and sleeves. My black patent leather shoes were shined and ready.
The event was being held in an upstairs room at the Little Oriental, a Chinese restaurant in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Somehow, they were going to serve kosher food. No spare ribs or shrimp fried rice.
Then came a blizzard, not just any blizzard, but “The Blizzard of ‘47.” Twenty-six inches of snow, hail and freezing rain fell. Brooklyn was one gigantic ice palace. My father’s ‘37 Chrysler was plowed in and frozen. No buses were running. The streets were like Alaska, crusted with snow and ice, piled in mountains on the corners.
That Saturday night I was bundled into two sweaters, a hooded coat, snow pants under my dress, two pairs of socks, boots and my bunny fur muff. Off we trudged down the middle of Pitkin Avenue, with my father lifting me whenever I slipped and my mother carrying a shopping bag with her high heels and my Mary Janes.
Finally we arrived at the Little Oriental. My new Uncle Max’s orthodox family was huddled together, speaking Yiddish with Russian words mixed in. I was warned that I shouldn’t even think about Cousin Danny, but it was like being told not to think about pink elephants.
I loved Danny. He was so tall he could rest his hand on top of the door frame when he came to visit us on Hemlock Street. He would pick me up and let me hang from the door frame for a few seconds. I knew he would never drop me. And he had been a hero in the Pacific during World War II. When he returned, he married his childhood sweetheart, a tiny red-haired woman named Louise.
After the rabbi with his black fur hat finally arrived, Aunt Minnie married Uncle Max that frozen night. I crossed my fingers and whispered Cousin Danny’s name under my breath. No one explained why Danny wasn’t at his own mother’s wedding.
Fifty-nine years passed. Then, in February 2006, an even bigger blizzard struck New York City, and I started remembering that 20-degree night when I was six. For some reason I was still curious after all this time, so I called 81-year-old cousin Beatrice, who was the same age as Danny. It took her only seconds to solve the mystery:
“Arlene, you didn’t know? Minnie was older than Max. She didn’t want him to know that she had a grown son whose wife was about to have a baby and make him a grandfather.” This was the same cousin who was surprised I didn’t know my grandfather was a bigamist.
In time, Uncle Max came to love Danny and the two little granddaughters who followed. So, as they say in the fairy tales, everyone lived happily ever after, except for my grandmother, who was married to a bigamist. But that’s another story altogether.
© Arlene Mandell, 2009
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