Old Aunt Israel

November 17, 2006

It was a very somber event, just as such gatherings always are.

Despite the fact that the tragic event took place in New Orleans where funerals are usually marked with joyous music and dancing as a means of lifting the spirits of those who are grieving, nevertheless, this tragedy was too great for anything other than the propriety of solemn silence. The woman named Katrina whose wrath broke new records in terms of destruction and of human suffering left everyone too numb to celebrate the passing of departing souls into the bliss of the next world in typical celebratory New Orleans style. It was something as shocking and as destabilizing as what had taken place on September 11th in its scope, if not worse, and for this reason we temporarily suspended the usual family custom for funerals.

As the family gathered together in New Orleans to clean up the mess and to try to alleviate the incalculable suffering that was taking place, pulling together as the national family always has done, we were hoping against hope that she wouldn’t show up. We really needed…just this once…to be able to deal with our situation without her having to throw in her two cents, a sum which was worth even less than what its name implied.

She was always at every family gathering, even the ones that we planned in secret and deliberately avoided making known to her. All this secrecy proved to be a waste of time however, since she always found out about them through her network of spies and would arrive with great fanfare, making sure to insert herself into the politics of our little social union.

She always came empty handed, including at those occasions where a gift was part of the unspoken etiquette such as birthdays, weddings or Christmas. At gatherings where each family brought a covered dish, the only thing that she brought was a healthy appetite. Regardless though of the event, whether it was a picnic or Christmas, she always gave us the same excuse for her coming empty handed, which was that she would have brought something but, alas, she was too poor to afford anything. Every one of these woes-me poormouth sessions revealed many things about her and about how she saw all of us. It became obvious to us just how stupid she thought we all were; a case of adding insult to injury, since she would do so while wearing what had to have been $10,00.00 worth of jewelry upon her hands and around her neck.

She was always there for the happy occasions, but it seemed that it was at the gatherings for tragedies where she was in her element, and apparently for no other reason than to cash in and profit from it in some way. For decades we had tolerated her, but like all good things that must come to an end, our patience was beginning to look gaunt and anemic these days. At this particular occasion, we were at the end of our rope, and her showing up now and doing her usual shtick might just expend what little tolerance for her that we had left and thus push us over the edge. We were already going through a rough time before the storm blew in, what with the war, the political instability and the fact that the economy was a living corpse of sorts that was being kept alive only through artificial means. With this in mind, the last thing we needed to hear right now was one of her nerve-grating, depressing monologues about how we were all sinners in the hands of an angry God and how we were only getting what we deserved as a result of how she had been treated.

“Maybe she won’t come this time,” said my wife Christiana, leaning over and whispering in barely audible tones so as not to jinx the possibility that maybe we had been granted a reprieve.

That was on day one, when I was still reeling under the shock of what had just happened, just like everyone else present at the family gathering. At that time, I was still able to think rationally about the immutable rules of nature, and this was what had kept me from allowing myself to fall victim to foolish hope…you know what that is, that thing that people do when they are desperate and they beg the Almighty for a break, beg him to suspend the natural order of things just this one time. In this case, foolish hope meant entertaining the possibility that our pesky, whiny aunt would not show up at this somber family gathering and do her usual bit, which was making us all feel guilty for her condition of life.

The world revolved around her. She made sure that everyone, EVERYONE, knew all about her aches and pains, and if it so happened that God was in a good mood that day and had given her good health which resulted in her having nothing about which to complain, well, then she would fake it that she did. It became a comedy act of sorts, watching her limp forward and groan out loud with great theatrics. She would affect a mask of an individual suffering under torturous pain, maintaining closed eyes while she thought people were watching. For a while, it worked, before she became sloppy and before we got wise to her ways. It was one of the children who had spilled the beans when he, in what was but a gesture of complete innocence and childlike curiosity, touched her purse from behind. In a microsecond, she wheeled around with the speed and agility of a mountain lion, bounced back 6 feet and wrapped her arms around the Gucci bag as if it contained her life savings and he were a thief. On another occasion, she was propped up on crutches with what appeared to have been a cast on her leg, when all at once there came the sound of a coin hitting the floor. Her head whipped around as if it had been hooked up to a radar dish, honed in on the area where the coin fell and crossed the 15 feet of distance separating her and her prospective treasure with the speed and agility of any predator in the wild. As soon as she had gotten her paws on it, she went right back to moaning and limping, as if we were all too stupid to put the two irreconcilable images together. If she saw someone else with limb in a cast or some other indication of what was a recent injury or bout of bad health, she would make sure that she didn’t get outdone. She would talk about the details of when she herself had had the exact same condition and how this particular circumstance had broken all the records in terms of human suffering.

As can be expected, we all came to dread the family reunions, knowing that she would show up with her little servants in tow behind her who did a very unconvincing act of worrying about her condition as if they truly cared for her well being. They were always there at her side, just like flies on a dead body, flattering her, helping her get up, throwing their coats down on a mud puddle so that she wouldn’t get her feet dirty. They would tell her how beautiful she was, how smart she was, and other sappy gestures that unavoidably triggered the gag reflexes of all of us who were watching what was always an unbearably disgusting performance.

We all knew what the real score was though, these distant cousins of ours who were always hovering around old Aunt Israel and running her errands. Uncle Falwell and his wife Esther knew that Aunt Israel was disgustingly rich and were hoping therefore to cash in on all of it when she went forth to greener pastures. It was the same with Pat Robertson, another cousin who saw a huge pot of gold in his future that would result from all the years he spent cleaning Aunt Israel’s boots with his tongue. They were always there at every family gathering, each holding on to one of Aunt Israel’s arms as she hobbled up the walkway, looking around at everyone else with snide looks on their faces, as if to say “Go ahead, laugh now, but you’ll see who gets the loot later.”

We had come to despise them, to despise their hypocritical sanctimoniousness and false affection for her. If they weren’t right at her side like dutiful little inferior subordinates, they were always slithering among us, listening to our conversations, ready to pounce in loudly if they heard any of us grumbling or saying anything unflattering about her. Of course, they made sure to do so with great drama and within earshot of her so that they would score more points with her, something that they hoped would be reflected when the last will and testament was read by the administrators of her estate.

According to the catechism of this little cult, everything that took place in the family, all events both evil and good in their nature, revolved around Aunt Israel. She was one of the oldest of the family, and if we were to take her rantings seriously, there would be no family without her. As she told the story, the family tree began with her and branched outward towards all of known creation, as if she were the very source of this wondrous event. All of our traits, all of our talents and gifts came from her. She had even invented a familial epithet for herself, “The light among families” which she vomited out on a regular basis when attempting to create the unnatural hierarchy that she envisioned with her at the top and the rest of us at the bottom.

According to her story, the girls and boys, with all their good looks were mirror images of her when she was young, despite the fact that we had seen pictures of her and unavoidably noted that she had looked like something out of a Stephen King movie. The doctors and the lawyers of the family, the college professors and scientists all got their brains from her. All the artists of the family–the performers, singers, dancers, writers and actors, they would have wound up as no-talent wash-ups and would have gotten nowhere were it not for Aunt Israel’s genes and chromosomes that they carried within their inferior vessels. Every accomplishment achieved by any member of the family in business, education or just in having overcome some personal hurdle was as a result of the divine presence she cast upon us. If someone was healed of a sickness, it was because of Aunt Israel, as if she were St. Peter and her shadow had fallen upon the afflicted and cured them. Even those who were not related to her by blood, the in-laws and others who had married into the family, and yes, even the plumbers and painters and others who did services for her—individuals who had never come into contact with Aunt Israel’s physical existence in any way other than to spend an afternoon in her presence and to temporarily inherit the odor of her clothing,–that infamous and nauseating reek of the cheap perfume she wore to hide the smell of the mothballs–even they somehow would be nobodies were it not for their association with her.

There was not an event that took place in the lives of any of us that somehow she could not tie to her existence. If things were good, it was because God had blessed us for treating her well. If things were bad, it was a punishment for treating her badly. For the rest of us, stomaching the good times were easier, because then all we had to endure was her over-inflated sense of self worth. During the bad times however, it was unbearable, and always the same story. We were the tempters and taunters of divine punishment who pushed the Almighty to the limits of his patience with our heartless and immoral treatment of Aunt Israel until he could bear no more and finally let loose with a bolt of lightning out of the clear blue.

“The fist of God” as she referred to it, with its crushing weight and painful handprint was his way of punishing us for our unjust treatment of the apple of his eye, his chosen child, Israel. He was always watching, she would tell us, watching everything we did and said. ‘Every breath we take, every move we make,’ just as the song went.

As she described it, there was a tally sheet in heaven where God would keep a record, as if he were an accountant or a banker and had a balance sheet containing all the pluses and minuses involving our account with Aunt Israel, and when we had overspent what we had on deposit and the account became overdrawn, we would get hit with the fees and penalties. And it did not matter what the particular affliction might be…a sickness, an accident, even world wide events such as wars or natural events such as the hurricane named Katrina that had come for an unannounced and uninvited visit to Louisiana, all of this was the result of God’s anger over how his protected species was being abused.

“All these things”…she would say with angry, spiteful self-righteousness “all these things are the judgment of an angry God for the way I have been treated by all of you. You over there, lost your job did you? Well, that’s what happens when I am neglected. You over there, had a miscarriage, did you? Well, maybe you should have checked in on me from time to time, and that wouldn’t have happened, huh? You over there,”

etc, etc, etc.

There was an old family joke that we used to tell, that if someone ever did come down with some incurable terminal disease where there was no hope of recovery that a sure-fire cure existed right in our midst. It was painful and nauseating, and incomparably more unpleasant than chemotherapy or radiation treatment, but the benefit to this particular treatment was that the chance of success was not a chance at all, but rather a certainty. In such a case, all that the afflicted person would have to do would be to go and spend an afternoon in Aunt Israel’s presence and whatever it was that was making you sick would leave your body in order to get away from her…

The truly maddening thing was, there was no pleasing her. For years we had tried to make her the center of our world for no other reason than so that she would shut up and give us some peace. Queens never got such royal treatment, but yet all these overtures were met with complaints of inadequacy. There were neither words of gratitude nor words of regret over what kind of sacrifices we had made in the interest of keeping her happy. The more she got, the worse she was. It was as if she were some kind of substance addict and our generosity were the substance. There would be a brief moment there, equal in duration to the snap of a finger when she would keep quiet, but immediately after that the effects of this substance wore off and then she was a beast all over again, and ten times worse. Pointing out how expensive all of this was to the individual members of the family meant nothing to her. Aunt Israel was clear and unabashed about her motto, which simply was “I know it’s painful, but what have you done for me lately?”

She used to brag all the time about how she had negotiated with the Almighty in streamlining the 10 Commandments and making them more efficient and less cumbersome for her busy schedule. As she told the story, on one side there was a column whose heading was “Good” and under it was found an itemized list with one sole requirement—“Giving Israel everything she wants”. On the other side was a column whose heading was “Evil” and under it was an itemized list as well which simply read, “Not giving Israel everything she wants.” She would howl out loud in laughter whenever she told the story, not in the outrageousness of its implications, but rather in the fact that it was a victory for her that she had always cherished.

And so, on this day of the family gathering, wherein we all huddled in together for the purpose of supporting each other and of finding that much needed humanity in the midst of such a great tragedy, I prayed as fervently as I could, not just that we would be comforted during this time of great loss, but that just this once, the bitter chalice of Aunt Israel’s arrival would be allowed to pass from our lips.

I am sure that I was not the only one praying. I could see it in the eyes of others who were there. I would watch when, in the midst of conversations their eyes would wander furtively and anxiously towards the parking lot and scan as far past as they could to the horizon in suspicious anticipation that her car was about to pull in at any moment.

Even her car spoke volumes about who she was–this giant Cadillac with gold trim anywhere it could be put. It was a leviathan, an imposing and overbearing monster that took up 4 or 5 parking spaces when there were scant few, and if she happened to arrive at some destination and found that all the spaces were occupied, well then she would call a towing company who was on her payroll and have a few cars dragged off at the owner’s expense. It guzzled as much gasoline as a Sherman tank and was just as heavy. It defecated thick, black, choking smoke that left the air stinking long after she was gone, just as did her clothes. The rear end dragged low from the crushing weight of Aunt Israel’s girth as if it were some kind of a vehicle modified with the latest hydraulic suspension seen in an MTV music video. And just to let everyone know that she was not one of the unwashed commoners who had to settle with a non-descript, non-specific ordinary license plate, hers were custom made, encircled with gold stars and which read ‘CHOSEN1’.

I turned to my wife with the most patient face I could muster, not wanting to squash her hopes without mercy. “Don’t count on it honey,” I told my wife. “She will be here. It’s too big, too important for her to pass it up. You know the old family saying, ‘There are only two things in life that are for certain, and Aunt Israel is both of them.”

We began to see that the numbness we were experiencing over the tragedy in Louisiana was well founded. The reports of the destruction were staggering. Thousands dead, a number that could easily climb into the tens of thousands when all was said and done. People without food, water, or shelter. No sanitation, and a city completely under water. The sea had invaded everywhere, and the city was, for all practical purposes, gone. Getting the survivors out was an impossible nightmare in and of itself.

Looters were doing what all desperate people irrespective of color will do, and as a result all order had broken down. The scenes in New Orleans looked like the nightly news footage of the war in Iraq—armed people running about shooting at each other, buildings burning, death and misery as thick as fog and impossible to outrun. Even the members of the fire department were carrying firearms and shooting at anything that moved. And these were just the immediate results of the tragedy. Those in the family who made their living in the field of economics were stepping outside of their usually cautious boundaries and were painting a frightful image of the future as a result of the catastrophe. The entire region was vital to the nation’s oil production at a time when we had no friends around the world, and it had been dealt a serious blow. It was the world’s 4th busiest port city. Prices had already begun to climb at an unprecedented rate, along with the fear and anxiety that must accompany it.

And in the midst of these discussions, we cried, some quietly, some out loud. We hugged each other, burying our faces into each other’s shoulders, whispering that everything would be okay, that there was a father in heaven and that he would repair all broken hearts and that every tear would be wiped dry. Men, unashamed of their emotions sometimes stepped out of their stoic natures and would be found off in the distance, their shoulders heaving up and down and heads lowered as they wept uncontrollably.

Despite being surrounded with grief, it was nevertheless a beautiful moment. The family, moved by the magnetism of tragedy huddled in closely, and all brothers and sisters loved one another as our great patriarch had instructed us to do, and it was at this moment that I began to feel better. All the hugs and backslapping that take place at events such as these has a physiological effect on a troubled soul, and it was in this moment that I thought maybe we had lucked out. I breathed in deeply, allowing my lungs to ingest the refreshing, life-giving oxygen, commanding them to savor as much as they could hold of this wondrous compound known as air that had been given to us freely and with no strings attached. I wiped my eyes of their tears so that I could gaze clearly at a brilliant blue sky and smiled, and started to say a prayer of thanksgiving.

“Thank you Father, for this day…for this family and for the love you created that binds us together. Please help us to endure this painful ordeal, and help us to remain faithful to each other and to your will. Please stay at our sides and protect us from…”

…and at that moment my eyes bolted upon like retractable window shades that had been turned too tightly. I gasped inwardly as if I had been jolted from a peaceful dream by a shotgun blast next to my ear. My heart took off running at light speed, and had I not grabbed my chest with both hands and pressed them in tightly I am sure that it would have leapt out of my body and began running down the street as fast as it could for fear of its own life.

My head turned slowly and in dread towards where the sound that had penetrated the peace of my prayers originated…

“Please God, no. Please, not now, not today. Things were so peaceful, so hopeful, even in the midst of all this tragedy. The family needs to heal, to recuperate, please Father, let this chalice pass…”

But it was not to be, despite all the pleading. There she was, hobbling up the walkway, barking out orders at Falwell and Robertson, snarling at them as they smiled at her with their fake, shiny white teeth, perfectly manicured nails and tailored hair. Despite the distance, we could clearly hear every one of the four-letter words coming out of her mouth, complaints about her aches and pains, complaints about the ride over here, complaints about the weather, etc, etc, etc. Everyone turned and stared at her in silence, and I could tell by the looks on their faces that they were all experiencing the same thing I had—they had also engaged in foolish hope, and now they were dealing with the disappointment that inevitably follows in its wake.

At that moment I fell into a trance of sorts which was no doubt a defense mechanism on the part of my inner being that could not deal with what was the reality of this terrible moment. In this trance, fantasy hijacked my thoughts and steered the vessel of my mind towards another realm. The images were clear and dramatic. There she was, hobbling up the path, when all at once the earth opened up beneath her feet and a giant creature not unlike the Rancor in the movie Return of the Jedi raised its head out of the pit, grabbed her with its enormous teeth and dragged her into the underworld where lunch reservations for her had been made. The next image overlapped the first, which was of a massive swarm of bees—African Killer Bees—as they flew in and began their attack which resulted in her hauling ass back to the old gas guzzler in her high heals while screaming like a pig.

The closer she got, the louder she got, and as a result maintaining my sojourn on Fantasy Island became an impossibility. I switched back to prayer, not in thanksgiving this time but rather in the spirit of desperate supplication. It is an amazing thing how creative and imaginative people can be when they are at the end of their wits, and this time would be no different. “Please, Father, do something, anything!” I pleaded with him. Receiving nothing back but dead silence, I interpreted this as His request for specificity on my part, and I continued my negotiations. “I don’t know, I didn’t plan on this” I responded. “A sudden case of violent diarrhea…something that will keep her in the bathroom for the rest of the afternoon where she could do humanity no harm.” I envisioned us all pitching in and getting the heaviest pieces of furniture we could find and piling them up against the door so that she couldn’t escape, with her pounding away and yelling at the top of her lungs, which would only be a temporary nuisance, since she would eventually pass out from the fumes and sleep peacefully while the rest of us went back to the business of grieving.

I opened my eyes, again, engaging in that thing known as foolish hope to see if my requests had been answered, and when I saw that they had not, abandoned this business and began preparing myself for the inevitable that was about to take place. I executed a deep sigh of resignation, stiffened myself as best I could and prepared for the arrival of the beast. With each pounding footstep she made, stomping up towards us, inching closer and closer to our family gathering, I knew that my previous prayers had just been idle words, like the rocks thrown by Palestinian children at Israeli tanks on a daily basis. I realized the foolishness of my agenda and resigned myself to the hands of fate. “Well,” I told myself, “it was worth a shot anyway.”

You could see everyone bracing for the blow. They turned their bodies directly opposite her and stiffened in anticipation of what was inevitably to come. She stomped up to within 10 feet from where the line stood and stopped. All was as silent as death. There was a slight breeze that brought the aroma of her cheap perfume and mothballs to our nostrils. She looked across the crowd, left to right, inspecting everyone with bulging eyes and slightly upturned cheekbones that gave the impression, but only an impression, of what appeared to be a slight smile of satisfaction. Her head had a slight, almost imperceptible tic to it, up and down, up and down, which might have either been a nod of approval or Parkinson’s. Just what in the world it was about which she was satisfied we couldn’t tell, since nothing pleased her. After scanning the assembled family members, she raised her left hand and snapped her fingers so loudly that it sounded like a rifle shot. Immediately, her two evil apprentices went to work and moved a small stool into place beside her. She held her arms out, indicating that they were to help her onto the stool. Each grabbed hold of a flabby wing and helped the vulture up on to her perch, and once she was firmly planted upon it for all to see, swatted their assistance away and snarled at them in typical Aunt Israel fashion.

She was dressed in typical old Aunt Israel fashion as well, which meant trashy. She was sporting hotpants with leopard skin print on them, polyester, which was a good thing, for if they had been made of genuine leopard skin they might have come to life and run off of her body with lightening speed, leaving the rest of us with a horrifying vision from which we would have never recovered. Tucked into these hotpants was the usual and just-as-appropriate hot pink blouse. It was unbuttoned very low to expose as much as possible of the tattoo that snaked its way down her front, as well as to make obvious the fact that she was a true child of the 1960’s and chose to go braless wherever she went. On her fingers were rings, enormous in their size and of what was undoubtedly of an incalculable monetary value. Her face was covered with colors—colors of such outlandish severity that it looked as if a group of inner-city gangsters had mistaken her visage for a concrete wall and decided to spray paint graffiti all over it. There was more rouge around the cheeks than could be found in the Red Sea, and more blue around her eyes than could be found in the sky on a clear day in the Catskill mountains where she liked to vacation. The eyeliner was so thick that she probably had a hard time re-opening her eyes when she blinked, a war against gravity that was made no easier by the sheer weight of the compound that she caked on in layers. Her hair was as high as a skyscraper, dyed blonde to an almost ashen hue and undoubtedly bulletproof from all the hairspray with which it had been blanketed.

“Here it comes” I thought to myself and whispered, which elicited a few knowing and disgusted glances from those in my immediate vicinity.

Old Aunt Israel raised her right hand high, index finger extended as far as it would go, filled the cigar smoke damaged balloons in her chest with air, contorted her face into a mask of derision, opened her mouth to speak, and just when she started to say something, belched out a humdinger that would have made any low-down barfly jealous. There was still a breeze in the air, but this time it did not bring the nauseating smell of cheap perfume and mothballs. Instead, the dark, foreboding cloud that blew over us brought the even more nauseating smell of what was taking place in her stomach as it worked itself into an early grave trying to digest the contents within it. There was no mistaking the brand of this harsh, merciless, and no doubt dangerous-to-handle sludge that was being processed within her: Sardines and garlic pickles and horseradish sauce, just a few of the mouth-watering items that were a part of the daily diet that old Aunt Israel maintained with unyielding and religious strictness. She claimed that there were great health benefits involved in eating delicacies of this sort and that they were what was responsible for her keeping her girly figure, the same girly figure that was pushing 300 in those tight, ready-to-burst-at-the-seams leopard skin hotpants. She also claimed superstitious reasons for eating these things as well, that by doing such she was able to chase away demons, something with which all present would have agreed–not only in chasing away demons, but indeed the devil himself as well as any other dangerous beast.

For most of us who received the full fury of this blast, we merely turned our heads to the side, held our breaths and closed our eyes until we thought that it would be safe to respirate again. The recent tragedy in New Orleans that had taken place had dulled our appetites and therefore we had not eaten much in the last few days, which was actually a good thing, considering the little ‘accident’ that old Aunt Israel had just had. One young mother-to-be, in her first trimester of pregnancy and still morning sick was not as lucky however, and having been assaulted with the ill wind of Aunt Israel’s weapon of mass destruction threw up so violently that a few of us were afraid that she would go into premature labor. Her husband comforted his young wife by putting his handkerchief over her face and then whisked her out of the vicinity as fast as the President’s Secret Service detail would have rushed him away at the sound of nearby gunfire.

“Oh, pardon me,” she said half-heartedly with her thick, whiny, Brooklynese accent, bringing her raised hand down to her mouth in what was a false gesture of embarrassment. It only took a second off of her schedule, since Aunt Israel’s lack of modesty and good manners was legendary. She could be as rude and crude as the best of them and think nothing of it. She cussed like a sailor and loved to tell dirty jokes that would offend the sensibilities of even Larry Flint and could do so without a hint of reserve and do it in any situation—at a funeral, a baptism, in front of children or in front of a priest or pastor, it didn’t matter. If Aunt Israel felt like saying it, well than the world was damn well going to hear it and to hell with anyone’s high and mighty decorum, and now would be no different, just as it hadn’t been any different in the past.

Seeing her up there belching out loud like a razorback sweat hog unavoidably made me think of other instances wherein old Aunt Israel had demonstrated her ladylike refinement and class in the past. In particular, I thought back to the night of my wedding, the night on which I married the girl of my dreams and the comments that Aunt Israel had made that neither of us would ever forget. She was half tanked and falling all over some guy she had just met, I think the bartender or maybe the cook, showing her own particular brand of reverence and respect for the occasion by cussing out loud with just about every obscenity that she was able to drag out from the depths of her alcohol-soaked brain and bring to her mouth. When she had met my wife in the receiving line, she had commented on her white dress, the beautiful, almost angelic white dress that rightfully denoted her innocence prior to being married and, affecting a look of cynicism and mild contempt for my young bride, said in typical Aunt Israel fashion “Who are you trying to fool with that white dress, Missy? Oh, don’t worry honey; your secret is safe with me, but seriously folks, what’s with the neckline? So conservative! You need to show some more of the goods, ya know what I mean Missy?!”

The words were bad enough, but the reek of the whiskey on her breath only made it worse, and were it under different circumstances I could have been moved towards pity for old Aunt Israel, but not tonight. My young wife, the beautiful girl about whom I had spent my life dreaming almost swallowed her tongue in shock and embarrassment and simply said nothing. I fumed with rage and Aunt Israel must have seen it in my face, because she started to walk away, but not before getting in one last little comment which she blasted out loudly enough for everyone within the area to hear…“Have fun kids! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,”—which we all knew was a sick joke of sorts, since there was nothing that old Aunt Israel wouldn’t do.

Therefore, I knew for sure that she would certainly not let some little thing like this digestive faux pas deter her from doing what she was about to do, even if it had started things off on the wrong foot. Believe me, I had seen her do worse and it hadn’t mattered then. She immediately went to work reassembling her posture that had been inadvertently interrupted by the roar from down under, re-contorted her face, raised her finger high and began her never-ending sermon that always came right out of the book of Aunt Israel.

“Well, well, what have we here, a family gathering and I wasn’t invited? How nice. My own family, my own flesh and blood, casting me out like some old, used shoe. Did you ever stop to think of the consequences? Have you no fear of divine judgment? He sees everything, and don’t you think for a second that he doesn’t, damn you! And don’t you think any differently about me either! You know what my memory is like, and believe me you, I won’t forget about this little event anytime soon, and especially not when making out my will.” This last item elicited sideways glances from Falwell and Robertson towards each other along with slight smiles and nods of knowing satisfaction.

’You people never learn do you?’ she said with undisguised derision on her face and in her voice. ‘Getting together and balling like a bunch of crybabies over the hurricane. Well, that’s what happens! The fist of God, like I’m always telling you. Screw with me and that’s what happens! You think that this is all an accident? Like hell! Don’t you see the timing? Perfect timing! You think that it was an accident that this happened just a week after I was run out of my own neighborhood without any of you coming to my defense?!’

Her eyes were glazed over and there was spit dripping from her lower lip the way that a dangerous mad dog will drool, and this was what I meant when I said to my wife earlier “Don’t count on it honey, she will be here. It’s too big, too important for her to pass it up.’ With all the drama that had taken place a week or so ago with her ‘pull-out’ from the Old Quarter of the city known as Gaza, there was no way that she wasn’t going to make the most out of this hurricane. She loved natural disasters, especially since it made the theatrics of God’s wrath all the more exploitable and thus believable for her agenda.

Despite the fact that she had spent a fortune on media coverage and propaganda for the event, nevertheless the benefits that were going to result from this little event were going to pay off 10 fold at least. Old Aunt Israel had learned long ago what the value was of shaping public opinion when formulating public policy and had therefore invested heavily in all the main forms of media in the city. There was not a radio station, television station or newspaper of any standing that she did not own outright or at least control through boards of directors who were on her payroll or blackmail list. That was always her policy…if some avenue of influence could not be purchased, it would be run out of town. If it could not be run out of town, then she would corrupt it through bribery or blackmail. She had private investigators who dug up every piece of information available on anyone scheduled to be one of her puppets. If there were no skeletons in the closet to be found, she found ways of putting them there with embarrassing pictures or just down right defamation of their character with false witnesses. Every politician in town feared her as if she were some Mafia princess, which she was, in both the literal and figurative sense.

The Gaza fiasco, as we in the family liked to call it, was a long-standing festering sore that had been building for many years. Aunt Israel, being the pleasant and charitable individual that she always has been, had been run out of every neighborhood she had occupied for many years. It was always the same scenario. She would get booted out of some place, arrive at the doorsteps of another place where she was welcomed by those who did not know any better, and within a short period of time she would wear down the goodwill and patience of those around her. She was always bringing vice with her wherever she went, as well as the shady, violent characters who were always in her entourage, and it wouldn’t take too long until her neighbors would say ‘enough’ and escort her and all her unattractive qualities to the line separating them from the bordering town. Aunt Israel would find a new place, and the cycle would start all over again.

If she weren’t bringing vice than it was just simple discord. Within moments of her arrival at a new locale, the peace and harmony that the various neighborhoods had achieved would begin to wither away as if they were healthy tissue and she were some radioactive material. Aunt Israel was always scheming against those around her, pitting neighbor against neighbor so that she could profit from it in some way. She loved to gossip and ruin the reputation of anyone she considered a rival, and particularly if that person were attractive or talented in some way. Soon, felicity and cooperation were replaced by petty arguments and family feuds the basis of which no one really remembered. If the feuding inhabitants attempted to reconcile and draw up a peace treaty, Aunt Israel would be there, sometimes openly and sometimes in obscurity, weaving a web of deceit in the interests of sabotaging their efforts. Not simply limiting herself to harmless tricks or innuendo, she would sometimes resort to dangerous antics as well. Houses were burned, tires were slashed, bricks were thrown through windows as well as an entire repertoire of other dirty tricks that she kept in her black bag of secret recipes.

Her reputation as a homewrecker was legendary. Women did not dare allow their husbands around Aunt Israel because of her loose morals and covetousness. Parents did not dare let their children around her for fear that she might ruin their innocence or even worse, that she would try to harm them in some way, which she had done on a few occasions when she had been under the influence of alcohol or some narcotic.

And in every instance in which these neighborhoods acted in their self defense by expelling this dangerous predator from among them, the response on Aunt Israel’s part was always the same; that she had been targeted for unjust persecution by jealous others. She refused with the stubbornness of a mule to learn the lesson that had been so obvious in every instance, which was that she should stop abusing those around her, stop seeing herself as better than everyone else and just be a part of the big family.

And, like any spoiled child who stubbornly refuses to learn from these lessons, the results were catastrophic.

What had grown like a cancer in her soul was this sense of her own invincibility; of supreme survivability and a thirst for vengeance that had been spawned in hell, and this was what had led to her setting out long range agendas that resulted in the mess that was going on at present. In every instance in which she had survived the storms that were of her own doing, she interpreted it as a sign from God that she was on the right path. She heard voices in her head that she said were divine in origin and that assured her to keep pressing forward. The way she described it, all of this business concerning her history with those around her and the way that they had rejected her in the same way that a healthy immune system fights off a virus is that it was all a test that had been sent to her and that she must overcome at all costs.

The mistake that those around her made over the years was in underestimating just how far she would go. Now the city was literally at war and at the center of this hurricane was this old lady and her agenda.

The Old Quarter had been the heart of the city. It was where the city had begun and was the only remaining place that had not yet taken ill with all the other viruses that had destroyed the other parts of town, meaning crime and vice. It was not as if the residents there were wealthy and thus used that wealth to ensure that the vitality and life of their neighborhood remained healthy, quite the opposite. They were some of the poorest people in the city. What saved them was their old-world thinking that produced a love for righteousness and respect for neighbor.

They would not tolerate crime or vice or any other plague to destroy their community and thus themselves. They had seen what had taken place in other parts of the city and would have no part of it. When troublemakers came into the neighborhood, they were handled in a swift and undeniable way. The prostitutes and pimps and drug dealers knew that the only kind of business to be found in the Old Neighborhood was the kind of business not to their advantage. While vice destroyed every other block of the city, the Old Quarter remained unblemished. There were no sex shops, no abortion clinics, no bordellos, no gang hideouts. By contrast, the most beautiful of the city’s churches were there, kept in pristine condition. Residents could walk the streets safely without fear of being molested. Doors could be kept unlocked at night and parents did not have any reason to fear that kidnappers or pedophiles might snatch one of their little ones and drag them off and do them harm.

Of course, this was all before Aunt Israel had wormed her way into the mechanics of City Hall. She had had her eye on a portion of the Old Quarter for a long time now and had wanted it like nothing else, and it was speculated that the reason that Aunt Israel had coveted the Old Quarter so much was due to the fact that it possessed a healthy immune system that had not fallen prey to her viruses as other sections of the city had. No one really knows, and why should they, particularly when they are trying to understand the thought processes of a lunatic like Aunt Israel. Nevertheless, she went to work.

She began buying up some of the old buildings at higher than market value through shell corporations where no connection to her could be traced, since it was a fact that her reputation had preceded her, the knowledge of which would have prevented her from being able to buy up any of the area in question. As soon as she had some of the older buildings in her clutches, she went to work throwing out the inhabitants and replacing them with her friends who were just like her—violent, lovers of vice and self-absorbed. Darkness began to descend upon the neighborhood and it was not long before the residents figured out who was responsible for all of this, and this led to the inevitable friction that had always been a persistent problem between Aunt Israel and those around her.

This time though, it would be different, for she had done her homework beforehand. Now she wouldn’t be going into a neighborhood as some poverty stricken, powerless vagrant, but as an individual who had amassed a great war chest of money and influence. She had spent years building her wealth which she had earned through her vice activities with the underworld and used that wealth to buy the city’s politicians and media figures.

Those in the Old Quarter did their best, believing that the same legal system that had worked in the past was still in operation. They attended every meeting of every Planning Board to oppose Aunt Israel’s proposed ‘annexation’ of some city block. They went to the Zoning Board, using the zoning restrictions to prevent her from setting up the liquor stores and sex shops in which she had held a moneyed interest. In the end, it proved to be a complete waste of time, as Aunt Israel had all the politicos in her back pocket. A ‘loophole’ was always found that effectively thwarted not only the spirit but also the letter of the law, and sometimes out of nothing more than thin air. It was just a matter of time before the real ugliness started, which it did in full force.

The images of the violence (at least those images that were witnessed on the ground, since none of the papers or news stations would show them) were harrowing. Crooked cops working under crooked city politicians who all worked for crooked Aunt Israel did as they were told. Men, women and children were shot to death in their homes and even in the streets. Housing complexes were burned to the ground while the inhabitants were still inside. Buildings that had been there from the beginning of the city’s birth, beautiful historical monuments were bulldozed to the ground and replaced with the sterile, lifeless, materialistic dwellings that were more suited to Aunt Israel’s tastes. The people fought back the best way that they could but they were no match for Aunt Israel’s political power. All economic activity came to a standstill. Fathers were out of work, men whose wives and children went hungry and despoiled of all their dignity. It was a caldron of despair for those who had to live like this. They tried pleading their case but the rest of the city’s inhabitants might as well have been deaf for all the attention that they paid to the matter.

Aunt Israel had made it a policy from the beginning that the inhabitants of the city be thoroughly indoctrinated on what a hard life she had experienced and how her success story was a miracle from heaven in and of itself. She had books published by ghostwriters that were nothing more than autobiographical biographies. Documentaries were always being made about Aunt Israel’s rise to power, how she had endured a lifetime of persecution only to rise from the ashes as a triumphant phoenix.

The town’s churches were organized and staffed, nearly to a man, by false prophets who were on her payroll. She helped them with their bills and with permits and inspections and whatever else had to be done so that their doors could stay open. Any man of the cloth who refused to join ‘the family’ would find all kinds of trouble with building code enforcers, the fire chief and the tax collectors. Part of the religious atmosphere that they were ordered to cultivate revolved around the city’s benefactor, old Aunt Israel, whose generosity was responsible for their existence. ‘So much suffering,’ they would say ‘so many trials, and yet there she was, neither bitter nor resentful, only wanting to do the will of the Lord and yet getting nothing but trouble in return by those terrorists in the Gaza neighborhood…’

There is no doubt that the inhabitants of the Gaza district caused terror in her black soul, although ‘terrorist’ was a description more suited to Aunt Israel herself. She was absolutely ruthless in trying to break these people who would not bow down before her as everyone else had. Hired killers were sent in. Buildings were blown to pieces, including schools and orphanages. The water system was poisoned or shut off altogether. Food shipments into the area were stopped and their contents were thrown into the sewer. Toys of all sorts had explosives sewn into them and were left in the street for some child to find. The statistics were staggering. 90% of the children were malnourished. 70% of the men were unemployed. Individuals from every generational group were maimed for life, some missing eyes, some missing arms and legs. Pictures of those who had been assassinated lined the streets as a reminder of what had happened since the arrival of Aunt Israel, the ‘abomination of desolation’ as they called her.

Of course, this is not how it was all painted by Aunt Israel’s propaganda machine. Anytime these people fought back, all programming would come to a standstill for a breaking news report. “Terrorist attack against Aunt Israel” they would chant. The images would immediately switch to some building owned by the old witch where a bomb had gone off as she did some of her best work by wailing out loud her typical ‘woes me’ that we had all experienced for an untold number of years. These events always seemed to precede some bloodthirsty action that she had planned in advance against those in the Old Quarter, leading many to speculate that these acts of ‘terrorism” were from her black back of dirty tricks and that she deliberately blew these places up as a pretext for doing what she was going to do next.

The message to the rest of the city was clear, which was ‘Give the witch what she wants or else.’ She was a gangstress and without an ounce of reserve or regard for the rules of right and wrong, rules which, as we said earlier were divided into two categories; ‘good’ being cooperation with her and ‘bad’ being opposition to her.

What she had not planned on however was the resolve of those in the Old Quarter. The other parts of the city and the inhabitants therein had been much easier to break, usually with bribes and with very little violence involved. These individuals however, were different creatures altogether. The harder she hit them, the harder they hit back. The more miserable she made their lives, the stronger was their will to resist her. After a while her friends began to grumble and to lose faith in her. Some were packing up and leaving for someplace not so turbulent. Everything she promised them about what life in the Old Quarter was going to be like turned out to be just another one of her trips into the world of unreality. She needed her friends there as insulation, and at the rate that they were leaving soon her entire agenda would be a washout.

And so, after years of this tragedy, of this outrage of epic proportions, Aunt Israel finally settled up with the certain realities. For once, she did the math very quickly and saw what the future would hold for her and her agenda. The Gaza Quarter would never be the paradise she envisioned it as being. The original inhabitants simply would not bend to her agenda, no matter how brutal she had been in implementing it. They simply endured and this was attracting the attention of others around the city who had tasted Aunt Israel’s bitter fruits in years previous and who were sympathetic to those who were holding out. Those who could not care about it one way or another previously were starting to take notice as well, since the violence was beginning to spill over into their own neighborhoods.

This being the case, she decided to pull out of that quarter and leave the original inhabitants to live with the aftermath of her deeds. ‘To hell with them,’ she thought, ‘nothing but cockroaches anyway, beasts on two legs, let them have the place.’

Aunt Israel decided therefore that a ‘new promised land’ awaited her and her friends. It was over on the West Side, where opportunities abounded as if it were the proverbial land of milk and honey. She made preparations to flee the region, but, being the business-minded woman that she was meant that no opportunity could be wasted, which meant organizing a huge propaganda campaign.

‘But how to do this as profitably as possible?’ she wondered. Being chased out with her tail between her legs like the scoundrel dog that she was certainly would not be good for business, and simply walking away from her monetary investment was absolutely out of the question.

And then, deep within the underworld of her being, where Aunt Israel always finds the answer to whatever quandary she is facing, it lay there, like an apple off of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, or like some glistening jewel in Pharaoh’s court. The answer was so simple in its essence, like stealing candy from a baby, but it would require some planning, which was something for which she had developed quite an acumen in all her years of double-dealing and backstabbing.

The television crews were called out, along with the newspaper reporters and every other talking head who was on her payroll. The city’s religious leaders screamed from the pulpits and pounded their fists in affected moral outrage over what was happening. Aunt Israel, benefactor to the city of New Orleans was being evicted from her rightful home in the Gaza section of the Old Quarter. It was just another case of unjust persecution on the part of the city’s inhabitants who had always had it in for her as a result of her success and God-given abilities. “Such an outrage!” they all brayed in unison like stupid asses on the Animal Farm. “The heavy fist of God will come down upon us as a result of this” howled all the wolves in sheep’s clothing to their flocks in the city’s churches. And then came the actual day of the pull out.

The city had assembled all the police they could muster, dressed in black and an affected image of death to all spectators. On cue they marched in and removed the squatters, who made quite a show of ‘resisting’ by throwing jars of water said to be acid on the ‘brutish thugs’ who were manhandling them. The ‘poor, innocent, helpless creatures’ who had ‘never lifted an angry hand at anyone and who only wanted to live in peace with humanity’ went kicking and screaming in what was an Academy Award winning performance. Children cried on cue, women wailed and beat their breasts and men bit their knuckles. It was something almost Apocalyptic in its depiction, or at least that is how it was presented by the media, complete with all the weeping and gnashing of teeth. As soon as the cameras were turned off, however, they all got their checks from the city, $200.000.00 apiece, went out for drinks and celebrated over the victory they had achieved in what was their typical manner of duplicity.

The inhabitants of Gaza who had fought with every ounce of their beings simply stared at what was left of their city. This was what was left for them—a destroyed neighborhood, nightmarish memories of the years of violence that they had endured and no economic hope for the future. And laughing all the way to the bank was Aunt Israel who had managed to pull off another one before the eyes of a corrupt and complacent population.

The only ones who hadn’t bought into it were those of us at the family gathering today. Pride always precedeth the fall, as the saying always goes, and today would be no different. There was nothing unpredictable about this, since she always assumed that everyone around her was stupid and could not see what she was really about. This being the case, what she did not see was that as the years went by, her magic was losing its power. Like an old movie star who goes to ridiculous lengths in trying to look like she did when she was 18, what she did not see today is how much a freak she had become. She was like any other schoolyard bully who takes for granted all the cooperation that he or she gets from his or her victims and does not see the machinations that take place right under their very noses for the inevitable revolution.

And then comes the day when they go just one step too far, and for us that day had finally arrived…

When Aunt Israel showed up and began her lecture about the injustice she had endured in being ‘thrown out’ of Gaza and the filthy assertion that the hurricane known as Katrina was a punishment from God for what we had done in allowing her to be ‘evicted’, she did not gauge how we would take it. She merely assumed that we would all cower before her as we had all done in the past. She assumed that there was still this sense of humanity in us that would mitigate our turning against her. She assumed that all the little charms and curses, all the baits and the threats that were effective in years past would have the same effect on us as they had previously. In short, what happened is that she forgot about all the times that she had been evicted from the neighborhood in the past and why these things had all happened.

And although all of us felt the heat of the anger boiling within us like kernels of corn in a skillet of hot oil, it was my wife Christiana who ‘popped’ first.

Usually patient-to-a-fault and slow to anger, this time she surprised everyone there with what took place. Like a volcano that everyone assumed had been inactive and which violently erupts out of nowhere, we were all taken by surprise, not the least of whom was the witch standing before us in the personage of this old lady, Aunt Israel.

Christiana never forgot about her first time encounter with old Aunt Israel in the receiving line on our wedding night. Although she did not bring it up or brood over it, nevertheless it had left an indelible impression upon her that set the course for today’s events. The rest of us who had spent lifetimes with Aunt Israel simply accepted that our lot was a situation that would never change, and as a result of this, over the course of several generations the debilitating effects of resignation had set in, which were blindness and complacency on our part.

Christiana, however, had never known such people in her life before marrying into the family. She had never known individuals who abused others with such callous disregard and then got away with it. She had come from a healthier family culture that would never have tolerated such individuals in its midst, or at least not for any extended period of time. In her family the golden rule was truly golden and was enforced and perhaps this is what was responsible for producing this moment’s confrontation. Unlike the rest of us, she had not spent a lifetime of being bullied by Aunt Israel and her self-absorbed agenda. Christiana was not blood, but rather a person whose first encounter with this harlot had taken place in the midst of what was behavior that was insulting, indecent, and undeserved. And she had no illusions about Aunt Israel’s money, for as far as she was concerned, it was blood money that had been made off of the suffering of innocent others and therefore she would have nothing to do with it, even if there had been the chance of getting any of it.

“You lying, hypocritical witch. How dare you! Who do you think you are? Who do you think we are? You actually believe that we are going to fall for this one? Have you forgotten where you are and in whose company you find yourself?

Aunt Israel was not accustomed to be challenged in this manner and especially not by anyone in the family. A wave of surprise covered her face, followed by a brief mask of terror that was very subtle and yet definite, and then her face relaxed into an affected image of quiet, haughty contempt. Cocking her head backwards so as to look down her nose at my wife and through slightly squinting eyes she simply had one response, which was ‘Watch it Missy.’

This was usually all that Aunt Israel needed to do in cowing her opposition, and therefore was not prepared for what came next. The term she used in addressing Christiana, “Missy,” was exactly what she had used on the night of our wedding in the receiving line, and this was what instantly transformed my gentle and genteel little gentile wife into a volcano ready to blow.

‘You cheap, slutty, smutty low-life,’ she continued. ‘You come here dressed like some streetwalker from a ghetto in Tel Aviv and dare to lecture us on morality? What planet are you from? You are nothing but a sewer rat and a bringer of disease and death and misery everywhere you go and yet you think that you have the nerve to prance around here in front of us as if you were Caesar’s mistress. Who the hell do you think you are coming here and doing this?’

Aunt Israel began her theatrics about which we had all heard stories. She brought both arms up, left one extended out in front of her as if she were a cat bearing its claws, and the other one behind her head as if she were about to throw something. The significance of the image was undeniable; it was the stance of a witch who was preparing to cast a spell on an enemy.

She used to say years past that she had magic powers and that she could cast spells on her enemies, something that she called ‘pulsa de nura,’ or something like that, and this must be what she had meant. Christiana, who stood there with arms crossed across her chest in stern fashion merely glanced at me for a moment. The little performance did not have any effect on her other than amusement, which she indicated by a small dose of subtle yet obvious laughter. Her reaction to the threats infuriated Aunt Israel beyond words, resulting in the old witch baring her yellow teeth like a wild animal of sorts and growling furiously. Christiana was not affected in the least, and the rest of us were emboldened by her fearlessness.

“Punishment from God? You’re right; it is a punishment from God. This disaster here in New Orleans, ‘this fist of God’ as you and all your false prophets put it is all because of the fact that we have allowed you to do what you have done to this city for all these years…for what you have done to the people of the Old Quarter…for corrupting our politics and infecting it with all your vice…for all the murder and mayhem that you dumped into the lives of the innocent people who would not bow down before your demands, these are the reasons why the ‘hand of God’ has come down upon us and for no other reason. You have turned this city into Sodom and Gomorrah, and all because we have allowed you to do it, and this is why the family grieves today.’

She looked to her left and to her right at the two toads at her side, Falwell and Robertson. The message on her face was unmistakable in its command, which was “What are you doing standing around for, you idiots? Get to work!” There was the slightest hint of hesitation in the commencement of their actions, not the least of which was due to the fact that they now saw something in our faces that they had not seen previously, which was anger and resolution. They both, being the cowards that they are, moved forward to assail my wife with a barrage of insults and threats as they do to all those who get in the way of Aunt Israel’s agenda, and it was in that moment that the natures of the men finally kicked in, and not a moment too early.

Almost in unison, the fathers and grandfathers, the sons, uncles, nephews, cousins and in-laws took off their jackets and began unbuttoning and rolling up their shirtsleeves. They had been shamed by the bravery of this woman who took it upon herself to do what they should have done a long time ago, but it was not too late to make things right. Falwell and Robertson, seeing what kind of spicy dish they were about to be served, high-tailed it out of there as fast as they could, with a good number of the family following them in hot pursuit, leaving Aunt Israel alone to deal with a family who had reached its limit and who would have no more of it.

Now she saw that her magic was gone. The threats and the guilt and even the pity would have no more effect, and upon seeing this, my prayers had finally been answered. In that moment we became like those killer bees, or at least appeared as such in her eyes, and the realization of this resulted in her hauling ass back to her Caddy with whatever energy was left inside her 300 lb frame. She barely made it into the car and sped away. Despite the fact that she kept her windows closed, we could make out her curses and her threats. “The hand of God!” she was screaming as her tires squealed their way out of the parking lot, as the car heaved side to side in the erratic dance that was the flight of a fugitive from justice. She drove for a few moments and once she assumed she was at safe enough a distance, rolled down her window just enough to stick one of her fat hands out for all of us to see, and flipped us the bird in one final gesture that spoke volumes of her high standards and ladylike poise. She let out one last scream, something unintelligible and took off again, leaving her calling card: the black, putrid, corrupting smoke that is and always has been Aunt Israel’s residue.

She would not be back again, at least not for a long time, and if she were nervy enough to return, well then it would be as if this scene were part of a movie that had been but momentarily interrupted, only to take up again where it had paused, and we would not be held accountable for our actions.

The tragedy was that it didn’t have to be this way. Aunt Israel didn’t have to be alone and despised all the time. She was family and we would have treated her as such if she had just done the very simple thing of coming down from her pedestal, of coming down from her supremacist-minded agenda and just been what she was always complaining about not being—a part of the family. Not the most important part, just a cog in the wheel. If she had just treated us with the respect and dignity that all people deserve and had she thought about others once in a while instead of herself all the time, things would have been different, and radically so. She would have had a husband who loved her long into her later years instead of the low-life boyfriends who paraded in and out of her life like the seasons. She would have had children who cherished her as the fountain from which their own lives had sprung and who would have cared for her in her old age. She would have been visited often by the extended family and invited to all the family functions instead of having to crash in on them after learning about them from her spies. She would have peace in her heart knowing that she belonged and would have looked forward to the next life where she could rest in peace knowing that her family on earth longed for the day where they would see her again.

Instead, because of the choices that she made, all rooted in her own selfish agenda, she had wasted a veritable fortune that had been given to her from our great patriarch and had thus brought misery into her life as well as the lives of everyone around her.

For now, all we could do was to envision the future and of the inevitable family gathering that would take place, and wherein (and not a moment too soon, by the way) we would pay our last respects–or at least what was left of them, to old Aunt Israel. Blood is thicker than water, as the saying goes, so there is no doubt that everyone from the family would be there to attend. This time however, in complete variance to the somber tones that revolved around this day’s events, we would celebrate it in typical New Orleans style, with singing and dancing as we rushed this silent soul on to her destination, wherever that destination may be. We would breathe a sigh of relief and do so in the hopes that now the family can get back to the business of being a family again and in the manner as our great patriarch had intended. There would be future reunions, marriages, baptisms, graduations, and yes, even funerals, but all done in a completely and radically different atmosphere. This atmosphere would be one where party crashers–whose names were dread and loathing were rightly seen as unwelcome intruders in the midst of such familial piety and who would be escorted by the men of the family with courtesy yet firmness outside the confines of the property.

But that would not be all, for these future family reunions would also be those where we welcomed the guests who were first on the invitation list and who truly belonged at such events, and whose names were fraternity and unity.

 2006 by Mark Glenn



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