Sarajane Gidings

Aunt Sherry   

Though my husband Geoff and I did step out to the Red Parrot with Aunt Sherry and Peter and though I could regale you with unforgettable experiences of Aunt Sherry and her New York nightlife, I will leave that to others and share my experience as her niece.

My Aunt Sherry was a Legend in her own time . . . She was petite in stature yet larger than life. She kept her own counsel and amazed me with her strength, vitality and fierce spirit of independence.
Whether you knew her as the Baronness or Sherry, her long life gave her the opportunity to assume many different roles.  To look at her, she was beautiful.  Glamorous in all her attire, she was particularly admired when spotted in her signature chapeaux fashioned by her friend, Mr. John, famous milliner to the stars. Beneath the surface, she was very smart, savvy, funny and possessed of a quick wit.  She was an adoring and adored daughter, mother, wife, grandmother and great grandmother and friend!

Eight of the eleven Bernstein siblings and their spouses produced 19 first cousins, many of who added future generations.
When Sherry Kegel married Herman Bernstein in 1945, her family consisted of herself and her mother. As close as she and her mother were, she was eager for a larger family and readily and wholeheartedly adopted the entire Bernstein clan as her own and became Aunt Sherry to 9 children. I was one of the newly acquired, a 2-year-old niece. It just occurred to me last night that she was only 21 years my senior; a mind boggling thought to me now! She was young, glamorous, vibrant, elegant and oh so fashionable. Uncle Gad may have been a favorite uncle because he had the farm but Uncle Herman was a favorite because he had Aunt Sherry!

Actually all my uncles were favorites in their own way!

But most important to me, she became the glue that kept the aunts, uncles, and cousins together celebrating the Jewish Holidays.
As long as I can remember the trip to 101 CPW was synonymous with celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Passover.  The dinners, which averaged thirty people, were a tribute to her inimitable style. I always looked forward to finding my place card to see which relatives I would be sitting near. The table was set as befit honored guests . . . from the flower arrangements, to the place settings, to the dinner, to the desserts she traveled to boro park to purchase for Passover.  As she opened the apartment door, Aunt Sherry welcomed us with her warm smile that showed just how glad she was to see us and thrilled that we had found the illusive parking spot that allowed us to be on time!

Though my family was invited on the first night, Aunt Sherry found it within herself to do this a second night to accommodate the ever expanding family, in-laws and friends without family, to celebrate with, as even the first night began to spill over into two rooms.

Often, my birthday coincided with Passover and as a shy child I felt so special that Aunt Sherry had a birthday cake for me, which wasn’t so easy to find on Passover in the old days.  All the cousins received carefully chosen Afikomen gifts till well past the age you would have imagined. And then Aunt Sherry was on to the next generation who loved her just the same.  She continually took our pictures as we took turns reciting the four questions and she was so happy to have them to show as we grew older and were able to share them with our own children.

It wasn’t only on holidays that Aunt Sherry and Uncle Herman thought of family. Aunt Pauline who lived a few blocks away had a standing invitation for Shabbat dinner, as did my mother and Aunt Sadie when they lived in New York. (When Aunt Sherry and Uncle Herman rented summer homes in Neponsit and Atlantic Beach I was treated to days at the beach with  Edward, Leslie, and Charles as we trekked from Flatbush over the Marine Park Bridge to the ocean front.)

Aunt Sherry always remembered our birthdays and anniversaries. If your birthday card didn’t come a few days early with a note on the back flap reminding you to open on your special day, you wondered if maybe you weren’t really going to have a birthday that year. But of course it always arrived. She was never late!

All of my friends either knew, or knew of, Aunt Sherry, often having lunch with her in the city or meeting at our family occasions. If you were lucky enough to have lunch with her, you would enjoy how she glowed as she greeted other diners who came over to admire her stunning outfits. She loved all types of restaurants and cuisines, something unusual for those of her generation. Aunt Sherry continually asked about my friends by name and they called her Aunt Sherry. If you didn’t know Aunt Sherry you really shouldn’t have considered yourself one of my friends!

In the ‘80’s she encouraged me as I returned to work and set up my business. This was indicative of the change in our relationship after I reached adulthood, and it developed further after my parents’ deaths 40 years ago.

Aunt Sherry became confidant, friend, sounding board, advisor and support system; and just plain fun to be around as we joked with each other.

I know this relationship to be true for Cousin Ellen as well and most likely others.  Ellen and I often share how we truly value our closeness to Aunt Sherry and treasure her love and devotion to us. She served as our model on how to age with grace and panache. 

I love Aunt Sherry.  She always called me dear and ended every conversation with I love you, way before it became the standard sign off. She asked about each child and grandchild always ending with “send love to My Geoff.

I will miss her greatly but she lives on in me as a brightly shining star.
Aunt Sherry established family traditions for us. To quote from a poem by Marcia Hain Engle:

Jewish Holidays and Observances are not meant to be celebrated alone,
They are Family based and Synagogue based, and they become infinitely more precious when they are shared ––
They represent an ingathering, a coming together, a spiritual and physical sense of community
And because every life is singular and sacred, each empty chair at the table corresponds to an empty place in the heart . . .
However, No one is ever lost as long as there is someone who remembers.