Susan Bernstein

I'm the youngest niece, one of the 19 first cousins descended from the Bernstein siblings. Many of my memories of Aunt Sherry are similar to what Sarajane so eloquently recounted. But before I share some memories I wanted to add a few more details about the family tree of the Bernstein siblings--there were once 11, although the oldest, Joseph, died very young.  Herman was toward the bottom of that generation, maybe 4 years older than my father Sidney and they were close as brothers (along with the youngest sibling Nahum), and married within a few years of each other, their children similar ages. So my cousin-peers were really Leslie and Charles and Edward, and even more so in recent decades, including their spouses Donald, Susan, and Myriam. Susan is probably the first cousin-in-law I'm closest too, and again, I owe all these connections to Sherry. 

My father was the last to die of the Bernstein siblings--to name them all (all Sherry's brothers and sisters-in-law): Joseph, Pauline, Sadie, Harry, Ceil, Gad, David, Evelyn, Herman, Sidney, Nahum. Here today are children and grandchildren and great grandchildren of six of these siblings, and considering that two of them (Pauline and David) didn't have offspring, that's an excellent showing. I remember in 1987, when my father learned that his brother David, who lived in Manchester England, had died, he said, "I guess I'm the last of the Mohicans."  And then he--the last of the Mohicans / that is, the Bernsteins--died in 1993. At that point, only two spouses (of the original 9) remained---Sherry and Florence, who lived in Florida. As my cousin Ellen told me the other day, her mother Florence died on October 27th, 2000, 18 years to the day before Sherry's death last week.

So although I have childhood memories of my magical, whimsical, gorgeous Aunt Sherry, I want to talk a bit about the 25 years when she became the very centerpiece, the glue, the matriarch with impeccable pizzazz, of this large family.  Like Sarajane and many others, I too received the annual birthday cards, and occasional notes, especially important after my own mother died in 1989.  Just 5 months ago at the end of May, Aunt Sherry phoned me. "I know it's a special day today," she said. It was Daniel's and my 25th wedding anniversary, and I'm certain no one else commented on the occasion. "Aunt Sherry" I exclaimed.  "How did you remember?" "I do write things down. I have a book," she allowed.  And she used that book, for her sprawling family of many generations, for friends, her vast social network seemed boundless.

And just as Sarajane described how "Aunt Sherry" was known either personally or by reputation to Sarajane's friends, the same is true for me.  She welcomed me and my friends, always charming and always eager to meet new people and entertain.  Maybe 30 years ago, a grad school friend and I spent a night at Sherry's while attending a conference in NYC, and that friend--a playwright named Theresa Rebeck--wrote a novel published several years ago called Twelve Rooms with a View, a battle between siblings over an apartment with spectacular views of Central Park, inspired by Sherry's hospitality and the very rooms where she displayed it. Theresa wrote these words to me today: "I liked that Aunt Sherry lived in that big apartment all by herself and seemed to fill it with her own idiosyncratic life force. I will never forget the many photos of her in different hats, and how much pleasure she took in her friendships. She was very generous to me, and let me call her Aunt Sherry for the brief moment I knew her. There was a lot of light in her." 

To the extent that my daughter Flora---one of the 33 second cousins that followed, or I should say the 33 grand nieces and nephews (or rather the 28, since 5 were Sherry's grandchildren) -- that Flora even knew anyone in that segment of the family was because of Aunt Sherry.  Flora was lucky to catch some of the fabled seders Sarajane described, in the 1990s.  And I am lucky too, that for the 29 years after my mother died, Aunt Sherry was a second mother to me, as she was to so many others.  I also want to acknowledge that Sherry was attentive and observant -- she often said wise things to me about various people we both knew -- I'll not give any examples, but she shared her wisdom.

I will say that my mother used to express envy of Sherry over one particular thing. "How did Sherry manage to do it?," my mother would ask. "How did she manage to keep all three of her children within a mile of her?" At the time I thought, well, maybe having that address helped, but I can also see, from my vantage point many years later, how wonderful that Sherry was such a constant presence in her grandchildren's and her great-granchldren's lives.

Aunt Sherry's memory is a blessing and I will always be grateful that our orbits intersected as they did.

I'd like to end with a poem I wrote a few years ago about dreaming of people I've loved who have died. I have found these dreams vivid and strangely comforting.  The three people I allude to in the poem met or knew (in my mother's case) Sherry. Maybe soon I'll dream of Aunt Sherry too. 

Here's my poem:


Dead people I love
Return to me,
In a sliver of nighttime.
Is it dreaming,
A gathered lake,
Where we meet?
A dreamy divagation?
Or is it memory transposed,
Feeding my sleeping brain,
Black, and full of warm ashes?
Or a real visitation? They flash
From the other side, as vivid
As if really really there, through
Slight landslides in my soul.

My mother seemed much better,
Happier than when her body fell
With cancer careening everywhere.
She's back in her Persian melon lipstick,
And Bermuda shorts, sporty and saying,
Oh My.

My friend welcomed me to a seaside palace,
Mediterranean aquamarine
Edged the sun-scorched white terrace.
Oh, on holiday, I thought.
This paradise is a nice package,
Even with the overhead costs.

You, K, sliced through the veil
Three separate times,
Sounding a chord through me.
First note my runaway anger.
Next pitch, our truce, we cease.
Finally, precious endnote,
Your serenity--
You listened to me.
I didn't know
Ghosts would do that.  

Phantom dreams,
Lurking lost, loved ones
Returned to us
In folded floods of night floss.