Family Matters

Family Matters

Swept Away: Discovering the world of the senses

By Roberta Israeloff

January/February 2010

My parents welcomed the invitation to attend Great-Aunt Rose's 50th anniversary party as if it were a summons to jury duty. Instead of looking forward to dressing up and delighting in seeing family members who rarely got together, they adopted their usual "What am I going to wear, the food probably won't be any good, and the band will be too loud anyway" attitude.

"Do I have to go?" I whined. Living on Long Island in the mid-1960s, finally old enough to be invited to boy–girl parties, I expected to spend Saturday nights with my friends.

Yes, I was told, my attendance was required. I put on my best pout, but in secret was hugely relieved. I hated boy–girl parties—and for a reason probably only Anita would understand.

Anita, Great-Aunt Rose's daughter, belonged to that nimbus of relatives we saw a couple of times a year, at clan-gathering events like anniversary parties. She and her husband, Phil, though just a few years younger than my parents, seemed in a generation all their own. Maybe it was because Anita worked outside the house, as so few other women in my family did; she was pretty, and liked to wear makeup and dresses that were tight on top with skirts that swung, showing off her legs as she moved. She looked as if she didn't wake up in the morning expecting a thunderstorm to ruin her day, and she didn't spend the afternoon at a party looking at her watch.

As for Phil, I didn't know much about him except that he wasn't an engineer,…

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