My Aunt Dorothy was the last Kersten of her generation. My dad was the only one in his. Leaving my 3 sisters and my brother to carry on the name. My son is a Rosenblatt. My sister finally had a boy after 3 girls and so the Kersten name will carry on.
It seems like such an archaic idea to worry about. But our names are one of 3 things that we leave behind for people years into the future to know about us. Our name. When we were born. When we died.
When we walk along the names of those who walked before us, we don’t know how they liked their burgers cooked, which team they rooted for during the Super Bowl, how many friends they had on Facebook, which tax bracket they fell into, or what car they drove. We don’t know if they were kind, or stingy, or funny, or stinky. We know their name, when they were born and when they died.
Looking at etchings in stone, matching years with names and dedications to similar names and years, we can come up with a reasonable frame for a family tree. We can sense the sorrow that was felt when burying a young child, or see the heartache that took the husband 2 weeks after his wife of 50 years passed. We can see how much a sister was loved, and imagine a lot of hand holding across the plots.
What we don’t know - beyond our own imaginations - are the stories that filled the dash between the two dates. We don’t get the dirt. We don’t get the grace.
For all that stuff, I turned to my Great Aunt Dorthy.
Man, did that lady have stories. And each story had many versions, depending on her mood, the time of day, who was within earshot...Some people have a mind like a steel trap - hers could tame a grizzly bear.
There were so many nights as a young adult I would sit by her on the patio at her hotel watching the stars and listen to her telling stories of my dad when he was growing up, or of family back home. People she would talk about as if I knew them, stories I grew to believe I had lived through because I heard them so often. I’d be tired or cold and want to go inside, but she could talk for hours and I wouldn’t want to miss what she had to say, or get in trouble for interrupting.
She never forgot a thing. Well, she would forget who I was every now and then....but I’m pretty sure that was just a guilt trip for taking too long between visits. She NEVER forgot a thing. And for those of us that loved her, this proved to be a blessing and a curse.
She always remembered that Elle my oldest was due on her own birthday...but was born 6 days early. But then, she also always remembered the trip to the Janesville Mall with 3 year old Elle at Christmas....let’s just say Aunt Dorothy didn’t have a lot of patience for toddler temper tantrums.
She always remembered that Demi loved to color...and so she always remembered to hide her coloring books when we came to visit. But she always brought out the poker chips that my kids loved so much.
She could never remember my son Atticus’ name, but I’m pretty sure she just wanted me to know she thought it was weird. But watching her recall my dad as a baby as my son who he would never meet sat on her lap will always be one of my favorite moments in life.
My siblings would say she had a selective memory - and only remembered when I was good, and when they were naughty. I’d like to think she was spot on! But we had a special bond I can remember all the way back to my 3rd birthday party. We had a pony ride, I got a huge coloring book, my boyfriend Keith sharing our cake...it was also the first day I remember knowing who my Aunt Dorothy was and holding on to her neck and crying as she tried to leave. It was the start of a beautiful friendship.
I’ll never forget scraping my nose on the bottom of her pool, or playing rummy with her residents, or watching fireworks on the Fourth of July at the beach, or the Easter Egg hunts on the Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Chamber lawn, walking to get ice cream at the HoJo, her mauve and brass luxury apartment, the way she spread margarine on my toast. Watching baseball with her, or watching her feed her finches.
When she moved back up here to her little “shack by the railroad track”, I finally got to meet a different side of Dorothy. She was back with family and had even more stories to share. I finally got to meet a lot of the people I had heard about through the years. She loved her family so much.
My dad and Dorothy also shared a very special bond. She was never easy on him, and he never stopped picking on her. He would have done anything for his Aunt Dorothy. So when she went into surgery a few months after he died, I came up because he would have wanted to. I channelled my dad as I apologized to the nurses she cursed when she had to drink her barium, as I held her hand as she slept when they were done, as I lied to her over and over again and told her the nurses were coming when all she wanted to do was sit up, as I played along as she wanted to stage a coups to sneak out of the joint. They were both born on the 26th of the Month - him in March, her in August. He died on October 28th in 2010, she left us on the 27th. I imagine them causing quite a ruckus, and can’t wait to hear the stories when I join them.
I thought Aunt Dorothy would live forever. To know that she didn’t is hard, and to not have gotten to say goodbye is even harder. But my kids will always know who she was, I have stories to share about her and even people I never met that will keep her around in spirit, I have today that I am sharing with you all. She helped instill in me a charge to keep family at the forefront and to live the life we are given. Thank you for coming today to celebrate her life and for keeping her dash far from flat.