Their posed photograph at cousin Alan’s bar mitzvah sits on my desk. Only seven of the twenty-seven Schrager family members are still alive. It was more than 50 years ago when Sid, my smiling father, had his arm around two women — my mother with her eyes closed, and the sexier NY cousin Bess. I probably only met her that once but how can I forget her strapless gown?
Aunt Lee, my mother’s younger sister and mother of the bar mitzvah boy, wore a stunning icy blue taffeta dress. She was a redhead, as was my mother, whose hair appears much darker in the family photo.
And there I am, sitting on the floor in the first row wearing a ruffled organza dress. The photographer must have told us to put our arms out in front of us, which we kids did, except for the blond boy whom nobody ever recognizes.
Like my mother, Ida Schrager Wilensky, my eyes were closed. I remember nothing about that day. But I will tell you that my svelte, adorable Aunt Esther just died last year at age 98. The last time I saw her was in Atlantic City around 15 years ago.
“Does Ethan have a fake I.D.?” she asked immediately, wanting to show my game teenage son around the casinos. “Uh, no,” I replied, but Ethan was a tall 15-year-old with facial hair.
I remember his smile and reply, which was something like “Alright, Aunt Esther!”
In the formal Schrager photo my older brother, Joel, sat immediately to my left and in front of our beloved “Bubbie,” or grandmother, known by her Yiddish name Sima, meaning celebration.
In her final years, Bubbie alternated between living in Philadelphia with Aunt Lee and her family, and with us in Waterbury, Conn.
I’m an optimist: Although sad memories linger, such as my mother swearing at Bubbie in Yiddish when she dropped an egg on the floor, I prefer to conjure the image of Bubbie and me dancing after school to American Bandstand.
When the family photo was taken, I was around seven, the baby of the Schrager cousins.
These days, Joel and I talk by phone every week. I got back in touch with cousins Linda, now Sita, and Gloria, now Nikki, around 20 years ago. We’re still alive, and boy/oh girl, do we have stories to tell.
Happy holidays to all Schragers, Sanchezes, Smiths or Santoris. May you have a lively and peaceful new year.