It wasn’t long after my grandfather died that we were in New York City again, visiting my grandmother, and we all went out to dinner at her second favorite German restaurant. Her favorite one was a short walk, six blocks or so, from her house in Queens, where they always had her Dewers waiting for her and she was known as Mrs. Noble; we had to take a cab to this one, but it was more convenient for Aunt Lillian—my grandmother’s best friend, an aunt by design rather than blood—who was taking the bus to meet us.

We’d already been seated when Lil came in with her usual bluster, her hand wrapped in a pile of bloody tissues. Her ring, the wedding band she still wore years after Uncle Herb had died, had somehow been caught on the door of the bus, which had started to pull away while she was still attached. It had torn her finger terribly, and we wanted to take her to the emergency room. “I’m fine,” she said. “Bring me a drink and some ice. Let’s eat.”

We had a lovely meal, only interrupted by Lil’s waving away the occasional furtive glances at her hand, which rested in a champagne bucket full of ice.

What I remember most about Lil was her sparkling eyes and her personality, which managed to be bigger than life and yet completely unaffected at the same time. She was utterly charming and loved and related to my sister and I, even though she and Herb had never had kids of their own; I don’t know whether by choice or circumstance. Lil was a working woman, long before such creatures were meant to exist, and she was great at her job. Witty and wicked, with a bawdy sense of humor and a raucous, infectious laugh, she didn’t take any shit from anyone, and was forced by her boss to keep a note on her desk that read: Don’t use the word fuck on the phone.

Lil was never one for advice giving, or trying to teach lessons about life or anything else, even though there’s no doubt there was a wealth of information and experience worth imparting. She traveled extensively—had been to all 50 states, and loved to talk about how beautiful Alaska is—but her stories were never laden with surreptitious meaning. She just was, and I don’t think it ever occurred to her to be any other way.

She died very suddenly when I was still quite young. At the time, I don’t think I realized how much she had affected me, nor what she really meant to me—I never expected how often I would think of her in my own adulthood. I wonder sometimes if she had any inclination. Did my wide eyes at I sat in her lap listening to her talk convey a sense of how much her words meant, how much she meant…and would mean in my future? I hope so. And I think so, too. Lil was wonderfully perceptive that way.

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