A wonderful act to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
I so very admired my great aunt; her name was Gizella. To my family and I, she is known as Aunt Giz.
She was the epitome of chic, which is the perfect balance of humbleness and sophistication. One of my earliest memories is feeling enchanted by this marvelous woman. She conversed with me not as a little child, but as a lady, and as such, she made me feel valued and grown-up – which, to a little girl, is everything! She was so genuine; Her generous affection was pure, radiant and sincere, but her dislike for something was not unknown either. I admired that about her: such an honesty of being.
I think many people feel as I do, about relatives and friends passed on: I didn’t get to know her as well as I’d have liked to. Much I know about her was, very sadly, gained after her passing.
When she passed, my family was tasked with the “final arrangements”, which included the dismantling of her life – in literal terms. What to do with the books she read, the silverware and tableware from which she ate her food, the blankets that warmed her? Sad and stressful, the undertaking altered my perspective of life, particularly about its details. We would call to one another, from room to room: “what do you think should be done with this (insert object)?” (The things we picked through were sorted into roughly three categories: toss, sell, donate.) It was an uncomfortable feeling, crossing into someone’s personal space and deciding how to dispatch their things. After a few days at this task, a sort of numbness came over me and, most of it, was a job to be done. Closing her estate took a long time, but that is another story for another day.
Amid the chaos, there were a few little treasures that begged me to keep. I have three pieces here in my studio space with me.
One is a thick, heavy photo album, brimming with an era of photographs of Aunt Giz and her beloved husband, my Great Uncle Eugene (known to all as “Gene”). It is an intimate portrait, a delightful pictorial story of her life from about 1965 to 1980. They are in love with one another, it is evident. They lived in an incredible home in Malaga, Spain, sparkling Mediterranean on the horizon. There they entertained with fabulous style among numbers of friend; lovely people with smiling faces, of whom I cannot name.
I wonder if, after my time has passed, someone will look at my photos and feel the kind of radiance and love that I do for Aunt Giz? That, in my opinion, is a testament of a life well-lived.
The second item is another photo. This one is 8 x 10”, black and white, and we believe it to have been taken by Andre Kertesz; he was a close friend. That is an interesting detail to a photo buff — Here, it is the subject of the photo I love. Gene is seated, looking at a pamphlet of some sort; my Aunt Giz stands just a little behind him, leaning against the wall, looking at him in evident adoration. It’s a beautiful moment; I consider it art.
The third item is a page of handwritten prose; I don’t know to whom to credit for the thoughtful and serene discourse. I have it tacked to a corkboard that hangs above a bookshelf; now and then I seek a few moments’ comfort, as I hope you will too.
In closing, I affirm that this is one of those articles about “the best things aren’t things”. The belongings I speak of aren’t of monetary substance, but they conjure the invaluable memories of an Aunt I cherished in life — and even more afterward, in her legacy, that alludes to the colorful, astute woman that will always be representative of Aunt Giz.
To live content with small means.
To seek elegance rather than fashion
To be worthy, not respectable and wealthy, not rich.
To study hard
To listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages
With open heart.
To bear all cheerfully;
Do all bravely
Await occasions, hurry never.
In a word, let the spirit be unbidden
And unconscious grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.