Today I’m sharing one of my Great Aunt Esther’s favorite jokes in honor of the Jewish new year.
First, let me offer a brief introduction to my aunt. She died over three decades ago. I clearly remember a conversation my mother had with her about finances during her final year.
Esther was resistant to the idea of spending any of her savings on health care. She was, as many immigrants of that generation were, extremely frugal and she worried she would run out of funds before she ran out health. Her doctor suggested she have an aide come and stay with her, and my mother who frequently looked after her, supported this idea. Esther, who was in the hospital after a final surgery, insisted she was saving her money for a rainy day. My mother argued with her.
“Aunt Esther, look around you. It is pouring.”
I’m pretty sure she never did unfurl her financial umbrella to keep her from the rain, unnecessarily leaving her small savings behind.
I don’t know how old she was at the time of her death. The women in my family are remarkably resistant to sharing their age. It is like a family genetic trait, passed down from generation to generation.
I do know that by the time of her final illness, Aunt Esther had dwindled down to about 4’9’’. Her hair, what was left of it had turned completely white. From the time I was a small child she worried about her hair. She would complain about it at each holiday dinner in her imperfect English.
“Oy,” she would exclaim, “my hair, they’re so thin!”
She was the youngest sister of her seven siblings and was born long ago in a town in Russia. She was cute and charming and often told stories about her parents’ fear that she would never marry because she was “such a little thing, with no looks or brains.” Ultimately, she outlived three husbands and remained full of energy and fun.
Those last years she lived in an apartment in a senior living community. I remember she enjoyed an exercise program which concluded every session by repeating the mantra, “To rest is to rust.” The seniors recited this at the end of each class, congratulating each other on their rust-free lives.
Here is Great Aunt Esther’s joke.
Two old friends Sadie and Ida, were out for a walk one day when they ran into Mildred, an acquaintance whom they had not seen in a while.
“So Mildred,” Ida said, “it has been a while. How’s your family?”
Mildred replied, “Poo-poo, kinnehurra, they are all well. You remember my son Isaac? He is the head dentist in a thriving practice in New Rochelle. He and his lovely wife live in a beautiful house in the suburbs. They have two Cadillacs.”
Ida smiled broadly, “That’s fantastic!”
Mildred continued, “And they go on three vacations every year, wherever they want to go. And she has two mink coats – one long and one short. Plus a stole.”
“And my grandchildren! So smart! All straight A’s in school. My grandson is going to college next year. Probably Harvard.”
“Fantastic!” Ida replied once more.
“I have so much good news and good fortune,” Mildred added, “I probably shouldn’t say anymore.”
They said their good-byes and Sadie and Ida continued their walk as Mildred strutted proudly away.
After a few steps Sadie turned to Ida, “I thought you didn’t even like Mildred. I’m surprised you were so pleased with all her good news.”
Ida responded, “My mother, may she rest in peace, always taught me how to be polite. All I have to do is substitute one word for another. She said to always use the word fantastic when responding to news. She thought it was more polite than repeatedly saying Bullshit!”
I share Aunt Esther’s famous joke with those of you who are celebrating Rosh Hashanah, and also those who are not. Have a wonderful year full of sweetness and light.
I hope it is all fantastic! And I mean that sincerely!