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Lou Charloff: Aunt Bess

Lou Charloff
August 21, 2011

by Lou Charloff

Whenever I find myself sharing family stories with new friends, I find myself saying, “Let me tell you about my Aunt Bess”. Well — let me tell you about my Aunt Bess.

Aunt Bess was a pistol and you tried very hard not to irritate her because she had a rapier-like tongue. She spoke English with a heavy Yiddish accent, which was then proper for all good Jews, but her vocabulary was extensive and accurate. I can remember only one malapropism, when she announced that she was going to tell me an interesting “anagoat.” It is, therefore, fit and proper for me to tell you two interesting “anagoats.”

At age 93, Bess finally decided to give up her apartment and move into an assisted-living facility. She was assigned to a room in which her roommate had already been settled for quite some time. The morning that Bess moved in, she was accompanied by her daughter, my cousin Jackie, who helped settle her in.

Jackie had also brought a plant as a gift, which she placed on the window sill. After they had conversed with the roommate for a while, Jackie left, promising to visit again on the following day. No sooner had the door closed than the roommate said firmly, “Take your plant off my window sill.”

She then went on to declare, quite fiercely, that since her bed was on the side of the room closest to the window, the sill was her property, and she repeated her demand that Aunt Bess remove her plant. My aunt did so, putting the plant on her dresser. Oddly, she didn’t say a word, and they sat there, reading...

Until the twelve o’clock bell sounded for lunch. The roommate adjusted her sweater and headed for the door. Aunt Bess said quietly, “That will be fifty cents, please.” The other lady said quite loudly, “How?” Aunt Bess said, “Your bed is near the window and it belongs to you, right? Well, my bed is near the door and it belongs to me. Whenever you go through that door, you have to pay me fifty cents.”

The plant was put back on the window sill, which they shared from then on, and the two ladies became quite good friends.

None of us was greatly surprised when, within four months, Aunt Bess was elected chairlady of the residents’ committee. Now, the facility strove to provide some form of entertainment every afternoon: a film, a singer, a guest speaker or, if all else failed, bingo.

One particular day, they had a man there, lecturing about his trip along the Danube River. Halfway through his talk, Aunt Bess stood up and headed for the door. Not knowing my aunt, the speaker did what everybody in our family would never have done: He said to her, “Why are you leaving, Ma’am?”

There was no trace of friendliness in her voice as she replied, “Just because we are old, that doesn’t mean that we are senile. You have no business, young man, coming here and talking to us as if we were children. I’ll have you know that when I was your age, I, too, spoke before audiences and I didn’t know what I was talking about either!”

None of us knows if the man ever finished his lecture, because, at that point, Aunt Bess left. All we know is that he never came back.

Lou Charloff turned 90 this week (happy birthday, Lou!) and is featured in Old Jews Telling Jokes, both the website and the book.