Jul 17, 2023
“The Hat,” by Jane Shore
By Jane Shore Read by the author. Aunt Roz lived above her means.Her one Abyssinian and three Siamesedined on calves’ liver delivered dailyfrom the fancy butcher, not the A. & P. Her pastel
By Jane Shore
Read by the author.
Aunt Roz lived above her means.Her one Abyssinian and three Siamesedined on calves’ liver delivered dailyfrom the fancy butcher, not the A. & P.
Her pastel triple-milled French soaps,packaged like eggs, a dozen to a box—fragrant tuberose, lily of the valley—were superior to my mom’s plebeian Ivory.
She worshipped culture, dissing herN.J. barbarian sister, my mother, too busyworking in our dress store to groom mein the arts. Roz got tickets for Price’s
“Aida” and the original “West Side Story.”She wangled box seats for us to hoverabove Arthur Rubinstein’s right shoulder.She got me Maria Tallchief’s autograph.
“Artistic” but no artist, Roz livedla vie bohème, in her rent-controlledstudio apartment a block from N.Y.U.,as if it were a garret in Montparnasse.
Bookkeeper with a high-school G.E.D.,she fancied herself an intellectual.Exclamation points stabbed the marginsof her Camus’s “Stranger” and Paul Valéry.
Raped at thirteen was a storyno one ever talked about. She grew upgorgeous, had a fling with fledglingtummler Danny Kaye in the Catskills
hotel-resort her first husband owned.No one’s left to ask about husband No. 2.Saturdays, she fetched me from balletat the Metropolitan Opera House.
We lunched at Lindy’s, then busedto the bottom of Fifth Avenue.Holding hands, we skipped throughthe streets of Greenwich Village
singing, and everybody smiled at me.At dusk, Roz unrolled the trundle bed.She baked fresh popovers for breakfast.She set up easels, oils, and canvases,
a still-life of pears on her coffee table,and we painted all Sunday afternoon,alternating between the stylesof Modigliani and Renoir.
My love for her was unabashed.My parents tolerated our weekly trystbut disapproved of Roz’s extravagancewhile on the dole through family loans.
Unemployed, she gained a hundred poundsand traded the mind for the body.Penguins morphed to Harlequins ferriedby the bushel to and from the Strand.
I visited her until I started college.Prowling Eighth Street for beatnik sandalsand handwrought jewelry, I bypassedher address. I had aunt fatigue.
She wore me out. She embarrassed me.I blamed my absences on an allergy to cats,her cats, who, one by one, succumbedbefore Aunt Roz died in a nursing home
when I was forty. Her aqua Le Creusets,her beat-up ebony coffee table, her flaconsof Cabochard all came to me.Custom-made dresses from Bendel’s.
Her still fabulous costume jewelry.No one in the family wanted them.And, just today, I came across her hathibernating in its Bonwit Teller box
(itself a collectible, nosegays of violetsfloating on white ground) that’s beenlost in my closet for some thirty years.Genuine red fox, “Zhivago” style, luxurious,
silky, and perfectly preserved,the crown still stuffed with tissue paper,must have cost her three weeks’ pay.Purchased, the sweatband’s label reads,
in the Oval Room at Ohrbach’s—on Thirty-fourth Street, the department storewhere you’d shop for bargains,far from Roz’s posh uptown salons.
The hat doesn’t look half bad on me.But wearing fur in public is not P.C.Luckily, my nose begins to itch,my eyes water with unsentimental tears.
Izzy, my gray tabby, sniffs the box.The crinkled tissue to his liking,he tamps it down and makes himself at home.He’s not a pedigreed Russian Blue
but a rescue adopted from a shelter,a pedestrian tomcat, according to Aunt Roz—snobby, flamboyant, ridiculous Aunt Roz—a Bonwit’s hat in an Ohrbach’s box.