No one would have predicted Edna would die like that, not with a bang, not even with a whimper. She merely dropped to the floor of the kitchen and was dead. Suddenly. With no warning. No sighs or signs. It was a force majeure. A catastrophe.

She was 56 years old.

Of course Edna had never done anything in slow motion, so maybe her method of dying was to be expected after all. She was always fast, always running, her wiry body always going full speed ahead, with no time to waste. And so was her death. No lingering last words or final thoughts. No messages to her children or husband. And certainly never an apology, since she, a near-perfect rendition of womanhood, had nothing to apologize for. She was intrinsically good, always on call to quietly and efficiently help those she cared about.

Thus, Zayda, her father, moved in with Edna and Abe when it was clear that living alone was no longer an option for him. He was their houseguest for innumerable years, hardly ever interfering with their lives, but a constant presence.

And while taking care of Zayda, plus her sons and husband, her sister, the tragic Irene, also needed help with the fuss and torture of an agonizing death. Edna never turned anyone down, and that was not the time to start.

Edna was my father’s slightly older sister. She was an indomitable force. She was the glue in the family, the caretaker, the manager. I imagine she was born into that role. Certainly she was born for that role. It was Edna, of course, who started the Family Circle, a group that kept the family together for many years with regular meetings, replete with Watson’s famous bagels, purchased fresh on Sunday morning from the shop on Clinton Place, around the corner, and lox and herring, coupled with the divine fragrance of freshly perked coffee, little danish, and, for entertainment, a large, rousing, low-stakes poker game, with all the grownups betting away their fortunes in nickels and dimes. We kids would run around with our cousins, and the smallish apartment always had room for everyone. No one dared not to come. Anyway, everyone always wanted to come; coercion was not needed.

All the meetings were held at Edna and Abe’s. I never questioned why, but it just seemed natural. The so-called old business was quickly dispensed with. There never was any, and there never was any new business either. I don’t know how other families conducted their family circles, but ours was, to say the least, informal. There were always minutes and they always reported that the meeting commenced at such and such time, and concluded five minutes later. They were read by the Recording Secretary with great probity and approved by all those present.

When Irene, the eldest of the sisters, died, so did the family circle. Irene’s death traumatized the family. She was a mere 48, and Zayda, her father, was still alive for the unendurable. He died shortly after.

Before her merciful death, Irene lingered and suffered in the little room nearest to Edna and Abe’s bedroom. That gave Edna easy access to her sister who had one remaining goal in her own life, to survive until her only child’s wedding. She had already purchased a bright red dress for the event. Red was her color, with her flashing spirited eyes and jet black hair. She was the most beautiful of the sisters.

She did not make it to the wedding, despite Edna’s gallant attempts to prolong the inevitable.

Nothing was ever too much for Edna. And so it was that when I was ready to take my road test for my driver’s license on my 17th birthday, it was Edna I called upon to escort me to Elizabeth’s testing station. My own mother didn’t drive, so she didn’t qualify for this important (to me!) job. Dad was too busy working to do it. And I knew that Edna had a license, acquired in middle age but never used. I asked her if she would do it and she agreed. So at 6 one morning there we were, driving together for a test I should have passed easily. I did not!

That meant another test and another early wake-up for Edna. And another failure for me. Once again I did not pass.

By the third try I was very humble when I asked her to rise at 5 and accompany me. Once again she agreed, once again with equanimity, a characteristic that I was rapidly losing. But I passed, finally, never forgetting our early early morning appointments and her non-complaining, always supportive demeanor. I was a loser! My aunt was a winner!

Since we lived in the same four-family house on Aldine Street, there always was someone home for us kids after school. Often it was Edna. We would always use the back door, which was never locked, and feel entirely comfortable entering Edna’s apartment if our mom wasn’t home. No need to knock or ask for a snack.

Outside the family, Edna busied herself with Hadassah. She was the committed, hardworking president of the Henrietta Szold chapter of Newark Hadassah, a role she excelled at, spending endless time working at raising awareness and money for the nascent state of Israel. Sadly, her dream of feet on the ground was never fulfilled. Her death in 1961 was before travel to Israel had become so commonplace.

Edna was a wiry woman with curly hair. She was thin and perpetually in motion. A whirlwind describes her perfectly. She was not into makeup and would not have known what to do with mascara or even lipstick. And fancy clothes were not her thing. Being busy was! I rarely remember her just sitting. But during the summers she was known to indulge herself with her adored aluminum sun reflector. She would pull up a beach chair in the backyard and enjoy baking in the sun until she was thoroughly burned.

That was not her only unhealthy habit. She was a fierce smoker, never far from her Pall Mall cigarettes. I suspect that her early death may have been more attributable to her smoking than her sunbathing. She knew the cigarette habit was harmful but she was unable to stop. She and Abe and their two sons were all serious smokers.

The most delightful memory I have of Edna took place for years at 8 p.m. on Tuesday nights, when our entire household, all four apartments, migrated over to Edna and Abe’s to watch the Milton Berle show. Undoubtedly every American Jewish home that was blessed with a television was doing the same thing. The lights were dimmed, except for the black pottery panther resting atop the 12 inch television, and we were entertained by the antics of Uncle Milty and his guests. Those were the days of ribald slapstick humor. Milty hardly ever escaped without something wet or powdery thrown at his face. We would all laugh until it hurt, and remember to return to Edna’s the following week.

As with everything Edna did, she died a bit too fast. There was no chance to tell her how much I loved her. No time for a farewell at all.

Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of five. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was! She welcomes email at rosanne.skopp@gmail.com.

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