In my humble opinion

All in the family

Posted 3/16/22

Longtime readers of “In My Humble Opinion” may remember Jonathan Charles Fox’s Aunt Marcia Shuman, who lived in Binghamton, NY, and occasionally starred in his family stories.

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In my humble opinion

All in the family


Longtime readers of “In My Humble Opinion” may remember Jonathan Charles Fox’s Aunt Marcia Shuman, who lived in Binghamton, NY, and occasionally starred in his family stories.

Aunt Marcia passed away peacefully at home last week at the age of 94. Jewish funerals are traditionally not held between sundown Friday and sunset on Saturday, so Jonathan is currently in Binghamton with relatives, having already participated in hours-long Zoom meetings with Temple Israel’s Rabbi Geoffrey Brown and several members of his immediate family. They are traveling in from all over the country, making preparations for Marcia’s funeral, which is taking place now.

Jonathan visited his father’s sister frequently and they spoke often. In memory of Aunt Marcia, here is a column that tells you a bit about the colorful human being that she was. As one might expect from Jonathan’s family. This column was originally titled “You can’t go home again,” from August 19, 2020.

Well, you can physically go there, but when I looked up the meaning of that expression on the internet, my search revealed this observation: “You can’t truly go back to a place you once lived in because so much will have changed since you left that it is not the same place anymore.”

I write about my childhood a lot. In part, because I grew up in what is fondly known as “The Wonder Years” (mid-1960s to mid-1970s) and a lot of it was very, very good. A lot… but not all. My childhood was spent in Binghamton, NY, and much of it was idyllic. The Triple Cities (Binghamton, Johnson City and Endicott) are nestled among the picturesque rolling hills and valleys where the Chenango and Susquehanna rivers meet. I grew up in a large Victorian home a block from the river with a veritable gang of childhood pals, some of whom remain friends to this day. I went to school with that gang, played “kick the can” till dark on summer nights, raced out of the house to meet the “Good Humor” man (look it up!) and had plenty of relatives nearby.

I’d say we spent equal amounts of time with both sides of the family, since my mother’s parents and younger brother (good ole Uncle Sid) lived on the other side of town, as did my father’s sister (Aunt Marcia), her husband (Uncle George) and their sons, Andy and Danny, who were close in age to my sister Vicki and me. All of the grandparents are gone now, and both my parents as well. Uncle George is no longer with us, but Aunt Marcia, now 92, is very much alive, residing at Binghamton’s Riverside Towers. It’s right next door to Temple Concord, where I spent a good deal of the wonder years learning Hebrew and getting into mischief with the Rabbi’s daughter along the way.

The pandemic has been hard on all of us, including Aunt Marcia, who hasn’t left her beautiful condo much in the last few months. So when she called a few weeks ago and asked me to come for a visit, I assured her that I’d carve out some time. I drove there last weekend, Wonder Dog at my side. It’s a gorgeous trip; the stretch between Roscoe and Deposit, NY was named “America’s Most Scenic Highway” in 1967. I remember the sense of pride we all had in Broome County and beyond when that sign, now long gone, was erected roadside for all to see.

Memories from the wonder years flooded my reverie as I steered toward Binghamton that day; some were blurred images tinged with sadness, and others were almost blank as if purposely purged from the image banks of my youth. Deep in thought as the lush scenery rolled by, Dharma stuck her head out the window (don’t write!) and I breathed deeply with her as I drank in my past, hearing ghosts whisper hauntingly in my ear.

“You look amazing!” I gushed to Aunt Marcia, who was cooing excitedly over the dog first (of course), then me. We both had masks on, and as she stood in the hallway, I took in the passage of time, the walker, her perfectly coiffed hairdo, the place looking “just so” as always (always!) and realized that for the first time ever, we weren’t able to physically hug, and I didn’t get my hello kiss. I perused family photos while Aunt Marcia prepared lunch. Then we dined on the sun porch, chatting, chatting, chatting, about current affairs, the many charms of my dog, the state of the world and, of course, our shared past.

It’s kind of funny (IMHO) how the mind works—what we choose to recall and what stays buried in dark corners, rarely exposed by the light of day. Aunt Marcia is as sharp as a tack and likely has a better memory than I do, but still... we have different versions of how the past played out, and of course, she was an adult, and I a mere child.

As always, the conversation never lagged, but as she happily petted Dharma, Aunt Marcia asked me some tough questions, which led to some tough answers; a few skeletons in the closet poked their heads out yelling “Boo!” at us both. While acknowledging that, we spoke of other things as well, and when our lovely-as-always visit drew to a close, we once again couldn’t hug and I didn’t get my goodbye kiss, which felt weird. I assured Aunt Marcia I’d be back “sooner than later” and took my leave, relieved in a way that those skeletons had made an appearance, if only momentarily.

I swung past the old house, and put the pedal to the metal, surprisingly anxious to put the miles between Binghamton and the Catskills behind me, still deep in thought, happy to have spent time with my loving aunt. “We’re almost there, girl!” I squealed joyfully to the dog as the sign flashed past: “Welcome to Sullivan County,” it exclaims, sorely in need of a paint job. “I’ll make a call about that later,” I thought and headed for our exit, breathing a sigh of relief mixed with happiness, tinged with a bittersweet farewell to the past. I guess it’s true what they say: You can’t go home again. Home is where the heart is.

Footnote: Aunt Marcia’s granddaughter (my cousin Andrea, pictured at left with her partner Warren and the great-grandchildren) recently interviewed her grandmother via an online organization called “Archive Storycorps” to get clarity on family relationships and some personal commentary on a long life. “I remember the hard times and the good times, and there were plenty of those, too,” Aunt Marcia said at the beginning of the interview.

When asked what she thought her greatest accomplishments in life might have been, her response took me by surprise. “I don’t think I really accomplished too much,” she said after a moment’s hesitation. “Not really. I don’t think I ever had the desire to set the world on fire. I just wanted to be in a small town and be left alone with Grampa and the family. Of course, that made me question why I have been here at all. I just tried to be a decent person, but everyone has a different idea of what that is. No, I don’t think I had any great accomplishments. Having children is a hard job, but I don’t think of it as a great accomplishment, and who really knows what my kids think of how good a job I did with them?”  When asked if she had any regrets, her answer was (imho) somewhat evasive. “I think people know who I am and what I thought about them and the world around me. I don’t think there’s [really] anything more to say.”

Aunt Marcia Shuman, Jonathan Charles Fox, Jewish funeral, obituary, home


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