I was 7 years old, at a holiday gathering at my grandparents’ house. The phone was being passed around to talk to Aunt Buddy, my grandmother’s sister. Someone passed the phone to me –
“Here, talk to Aunt Buddy.”
Me: “Hi Aunt Buddy, how are you?”
Aunt Buddy: “I’m dying.”
Me to the people in the room: “Aunt Buddy’s DYING!”
Aunt Fran: “Oh, Aunt Buddy’s been dying for years.”
Dear old Aunt Buddy was quite a character. She lived in a dilapidated, but once exclusive apartment in the Bronx. We all reluctantly visited her there, not only because of the horrifying and huge cockroaches, but because the neighborhood was so scary. She always had a mean little dog on her lap. I remember a toy poodle named Shoo-Shoo who drank coffee, and then a Boston Terrier named Nikki (after my sister! She hated that!) who peed inside (thus the cockroaches).
Here are some stories my family told about her:
- Aunt Buddy was a friend of Dutch Schultz in the roaring ‘20s. She even caught a bullet in her hand. When I was young, I thought this meant that she caught it and held it, not that she got shot.
- Aunt Buddy was the oldest living ex-junky.
- Aunt Buddy was married 5 times, but twice to Uncle Danny. He was her 3rd and 5th husband.
- Uncle Danny was my mother’s favorite uncle. He would get her illegally small lobsters at fancy restaurants when she was a child.
- Uncle Danny Sickles was the son (grandson?) of famous Civil War General Daniel Sickles, whose leg is in the National Museum of Health and Medicine near DC. My parents took us to see it. My mother exclaimed, “There it is! Uncle Danny’s leg!”
A good 10 years after my phone conversation, Aunt Buddy was moved to a nursing home in Brooklyn. She would yell at her roommates and be uncooperative with the nurses. A few years after that, my mother was reading the newspaper and came upon an article about therapy dogs brought into nursing homes and their effect on the residents. She quoted it to me over the phone (I will paraphrase): “Cantankerous old woman Rosebud Sickles’s whole demeanor changed when around the dogs.” Rosebud Sickles! That’s Aunt Buddy!
She clipped the article; I wish I had it now.