For Aunt Estelle

A couple of weeks ago my contemplative writing teacher Miriam gave us a writing prompt about our “Creative History.” It began, “Who was/were your first muse/s?”  I wrote, in part, about my “Aunt Estelle.”

Was she really my aunt? I only remember meeting her once. Up a long, narrow flight of stairs from her sister’s apartment. Her sister, I think,*  was my Aunt Betty, the ex-wife of my Great Uncle Paul.

Uncle Paul was rich, and, it seemed to me, mean. But my mother loved Uncle Paul because he was generous with her. He gave her a sweet sixteen party, and later sent us $500 every Chanukah. Plus, Mom was careful to teach me, no-one is either all good or all bad. People were scandalized when Uncle Paul left Aunt Betty for my Aunt Miriam, who had been, with her then husband, a “couples’ friend” of Paul and Betty’s for many years before the split. This was all ancient history by the time I learned about it, and I barely knew Aunt Betty, the discarded wife.

But we did visit Aunt Betty at least one time, and that was when I somehow ended up traversing the long, narrow flight of stairs up to visit “Aunt Estelle.”

As soon as she saw me – I wasn’t alone, I don’t think, some sibling or cousin came with me, but she singled me out, as if she recognized me. Or maybe it was after I’d been in her apartment for a bit, and had looked deeply at the line drawing of the tombstone, in a small frame, on her wall. 

In any case, she told me (did she take my face in her two hands? Or is that my dramatized-after-the-fact rewriting?), told me in gentle and definitive and enthusiastic tones, “You are an artist!”

It was after that visit that I wrote my first poem. I got a notebook, maybe 8 1/2 X 5″, and labeled the cover “Poems,” and began to write.

Digging out that orange, spiral-bound notebook now, I see it is 9 1/2 X 6″, and 3-subject.  I also see that I wrote on the inside of the first divider in careful print, “Nov. 28, 1978. These poems were written by Rebecca Krantz, begining [sic] in the year 1978, on     .  She was 11 ½ years old when she began.” So clearly, I had a sense that this was momentous, the beginning of something important!

The first poem, written opposite that frontispiece in a fancy cursive with extra loops on the capital letters, was The Tombstone:

The Tombstone

Rest in peace, beloved one,

Who lies beneath the grass.

With one small stone,

And a dried bouquet,

To mark the sacred place.


Rest in peace, beloved one,

For all eternity,

For your soul lives on

In all your loved one’s hearts.


Rest in peace, beloved one,

And nevermore do cry.

You’ve made your mark

Upon the world

And your soul shall never die.


*Some geneological research this morning on turns up, eventually, a census record of Betty and Estelle’s family from 1920, when Betty was five, and “Estella” was 17! They had a bunch of other siblings too. Hurray for the internet. Poignantly, MyHeritage uses a simple icon for associated death records:  a tombstone with a bouquet of flowers at its base…!

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