200. Iris, 6 months later.

The following is a letter that Alexandra, Iris’ granddaughter sent to the family.

November, 2007

Dear family,

I hope you are all doing well. I wanted to write everybody because December 3rd marks 6 months since Grandma passed away, and I would like to do something in her memory. What I thought of, since she would never want everyone getting together to do something sad and sentimental, is for everyone to share a memory of her. If you reply to this email and hit ‘Reply All’, we can all just kind of share some thoughts of her and all be thinking of her at this time. It would mean a lot to me to hear these stories and have them for the future. Something happy preferably, that captures her character and spirit. I love you all and am thinking of you.




If I were to name Iris’ most endearing trait, it was that though she didn’t love or even like a lot of people, those she did love knew they were loved. We never doubted it for a minute, even if she called us stupid girl or didn’t let us visit when we were ONE BLOCK AWAY FROM HER HOUSE. I knew she had “issues” but she loved me.

In fact I frequently told her that I was so proud that she was my best friend and let me into her inner circle. It was like being friends with a cobra.


Okay, here goes. I was at Mattie’s apartment where Iris was staying –convalescing from somthing –and we three were playing cards and talking about how Iris didn’t have any of the scatalogical humor that the rest of us did. A little while into the game she excused herself and went to the bathroom. When she came out, she was laughing so hard she couldn’t talk and it was was because she wanted to tell us something…. She had made a doody in the shape of a question mark.

Thank you.


It was kind of odd for me to read Mattie’s depiction of grandma Iris; as someone who didn’t like many people but loved a few deeply. Grandma had said this to me a couple times, but it hits me somewhat more being said by another person. I never had the opportunity to see her from that perspective. I was lucky enough to be born into that inner circle.

What I thought about most six months ago, and to this day, along with her humor (because it appears you could fill endless books with stories, and I love telling them to others), was how she acted toward those she loved. That is, that she would put making others happy before herself in a indescribable way. I can think of her playing Monopoly with me for hours when I was younger because it was my favorite game. She would make sure to let me win every time because it would make me happy. It’s difficult to really emphasize this without being able to show how much she would play with me, over and over and over, even as she was undoubtedly tired and bored of playing a game for hours that she would purposely lose.

I also think of a book I would ask her to read whenever she would visit. It was an incredibly depressing short story of zookeepers trying to put an old elephant to sleep because it was sick, and not being able. They kept trying different methods to euthanize the elephant. I’m not sure why I enjoyed the book so much, other than I was a ten year old boy. Each time grandma Iris read me this story she would break into tears halfway through, but continue until the end. She did this because I wanted to hear the story, even though it made her incredibly sad to read it. Nobody else was willing to read me this story, and with good cause. Yet, she read it to me each time I saw her, for many months, each time breaking into tears.

There are so many more stories that cross my mind, which I’ll leave for another time. I just continue to be amazed that any person could so completely disregard themselves to make someone they love just a little happier.

Its selflessness beyond anything I’ve seen, and I really hold it as an ideal for me to act the way she always would. I know that’s not as lighthearted as other stories, and grandma certainly was funny, but I just want to add something more about her. She would hate letting another person lift a finger for her, but she would do anything for them. I could see how frustrating it would be for my mom and others when she wouldn’t let them help, especially when grandma would do anything for them.


Zachary’s story reminds me of a little story that Iris told me about him.

He was spending the day with her and they went to the veteran’s hall down the street for some kind of function. I don’t have the details of it, just what she told me.

She was entering some kind of contest and when she went up in front of everyone she said to Zach, “Be sure to clap for me.”

The whole time she was up there she said she looked back at him and he was very serious and applauding wildly. She said she felt such a rush of love for him.

I have to admit that whenever I think of Zach I think of that very little boy applauding wildly.

See, Zach, we made her happy too.


Stephanie said I did my story wrong so I’m going to try again.

When I first got married I was having a big dinner party. I called my sister and asked her how to make a turkey.

The next day my doorman said that my sister was in front of my house in her car and she wanted me to come down.

She handed me a fully cooked turkey and a ham.


My story is very painful for me to tell as I am going to have to relive my “awkward” teenage years …  as you already know, Mattie used to taunt and tease me about my Casper the Ghost-like features and mom dressed me in kelly green and bright orange Danskins (because they did not have to be ironed and because nobody on this planet bought those colors, they were greatly discounted).  Also I wore glasses that were too big for my face, which instead of a family member confiding in me about, I had to hear it from a stranger. Suffice it to say, I did not have a very good self image.

I had a terrible crush on a boy in high school that I wasn’t even on friendly terms with.  OK, he didn’t know I existed.  Mom would always sit in the kitchen with me after school and give me fattening cake (another way to help improve my image) and talk to me about my day so I told her about this boy.  She asked why I didn’t ask him out and I said I couldn’t possibly, I could not just call him out of the blue.  Mom acted disgusted with me and asked what’s the worst thing that could happen?  He would say no?  I couldn’t figure out if she was giving me good advice or bad and sat there hesitating. Finally she said, “Do you want me to call for you, for Christ’s sake?”  I said ok …

Well, she gets on the phone and asks for Jerry Brophy.  And says, “This is

Stephanie Egener.  Would you like to go to the movies with ME AND THE KIDS?”

Just like a mom would say.  ME AND THE KIDS.  When Jerry asked who were the

kids, my mom could not even think of my friend’s names, so she said “Guess.”

Like she was being coy.  Well, he put the phone on hold for what seemed like

eternity and when he came back on he said that he had to babysit – sorry.

So, anytime I saw him in the hallway I would try to slink by looking down at my schoolbooks pretending to read.  He never said anything to me for the entire school year but every now and then I would see him looking at me from the corner of his eye wondering what kind of mutant I was.

I guess this isn’t a very loving memory of mom but it sure as hell is a powerful one.


“…as you already know, Mattie used to taunt and tease me about my Casper the Ghost-like features…”

I have to defend myself on this. It wasn’t just me. Your mother was in on it. True I’m the one who pointed it out. Steph was wearing a Caspar mask and when she took it off she looked EXACTLY the same. We kept having her put it on and take it off. We were screaming with laughter. Iris and I thought it was alright because Steph was really (we thought) too young to know we were laughing at her.


Caspar isn’t unattractive.


Well, I have one story from when I was little.  I was in kindergarten and we were all checked for head lice, because there was apparently an epidemic.  Lo and behold!  I had ’em.  Well, grandma pearly bought the stuff to get rid of it, but she was too busy playing cards, so my big sister Iris applied the shmink and then combed it through with a fine comb.  She just took care of me.  In fact, when I started school, she was the one to bring me into my class and tell me she was in the fourth grade if I needed anything.  She was a very good big sister.


What a wonderful idea Alexandra!

When Max was born Iris came out to Oregon to see the little guy and to help me, Barry & Evan.

She was always so generous with her support and treating the “grandchildren” to Toys-R-Us, yummies, etc.  She decided to take Evan to get a new toy at toys-r-us and she insisted on driving there with Evan so I could have a nap or whatever.  I gave her directions to the store, but forgot to give her directions to get back home.  She called from the store and let me know that is a good way to get rid of “my mother-in-law and my son.”


When Mom and I went to Holland, she ordered marijuana off the menu “thinking” it was tea, while I checked my email at an Internet cafe. She was very upset to find out that I cancelled her order. She would have been happy to smoke so early in the morning. She loved the sex museum and the torture museum. She wanted to spend more time in the Red Light District, and she wanted to visit several sex shops. Your grandma was a drug addict and sex maniac. That’s all I have to say….Ran


I have another one.  When Iris and Phyllis were teenagers they shared a bedroom.  One morning, quite early, they were having a fight: “I’m prettier,”  “No, I’m prettier.”  It went on for quite some time, until Grandpa came tearing into their bedroom with his hair standing on end, and yelled SHADDUP!

Those were the good old days.


Mom was the prettiest. Sorry Lenes’s


We all (the sisters) had very defined personnas.

Iris was the smart one.

Phyllis was the pretty one.

Marcia was the sweet one.

And I was a happy combination of all of the above.

Case closed.




In our family….

Barry was the smart one

I was the crazy one

Steph was the evil one

Laura was the good one

I don’t know how my kids “slot” each other, but I would say….

Alexandra is the loving one

Jessie is the adventurous one

Zach is the smart one

Sorry, but I have to say that my mom was MUCH prettier than Phyllis. And she also had all the brains, though she couldn’t play cards for shit. I was always stuck as her partner in spades, and it was painful. She had NO card sense at all, but she could play a mean game of Scrabble (though she still lost to me because I memorized all the 2 and 3 letter words, and she didn’t)….Ran


I haven’t had a chance yet to share on here, and I’m so happy that so many people are taking part. One story I love:

Grandma Pearl apparently bought each of her daughters a vibrator.

Grandma didn’t know what it was for, so she put it against her face, since she thought maybe the vibrations were good for your skin…

One thing I want to do with my children someday: Grandma would fill a garbage bag with air popped popcorn and we’d bring it to the beach and feed the seagulls. It is amazing to a child to be surrounded by tons of seagulls and be able to beckon them with popcorn from a garbage bag. And then we’d pop another bag to bring to the movies the next day, because we are NOT spending 4 dollars on popcorn!


I remember the vibrator story.  Grandma Pearly would go to a wholesale drug place in the Bronx, before all the drug outlets we have now.  She would buy four of everything, one for each of us.  The vibrators came in colors.  Mine was blue.  Noone ever mentioned the vibrator’s use to her.  She would have plotzed!


I just wanted to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. It had been hard for me to think about having Thanksgiving without Grandma there, but I made her sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top, and my mom made the green glob, and I know I was thinking of her, so it felt to me like she was there in spirit. If anyone still has anything they’d like to share, I’d love to hear it.

199. Iris

My sister Iris was Stephanie’s mother and very much like her

She wasn’t affectionate. Any time I kissed her other than hello or good bye I had to do it with her trying to push me away. In spite of this I never felt more loved by anyone in my life.

She didn’t like visitors. I think mainly because she had very high standards of being a hostess and hated to be caught without her house in tip top shape and  more food than anyone could possibly eat and also because she just liked to be alone.

It was a family joke but true that Iris would set the table days before having company so as not to be caught short. No surprise that on occasion the dishes would have a light coat of dust on them if she prepared a little too early.

One time her husband Bernie brought home a friend without warning her and called Iris from upstairs to come down and say hello.

She did, but when he left she told Bernie if he ever did that again she would not only not come down but she would put on some loud music and dance in front of the window so they’d know she was home.

A few years ago dave and I and our close friends Carmon and Kathy went to Canada for the weekend. On the way home we would be stopping near York, Maine for the night. Iris and her husband lived in York.

When I got close I called Iris and said we’d stop by and say hello. I knew she’d hate it but I’d be practically passing her house. How could I not see her?

“Nah” she said “I’ll be in the City in a few days and I’ll see you then.”.

“Iris, I’ll be a block away. I can leave everyone at the hotel and come alone”

“That would be too awkward. Someone would want to come with you. I’ll see you in a few days”

Since they all knew Iris, everyone laughed. Carmon suggested just to torture her we should drive over to her house and start unloading our bags.

One time my friend Susan’s husband Allan was playing drums for Maureen McGovern in York and he offered to give Iris free tickets to the show.

After checking with her I had to tell him she’d love them but only if she didn’t have to talk to him or go backstage or anything like that.

“Perfect” he said.

Still at the end of the concert he had the bandleader give a shoutout to her from the stage.

She and I once had a bet about which of us could get our husbands to do more outrageous things. We started easy. Without any prompting could I get dave to kiss me before she could get Bernie to kiss her?

I was very sure of myself then and dave is affectionate. I reached across him to get something on the table and he leaned over and kissed my arm.

Iris reached towards Bernie and he winced.

In the end she won though. The next week was Thanksgiving and it was at my house. When I opened the door, Bernie was standing there, holding a platter of food wearing bright red lipstick.

She was the KING.

She was 11 years older than me. In spite of that I was her best friend. Even when I was little. In fact I was 9 years old and my two friends, Beverly and Pat, stopped talking to me so I had no one to eat lunch with.

Iris was 7 months pregnant and every day at lunchtime she’d meet me at the luncheonette and sit at the counter and have lunch with me until I made up with my friends.

Iris died at a relatively young age but no one lived more fully than she did.

She had high blood pressure and a bad heart but she wanted to see the world. When I begged her not to go to China a few years ago she said  ” Mattie, if I die on this trip don’t feel bad. I’m doing what I want to do”.

Except for the fierce way she loved her family she couldn’t be less like me but a day doesn’t pass that I don’t miss her.

198. I may have forgotten to tell you something.

Last night for a few minutes I had a flash of something I haven’t felt in a long time. I felt homesick. I think it was for dave. I pushed it away real fast and wondered where it came from. I started thinking about our past.

Did I tell you that dave was married before? I guess not.

I met dave in 1966 on a student tour of Europe. He was the leader of the band that played on the ship over and back.

I didn’t date him. I was way more interested in the drummer.

Dave and I did become fast friends.
 We spent the whole trip laughing.

When we landed in Europe he and the rest of the band would be there waiting when my tour group arrived at certain cities and I spent my time with them rather than my tour group.

After the trip dave and I kept in touch.

In 1970 he started working for James Brown as his arranger and bandleader.

He never came to New York without seeing me. In fact when he moved to New York with his first wife they lived with me until they found an apartment.

dave and I were not at all romantic with each other. In fact once when he was  leaving for Europe and had some time to kill, I picked him up and brought him to my boyfriend Jerry’s house because it was near Kennedy airport.

Still when he called me and told me he had gotten married I felt a twinge.

I can’t say I really liked Weezie, his wife, not for any real reason but I found it annoying that she was the only one to keep in touch with me.

Now I see that it was completely natural. Who wants their husband calling a close woman friend? Of course she would be the one to keep in touch but I felt that he was my friend not her and I resented having to talk to her.

We eventually lost touch.

I didn’t hear from dave for a few years until I got a call from him out of the blue.

It seems that Weezie had left him and he was pretty sad. We saw each other a few times after that but again lost touch.

About a year later he called me and we started our friendship again.

He said he had been dating. He had tried hookers but it was too lonely. He said he wanted someone he could kiss.

We kept seeing each other strictly as friends when one day in conversation I asked him how he acted on a date he said “Pretty much the way I’m acting now”

Then he let me know that he wanted to change our relationship.

I didn’t know what to say.

He told me that he would wait to hear from me but if I called him it would be because I was willing to enter into a relationship with him.

A week or two passed and I called him.  I made excuses to myself that I was just calling to see him as a friend.

We went out that night and he never left again. That is until a year ago.

197. I think for dinner tonight I’ll have macaroni and cheese with no macaroni and no cheese

I was packing a bag of clothes and stuff for David to bring down to Liz.

She’s still in Santa Fe spending time with her father.

She was saying that she wished that she could have Rupert with her but we both knew that sending him down with David wasn’t an option.

First of all when it was even mentioned, David said something about hoping that Rupert wouldn’t mind traveling in the unpressurized underbelly of the plane.

Even if we could talk him into taking Rupert in the cabin with him Rupert would hate to be that close to David without the ability to bite him on the ankles.

Liz says she can’t imagine that she’ll be coming back for at least 3 weeks and even then it will only be for a few days.

She said unless I would miss him too much she would take him back then.

Sure I would miss him but the craziness in me would be much happier if he was gone. I’m the kind of loony that lets another person’s dog tie me down.

I hate to leave him alone. I plan my outings so that I don’t leave him more than once a day, mainly because I can’t bear to see him flatten himself against the wall in grief .

That’s why if I ever got another dog of my own it would have to be so small that I could hide it in my pocketbook.(that’s an old lady term like beauty parlor)

Today is the beginning of the holiday weekend. So far no luck at renting my Montauk house.

I was going to go up to Stephanie’s today but it was too rainy this morning. Naturally it’s lovely out now.

I decided to get back into my swimming routine. I went to the pool. The naked lady was there drying her hooch and all was right with the world.

It felt so good to swim again that I went to the health food store on my way home and  picked up a sandwich for lunch. If you’re wondering what kind you’re out of luck. I have no idea.

The label tells you what it isn’t but not a word about what it is.

It’s eggless and sugarless and gluten free, I’m assuming lion free and shoe free.

Oh yeah and taste free.

196. She was loved.

At a Jewish burial the loved ones of the departed throw a handful of dirt onto the coffin. It’s referred to as a mitzvah, or good luck. The mitzvah is on the one throwing the dirt because they are helping to bury the person they love with no possibility of having the favor returned.

Mitzvahs come in all forms.

My darling Liz went to Santa Fe to hold her mother in her arms and help her die.

It’s almost impossible to describe Nan Rees, Liz’s mother.

She was beautiful. She was a Ford model when she was young and probably could have been until the day she died..

She  was more than a pretty face though. She was a generous spirit

She and her husband, Dr Thomas Rees, co-found and worked tirelessly for the Flying Doctors of East Africa, a division of what is now the African Medical Research and Education Foundation (AMREF), which is based in Nairobi, Kenya, and which is the largest NGO in healthcare and development in Sub-Saharan Africa.

These are facts about Nan. She lived an important life.

Now let me tell you about the Nan that I knew.

She was the most alive woman I ever met. She was funny and quick thinking and didn’t suffer fools kindly.

If she had an opinion that she left unsaid I can’t imagine what that would be.

She loved animals and was fiercely protective of her family.

She thought, no knew, that her husband walked on water.

And her daughter is her legacy.

Tom and Nan raised a daughter who is beautiful, generous, smart and brave. She is everything I’d want a child of mine to be.

Practically the last words Nan heard from Liz were “Thank you”.

What a mother. What a kid.

195. Mount Everest can kiss my ass

Let me tell you about my nephew Brian, one of the gifted Klams.

He’s amazingly creative and funny and generous. He’s got a zillion awards for writing, Clios, Andys, the London Internationals, the International Radio Festival of NY, National Addys and more.
He’s a wonderful son and brother and nephew. He’s a great husband and a fabulous father.

But he’s a worrier. I always say to him “You’re one of the lucky ones” and he knows it in his head yet he just worries.
If he could see his glass as half full he would be perfect.

Many years ago when I submitted an article to Sail magazine and they asked for some changes, I was totally at sea (pun intended) Brian is the one I called. He went over my article showed me how to improve it and I sent it in and received $125 for it. I still have a copy of the check.

As I might have mentioned, I have an agent so obviously my goal is to get published.

Brian and I were talking and he mentioned that the beginning of my story has a lot of drama in it. Now it’s just me moving through my life and though he likes how I write about it there is no conclusion, no finale.

For example if I re-married or if I did something that I couldn’t do because of dave that would be good.

If I always wanted to climb Mount Everest and now I can do it or something like that it would be a better story.

At first the conversation depressed me. My life isn’t like that. There is no Mount Everest. I used to say if I won the lottery I would use the money to secure the life I have, not change it.

But my life changed and there was no lottery in sight to bring my husband back and make me financially secure and feeling that there was someone to take care of me.

Then I started thinking.

I have a plenty of Mount Everests in my every day life.

Although at first I was devastated and wanted to crawl up in a ball and cry, with hard work I got past that to a kind of peace, even excitement.

I wake up when I want and do what I want to do without having to think, does dave need anything? My day was wrapped around him. He woke up at noon and usually went to the office at around 2.
Any plans I made had to be before that period of time or after it.

I never, and I mean never made dinner plans with a friend without knowing that dave was occupied. Since he rarely did anything without me (except date, that is), if I made plans with friends, dave came along.

I bought his clothes, I cut his meat and his hair, I watched the TV shows he liked, I kept in contact with his family.

Any creativity I had was directed towards his career. And I was happy about that. If he prospered, I prospered.

The more I think of it, the Everests were things I don’t have to do. I don’t have to go on that fucking boat and I don’t have to live through him.

Every single thing I do is to move me forward, no one else.

Believe me that’s harder than climbing a mountain will ever be.

194. People are always trying to make me stretch myself. That’s a good way to get an exploding brain.

Today my agent, Lisa, asked me to read 2 snooty books.

She clearly doesn’t know what every other person in my family knows. That I only read dumb people’s books and only watch dumb movies and tv shows.

There is no reality show that I don’t adore.

I know things about the personal lives of celebrities that would stun and amaze folks that waste their time watching CNN.

I used to go to a video store owned by Iranian Jews.
When they’d recommend a movie I’d say, “Does it have a happy ending? Cause if not I ain’t interested.”.

They knew my taste so well that once when I went in there with Julie to pick up a movie, much to Julie’s shame, the guy held up a video and said “You’ll like this. It’s stupid”

My sister Iris couldn’t stand this about me. She’d say “You’re so smart, how can you read such shit”.

Well clearly I’m not that smart and I use my brains for more important things like, well I can’t think of anything important right now but I’m sure there’s something that needs thinking about and I’ll do it when I get a chance.

193. Happy Mother’s Day Sucka!

I looked at the caller ID on my phone at about 9 am this morning.
It said “Bahamas”.

My first reaction was happy. Captain Hugh is okay.

But then I thought, he’s calling for money. He’s going to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day and tell me how bad he’s doing and I’ll have to send him money.

Christmas or Easter or even New Years is one thing but Mother’s Day? I”m not his mother, in fact I’m not a mother at all.

And I don’t remember the last time I bought myself something. In fact I owe money for the first time in years. I can’t be giving money out.

I let the phone ring and didn’t answer it.

I went on with my day but I have to admit it just didn’t sit right with me.

David went to the gym today and fell in the shower and injured his foot.
He soldiered it out and hopped home.

I kept asking him why he didn’t lie there screaming for help (the image really tickled me) but he wouldn’t answer.

I very kindly offered to feel his foot and check it for broken bones but he said something about hitting me on the head with a beer bottle if I touched him so I let him be.

I heard my phone ringing so I went back to answer it. The caller ID said “Bahamas”

“Hi, Captain, good to hear from you. Happy Mother’s Day to you too”

192. Two Jews walk into a Harley-Davidson store…..

Remember I said that Stephanie bought her husband,Terry, a surprise for their anniversary?

It was a motorcycle.

He was so happy and excited and surprised because as Julie says, “You know how he irritates her when he’s too happy”.

Anyway I went to her house yesterday and except for one brief down moment when she closed the car window on my arm it was a perfect day.

I can’t mention the arm thing without saying that she refused to apologize because she said it was totally my fault. I should have said “Stop closing the window” instead of “Ow ow ow ow ow.”

Back to our day. We went to buy her a helmet so she could ride behind Terry on the cycle.

We thought we’d go into the Harley-Davidson store and say “One helmet please” and be on our way.

Much to our surprise they had a bunch of different styles.

First she tried on the full head one but it was a little claustrophobic and it kinda looked , I don’t know, big.

Then she tried on a smaller one that happened to be red and black, the exact color of Terry’s motorcycle.

I walked around her, looking at the helmet from all sides.

“The big one doesn’t cover that much more of your neck” I told her

Steph mumbled “Yeah, this one covers everything but my spinal cord”

“That’s true, but it does match both your motorcycle and your jacket and hopefully if you fall, you’ll fall on Terry.”

She started to laugh because that’s exactly how her mother, my sister, Iris, would have advised her. She, and my mother were real “Throw’em a glove” mothers (Rose, in Gypsy”).

Iris would have okayed a yarmulke with a visor if it made her look more attractive.

“Wrap it up”. she said.

Then off we went to close my arm in the car window.


We all have a shorthand image of who we are.

If at any time in my life after about the age of 6 you would have asked me my shorthand it would probably be this:
1. one of the sisters
2. a New Yorker
3 a Jew

2 and 3 might be reversed and there are many things I would include if it wasn’t shorthand but that’s pretty much my most important items.

Today I was walking on Park Avenue with Rupert in his carriage when a woman standing outside her office building smoking noticed us and smiled.
I get that reaction a lot so I smiled back.
“Can I come over and say hello to him?” she asked laughing.


She comes over, makes some small talk and as we start to walk away she leans into Rupert and says “You are so fuckin’ cute”

This probably couldn’t happen any place else in the world. I got such a feeling of joy and familiarity, a feeling of being where I’m supposed to be.