Jennifer Danny | Lessons About Life from My Aunt Charlotte

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary

My Aunt Charlotte would have celebrated her 92nd birthday last month. She passed away in 2009. She had ovarian cancer.  

This is a story about life, love, parenting, grandparenting, and ultimately succumbing to a terminal illness.  

Charlotte was my dad’s older sister; she was nearly 10 years older than him. She married the love of her life, had two daughters, and after a while settled down in an area called Rosedale, a part of Queens in New York. 

Back in those days, circa the mid-1960s, it was not uncommon for people to buy a “mother-daughter” house. My grandfather had died of lung cancer in 1964, leaving my grandmother a widow. 

Instead of having my grandmother live on her own, though she was certainly capable of caring for herself, they decided upon the “mother-daughter house.” It was a triplex, the ground level being the entrance with a den area. The second floor held the living room, dining room and the kitchen. The third floor had the three bedrooms. My aunt and uncle had their room, my two cousins shared a room and my grandmother had the master bedroom, replete with a luxurious master bathroom. 

I remember as a young girl having sleepovers with my cousins. We’d share the couch that turned into a sleeper sofa in the den and watch TV until my aunt would say: “Girls, it’s getting late, please turn off the television and go to sleep.” 

My cousin Steffi would rock herself to sleep singing the song, “Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match” from “Fiddler On The Roof.”   

In the early-1970s we moved to California. By now my cousins were older, one was married, one was dating her future fiancé and when I would fly to visit my relatives, I was cherished and loved by them. Aunt Charlotte would let me drink coffee and allowed me to eat cold Chinese food from the night before without having to warm it up.  My Grammy would let me sleep in her bed and watch Johnny Carson, without nary a care that it was nearly midnight. Grammy never learned how to drive a car, so when we would do things we’d take the bus into the city. Grammy had a kind of bouffant hairdo, and she would get her hair done once a week. She’d sleep with a hair net and always used a satin pillowcase so her hair would be fine in the morning.   

Grammy passed away when I was in high school. Charlotte’s husband, my uncle, died when I was just out of college. Charlotte ended up in another mother-daughter house with Steffi, her husband, and the newest member, their daughter, which made Aunt Charlotte a grandmother.  

After I had married, and my children were older, Aunt Charlotte and I had a friendship that was more like peer level; after all, I was now in my 40’s, and she would laugh at my stories and say, “You’re crazy Jen!” One year she and my aunt by marriage, Selma, came to visit. Selma was a very regal and wealthy lady and I remember they stayed at the one of the hotels by The Old Road. One morning we went to get our coffee, then we went shopping and it just so happened it was my birthday. At that time I was writing for The Signal under the byline, The AJenda, and in the news area under “birthdays” it mentioned my name. I think Aunt Selma was rather impressed, and I downplayed it, saying it’s because I have a column. She didn’t buy that; I think she thought I was rather important. Remember, she was from New York, and in her mind it was New York Times-esque to have your birthday mentioned.  

On one of the nights Charlotte had a strange feeling. She told me the next day that her sleep had been interrupted and she felt like someone was in the hotel room. I downplayed it, telling her some story that had been handed down for years that the spirit probably had been lost in time and unable to understand that that area had been developed. She needed to let it know it was OK to go. Again, she said, “Jen, you’re crazy!” 

I giggled and said, “Maybe, but there’s a lot of tales about this area that have been shared through the years. Check out the bent branches of many of the oak trees. I was told years ago that it was how the Chumash Indians could show the way to go, like a map of sorts.” I told her I’ve never really researched that in depth, but from what I did read the bent branches were “tree markers.” It seemed like such a beautiful story that it just stayed with me over the years. 

In early 2009 Aunt Charlotte was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. My dad and his wife brought her to live with them as she went through chemotherapy, and ultimately, hospice. She was here for a few months and, on the days she was feeling up to it, I would go pick her up and bring her to my house and we’d get lunch before I had to get everyone to their afternoon sports.  

There was one time when we got Chinese food. At the end of the meal, we had our fortune cookies and she didn’t eat hers. I put it in my purse and we went to the car. We got all buckled in and I gave her the cookie. She said she didn’t want it, but would like to read her fortune. I said, “Well if you want your fortune to come true, you’ve got to take at least one bite of the cookie.” 

She giggled and said, “You’re crazy Jen!” 

That was one of the last memories I have of being with her, for it was not too long after that, she succumbed to the cancer. My dad had called and told me she had died. I thought about how grateful I was that she had been living with family, and being given the best option of a not so good thing. She was under the care of nurses at my father’s house knowing she was loved and cared for until the end. 

About a week later, I was at work, and realized I hadn’t gotten the mail that day. Odd, I thought, it wasn’t like me to forget something? I asked one of my co-workers if he would go down to the mailbox and get the mail. He obliged and put the stack on my desk. I started to go through it and something caught my eye. It was an advertisement of sorts on a card that opened up, on the front was a fortune cookie, so I opened the two folds and inside was another fortune cookie with the fortune sticking out just enough to see that it had the letter C on it. I got the chills, and then I smiled knowing my Aunt Charlotte was OK. I whispered thank you and I love you! I still have that card… 

Jennifer Danny is a Santa Clarita resident.  

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