I am eight years old and I am standing on the front lawn of my house in Queens with my little sister who is four.
We are standing under our favorite tree—a peach tree, a glorious, bursting peach tree, laden and heavy with ripe fuzzy fruit.
Lots of times, my sister and I would play together in the middle V of the two main branches of the tree—the shiny green leaves hiding us from all the neighbors.
But today we are both standing under the tree.
And we are both--crying.
Just a few minutes before, an enormous blue car has driven up to our house.
Out of the car came our Cousin Estee Veissman, who was older even than our mother.
We could never figure out exactly how such an old woman could be a cousin, and not an aunt.
She was at LEAST 40.
She has enormous hair. Enormous teeth. And ENORMOUS—BAZOOMS.
We have never seen anything like those bazooms.
They stand out a few feet in front of her-- each pointing to a different time zone.
They are their own wonders of the world—cantilevered miracles.
Hello Cousin Estee Veissman and Cousin Estee Veissman.
She does not smile at us. She does not say hello to us.
She just stands on the sidewalk, barely out of the car, and stares at the peach tree.
OUR peach tree.
And then Cousin Estee Veissman does something I will never, ever forget.
he reaches into her pocketbook and pulls out something that looks like a little baggie.
She grips that little baggie in both hands, shakes it violently, and—FA-FOOOOOOOM!
That little baggie turns into the most gigantic, yes, enormous, bag we have ever seen.
And then Cousin Estee Veissman does the other something I will never, ever forget.
She starts to pick peaches off our tree. One, two, three, a hundred.
And my little sister and I are standing, watching it all, watching those peaches disappear into that bag.
Finally we can stand it no longer.
We turn and run into the house—Mommy! MOOOOOMMMMMY!!
We gulp out our story. Cousin Estee Veissman. Here. Bazooms. Fafoom. No more peaches.
My mother puts her arms around us.
Is there a hint of a smile there? A smile, definitely.
“It’s okay,” she says. “Let her take them and enjoy them.”
“She lives in an apartment in Brooklyn, and it’s exciting for her to pick peaches off a real tree.”
Yeah, ALL of them.
“Next year we’ll have lots of peaches, again.”
Yeah, and next year we’ll have a visitor from Brooklyn, again.
My sister and I don’t learn our lesson in generosity that day.
We sit and glare at Cousin Estee Veissman as she eats the dinner of fried chicken, cole slaw and potato salad that my mother bought from Mauzone on Main Street, and that we had every single Sunday evening, like every single other orthodox family in our neighborhood.
Cousin Estee Veissman’s voice is clipped, her eyes sad. Her bazooms remain, defiantly--upbeat.
Later on, I find out that Cousin Estee has schizophrenia. What we now call severe bipolar disorder. Depression. That she’s been in an out of hospitals. That nothing works, nothing brings her out of it. It’s been going on for years and years.
Her three children and her husband, who was actually a pretty jolly guy, don’t talk about it. They are very frum, very religious, so these kinds of things back in those days are a shonda, a bit of a disgrace—and not to be mentioned. “Mama is sick,” they would say. And that was that.
The years went by, with many more Mauzone Sunday night dinners, and although the rest of her family often came, she did not.
The last time I saw her was at her son Abner’s wedding. Abner was FINALLY getting married—at 45--and to an old High School friend of mine!
It was the first time I ever saw her smile. Just a slight lift of the corners of her upper lip—but a smile, definitely.
Abner was finally getting married and Cousin Estee Veissman was finally getting a little naches from him.
She died about a year after the wedding.
Cousin Estee Veissman—I want you to know that I still think about you and about the all the things I didn’t understand when I was 8 years old and childish with selfishness.
I want you to know that I try really hard to be generous now.
I want you to know that the very first week I moved to Maine, our wonderful congregation gave me a gift certificate to a garden center, and I bought a peach tree and I planted it right in front of my new house.
I want you to know that the crows ate every single one of my peaches last year.
They must’ve flown up from Brooklyn.
But most of all, I want you to know that you have a little more naches. Your son Abner and my High School friend finally had a baby boy.
I wish you could see him.
He has big blue eyes. He smiles a lot.
And you’d especially love his hair.
It looks exactly like-- peach fuzz.