I’m going through two trunks of stuff related to a documentary I once tried to make about my aunt, Julie Arden, and her companion Charlotte Brooks. I’m determined to whittle it down to one big box. It should be easy. Just don’t look too closely. Keep the essentials. Toss, toss, toss.
I find scraps of paper with snippets of things my Aunt Julie had said after she’d had a debilitating stroke at age 85. For more than four years she stayed in a state of complete dependency, her mind confabulating in ways that were both heartbreaking and fascinating. It was like being inside someone’s head when they were asleep and dreaming. But every once in awhile, her clarity and wisdom was astounding.
We were talking about love and she said, “If you don’t put your whole heart into it, it won’t come out well.” I have never forgotten that line. Nor did I forget what she advised when I asked her how I can help people without them resenting it. “Don’t make the choice for them. Let them make the decision. Keep repeating ‘Are you sure this is what you want me to do?’ ‘What can I do?’ or ‘What would you like me to do?’ Don’t say help. Pride cometh before the fall.”
On her relationship with Charlotte Brooks (that would ultimately span more than six decades until Julie’s passing): “We enjoy so much of the same things that we do together. Simple things. Walk on the beach. In the woods. Sit on a bench and watch the clouds go by. If you don’t make it too complicated it’s more satisfying.”
They had met as camp counselors in 1941 at the Jewish Working Girls Vacation Society on Bellport, Long Island. Julie said, “I was a dainty eater. They would sit girls next to me who needed to lose weight. If they wanted them to gain weight they sat them with Charlotte. She had a hearty appetite.” Julie taught drama; Charlotte was in charge of athletics. “Heel and toe and away we go,” Julie said. “It was a way to keep time when we were polka dancing.”
They became popular in the local bars doing simple folk dances together. Men would give them money.
Charlotte told me that summer they were sitting on the shore one night on an upturned boat, looking out across the sound. “There were two boats anchored in the water. They were coming apart and then together.” She moved her index fingers back and forth, each time coming nearer to the other. “Then all of a sudden we realized that was what was happening to us.”
Oh, what’s wrong with having two trunks full of stuff? I’ll go through it another day. Another day.