“You will live only as long as the last person who remembers you.” — Akecheta, Westworld
Today I started thinking about my great-aunt Tanya’s husband, Aaron Greengause. My great-aunt died on this day, many years ago. She was my maternal grandfather’s sister, one of eight siblings, and was my mom’s favorite aunt. Our families were all in Minsk, and Aaron and Tanya lived in an apartment just down the street from Tanya’s brother, my maternal grandfather.
Now, on this anniversary of Tanya death, my mother and I light a yahrzeit candle for her memory. It’s a tradition we Jews have to commemorate those who have passed away. But today, I was also thinking of her husband, whose anniversary of death I did not know. Because I do not have the date, I do not know when to light the candle — but I still remember Dyadya (Uncle) Aaron.
I don’t remember him in sharp relief, but through the blurriness of memory, I do clearly remember some things about him. While my Tyotya (Aunt) Tanya was a rather large woman, with a sturdy, squarish frame, large hands and feet, and an outsized sweetness, her husband only matched her size in love. Physically, he was her opposite. He was short, nearly a dwarf, and bald, although I remember his head surrounded by downy fuzz that you could see whenever the sun was behind him. He had tiny ears that stuck out from his head. His brown eyes appeared owl-round from behind his glasses, and he blinked slowly, adding to the resemblance of a bird. His smile was shy, like that of a child.
Aaron was one of the kindest and most-soft spoken people I’ve ever known. I’ve never heard him raise his voice in anger. Tanya and Aaron would hold hands while sitting next to each other, and if Tanya had to get up for some reason and come back later, he would reach for her hand as soon as she settled down again. He held doors opened for her, made her food and endless cups of tea, gave her little kisses on the cheek. They made the oddest of couples, a large, rather loud woman, and a small, quiet man, but their affection for each other was obvious and heartwarming. They never had kids, both finding each other much later in life (I think they were in their fifties when they married).
They both adored me, and took turns carrying me around, even after I stopped being a chubby baby and became a chunky toddler, my feet almost never touched the ground in their house. It’s no wonder that one of my clearest memory of Aaron is the one where he is holding me and I am looking up at him, with the sun shining nearly through him, and me exploring his left ear with my fingers and him softly chuckling his soft low laugh, and Tanya’s booming laugh near me as she was looking at us. To be fair, his ear was fascinating, elf-like, small, pearlescent and soft — actually, not unlike my own at the time, now that I think about it!
I was about five or six years old when Aaron Greengause died. Aaron died in his sixties, which sadly was not so unusual in the Soviet Union at that time. He proceeded Tanya in death by about three years, but I remember her laughing less in those years. She pretty much stopped being her loud and boisterous self after he died. It was sort of strange for me, as a child, because I don’t remember anyone telling me that Aaron had passed away, it was just one day that wonderful, warm little man was there, and then, he wasn’t. And the world was colder, and less loving, and less welcoming without him in it. I only got to know him for such a short while, but he was a warm soul in it, and even now, fifty years later, I still think about him. I refuse to let the years diminish love.
And, I refuse the use “loved,” the past tense of the verb. To quote a line from a television show:
“Death ends a life. It doesn’t end a relationship.” — St. Elsewhere