Caught by Annette

Annette Age 8
As a child, I always had a net to catch me when I had a challenge. This safety net was my Aunt Annette.

Since my earliest childhood moments, my mother’s sister was ever present in my life and the lives of my sister and brother. Annette never married nor had a family of her own so she was always close by. She spent years caring for my grandparents at 186 Tuxedo, 38C Wabeno and then after they passed away, she lived with my parents at 20 Warwick

Annette, Jeff and Diane play Scrabble
As a child, Annette was my backstop. Someone I could always go to with questions about homework, movies, cooking, opera, baseball or strategies for winning at Scrabble. I often joke that in hindsight, Annette was like the Internet. She knew things instantly that others would have to look up. Today we Google information; before Google, we asked Annette. My mother often says, “I wish I could ask Annette, she’d remember.”

Typewriter Circa 1950
Annette never accepted the computer in her life and I think the Internet scared her. She had her Underwood typewriter to write her plays and lyrics and she refused to accept that you could possibly write on a computer because where was the paper? I wanted to show her and teach her about all the benefits and advantage of Word and this great technology- but Annette needed the click and the clack of a typewriter and the graceful slide of the return bar. Over time, I realized that trying to change her ways was futile and that just because something is new and easier doesn’t make it better.

Yet Annette seemed to know things with her remarkable memory that to this day confounds me. Whether it was the entire cast from the original stage performance of West Side Story to the screen writer of Bringing Up Baby to how many games Tom Seaver won in 1969 with the Miracle Mets. (I had to Google it - twenty five).  But it was beyond baseball, theatre or movies- Annette knew facts about any century in English history or the politics from of the present day. On her only oversees trip to England with Mitchell and Leslie just weeks before her death, she was correcting the London Tour Guide. She just seemed to know everything.

Elephants would call Annette when they couldn’t remember something.

Annette, Jeff and Diane 1955
Although my parents were ever present in my life, Annette was there to play with me. And by play, I mean I had her undivided attention.

I have vivid childhood memories being at
186 Tuxedo Parkway in Newark where she lived with my grandparents.  Annette and I would sit on the porch with a snack table with paint and a water filled mayonnaise jar and we would create art together. I didn’t have any prodigal talent but I enjoyed looking and learning and she had the patience to teach me the basics of line, color and form. We would paint and listen to The Saturday Opera brought to us by Texaco on public radio. Her ability to be attentive was legendary and she had the natural sense to make me feel like I was the only person in the world. To this day, I am confident that my strong sense of self confidence had an incredibly important link to those afternoons together.

A high brow afternoon of art and opera would slide into the low brow humor of the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy. We watched Duck Soup and Monkey Business and Annette explained to me the art and craft of writing a screen play. If the Mets weren’t on, we would continue to watch late into the night as the British comedies would start to show up. I know that I first met the cast of Monty Python sitting next to Annette as she helped translate from Queen’s English so that I could follow the subtle silliness. She interpreted strong Cockney accents and West End dialogue so that I could understand it. Peter Sellers, Danny Kaye and Charlie Chaplin were regular friends who joined us most Saturday nights on
Tuxedo Parkway
Diane, Annette and Jeff 1959
I am very certainthat Annette was the first person to put a spatula in my hand. Although my Mom is a fabulous cook, Annette gave me my first lesson cooking- it was probably a scrambled egg. I can hear her telling me that you can always tell a great chef if they can make a simple dish.  I ate up all of this knowledge and wanted  more. It was around my seventeenth birthday that she introduced me to Julia.

Annette gave me my first cook book- Mastering The Art of French Cooking that remains one of my prized possessions. From the Shutter to the Butter reads the inscription Annette wrote in the cover. And for those who know me, that little phrase sums up two of my great passions- photography and cooking. And it was Annette who first lit a spark in me to want to cook and make wonderful meals. Together we watched Julia teach us about soufflés, soubise and sautéing. This was a remarkably nurturing experience that has shaped me in so many ways as I prepared for life on my own at college and than with my own family. These cooking lessons were really life lessons that will always be a part of who I am.

One of Annette's special cards
Annette made her own birthday cards for me every year. Of course, she did that for everyone in our family and each one came with a message that was both clever and caring. When I think of the time she spent to do this and how much we all look forward to those big envelopes with the cardboard backing- it takes my breath away. These cards were another way that she could express herself and demonstrate the importance of being original. The cards weren't limited to birthdays either. When I went to college at The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Annette made me a card with a map of Philadelphia with all of her favorite places from her childhood in West Philadelphia.

As writer and lyricist, Annette never gained the type of public acclaim she deserved although she worked with people like Steve Allen. But she has inspired many of us to write- and to work hard at it so that we too can tell our stories. And for me, after her passing, I knew that I wanted to work hard at becoming a writer to both honor her memory and to also release in me the emotion and love that telling a  personal story can set free.

Annette and Jeff 1967
I was lucky living for so many years with this net to catch me and to help me know myself. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish I could ask just one more question.

I am so fortunate to have had Annette to catch me.

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