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Alice Graves: Thank goodness for Anna

It's holiday time again, with all of its warm fuzziness, gift giving and family togetherness.

I can't wait for it to end.

I'm not a Scrooge. It's just that we're not like normal families. We don't have multigenerational gatherings at holiday time. We don't have summer family reunions. We barely know one another. We are a bunch of strangers linked genetically. We're short, with round faces and curly hair. And we all possess a dominant gene for grudge-holding.

We weren't allowed to speak to a cousin after she insulted my grandmother. An uncle criticized my mother's housekeeping. Never saw him again. And one day in the 1960s my aunt didn't like the outfit my mother was wearing and told her so. They haven't spoken to each other since.

But I do have a little warm fuzziness to cherish this holiday season.

My mother's sister, my aunt Anna, has re-entered my life after 40 years. I couldn't be happier.

I grew up with Anna. For the first six years of my life I lived with my grandparents and Anna, who is just 12 years older than me. She was my big sister. She loved Elvis, and she taught me to dance the Lindy. We went to the zoo, gave funny names to all the gorillas and then got drenched in the rain. We took long walks and I never even got tired. She dressed me up like a doll in long flowing skirts, took photos of me and told me I was beautiful.

When my grandfather came home from work, Anna piped up "Hi Daddy!" Like a mini-Anna I repeated, "Hi Daddy!" I knew he was not my father, but he was all I had.

My mother and Anna may have been sisters, but their personalities were as opposite as Mars and Venus. My mother was quiet and timid; Anna was effervescent and passionate. I was more like Anna than my mother.

I was 11 when Anna gave me a copy of Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl. That made me want to become a writer, and I started to keep a diary of my own.

Then Anna married, moved to the suburbs and began having babies.

The summer she was pregnant with her first child, Anna and her husband, my Uncle Murray, visited my grandparents at their bungalow in Rockaway Beach in Queens, where I was spending a few weeks. After dinner, Anna, Murray and I went out for a drive. In the dark old days before seat belts, the three of us squeezed onto the sofalike front seat and rolled down all the windows. My parents never rolled down all the windows because a cold wind could give you pneumonia. Aunt Anna rode shotgun, and from my spot in the middle, I was responsible for choosing the radio station. My parents never let me do that. So there we were, driving along Rockaway Beach Boulevard, the salty breeze massaging our faces, listening to the Beatles, the Animals and the Dave Clark Five.

I felt like I was with my two best friends. But they were adults getting ready to become parents and I was just becoming a teenager. When her son was born, Anna and I grew apart. I knew I'd lost her the night I overheard her talking to my mother about breast-feeding. I felt completely embarrassed and abandoned.

Anna was always passionate about her beliefs and was never shy about her opinions. She's a Zionist, a union supporter, an artist, a doting grandmother. Over the years she may have put people off. But she's 70 now and we both agree she has nothing to apologize for.

I am thrilled to have my Aunt Anna again. I love reading her e-mails. She writes the way she talks and I hear her voice in each message. She never fails to give me advice, and I honestly don't mind, even though she tells me things I already know. After all, when we last knew each other, I was a child. When I told her in October that I was going to New York for a few days, she instructed me to layer my clothes to keep warm. And thanks to Anna, I am fully aware of the importance of an organized, uncluttered workspace.

In her pictures she looks so much like her mother, my grandmother, and when I talk to her I feel like I am with my grandmother, whom I miss terribly. Anna now lives nearly 3,000 miles away, but I am pulled to her, possibly by my grandmother's spirit.

You can't change your genetic makeup. I'll never be tall, and my hair will always be curly. But I'm trying to break the grudge-holding link.

St. Petersburg resident Alice Graves can be reached at aliceggraves@yahoo.com.

Alice Graves: Thank goodness for Anna 12/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 3:30am]

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