Essays

Through the “backwoods” of Westchester

I just had the most strange, surreal, and wonderful weekend. I guess this is what happens when you just say “yes.”

A few weeks ago, I’m having drinks after work with one of my new friends down in the District. We’re at a pause in our conversation and her face turns serious as she says to me: “Casey, I’ve got an odd favor to ask.”

Okay. Keep going.

“I need to go visit my 99 year old aunt, but these days, I always fall asleep while driving over an hour. She’s up in Westchester and I just need to go up for a day, just for 2 hours. I know this sounds odd, but would you mind driving up with me, well, really you driving and me coming along?”

Well… sure. Why not? Why not? I hop in the car to drive a few hours straight all the time and honestly, this friend has been a good friend since the day we met. We met at this event back in May and one of the first things she told me, in a whisper, is that she had to admit she was from Long Island. I whispered back, hey, I’m from Eastern Queens — boom, fast friends!

So, it’s past 10 and we’re navigating these tiny little roads deep in Westchester in her SUV. We’d spent the past 5 hours on the road telling stories to each other, solidly getting to know one another, and now we were trying not to fall into a ditch, there is no cell service, it’s pitch black out, and we keep going off map. Total blast, right? We finally make it to this gorgeous house buried somewhere up a random drive, and walk right in because why would the doors even be locked? and her aunt is there to meet us.

“I was worried when you two took so long! Do you want some wine?”

She shows us where to go, fusses over is in the most motherly fashion ever, and then 2 hours later the three of us are up and deep in a conversation about maintaining Jewish traditions and the culture even without the religion. In the middle of this, I’m being caught up on all the gossip in the family and being told this name versus that one, look at these photos, who said what and when, summer camp, this school is great but it’s Conservative not Reform and–

Whoa! Is this what it’s like to be included?

Maybe. Because without missing a beat her aunt turns to me and says: “So are you coming to Hannakuh this year?”

I’m not, but my friend had already invited me! She had asked if I wanted to come down to Palm Beach with her and her partner to spend Thanksgiving with The Family, and it’s the same time they also celebrate Hannakuh in their family, by choice, but I had already declined.

But maybe next year?

When I moved to the District earlier this year, I hadn’t been worried about making new friends. No, that’s easy for me. I had been worried about finding a sense of / being part of a family. It’s not that I’m not part of mine, but it’s different when you live life one way and your family decidedly lives another.

It’s hard.

This weekend was an unexpected gift. It let me breathe. Ever since I’d moved, week by week, I had been getting clues that this was going to be okay. All of it would be.

And now I believe that to be true.

— postscript
I love my mom, I do, there is no question of it. But, I talk to my mom once a week, tops! My friend talks to her mom at least once a day and I’d asked her: “Is this a thing? For real?”

So on Saturday night, my friend posed the question to her aunt who leveled me with this solid, poignant look and said:

“If you marry a Jewish girl, yes, she’s going to talk to her mother every day. Get used to it now.”

Thanks, Aunt P., I’ll keep that in mind.

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