Humor by Mark Bazer

We were at the famous Newberry Library in Chicago several years ago for my sister's wedding, and my Great-Aunt Pearl, then in her late 80s and visiting from Washington, D.C., unknowingly stood over an air vent. The cooling system kicked in, and the bottom of her dress billowed out.

"It's Marilyn Monroe!" we all shouted in unison.

Rather than be embarrassed, Aunt Pearl gave us a dramatic spin and later re-created the moment again and again for anyone who requested it.

She turns 95 this week with her animated, often wacky spirit intact, though tempered by mordant references to her sooner-than-later death. Aunt Pearl's at her best when these light and dark sides converge. Sometimes I want to call her up just to hear her delightful cackle.

More often than not, though, we just e-mail, which is great, too -- particularly since the idea of 95-year-olds e-mailing will remain funny for another five years or so.

I'm flying tomorrow to D.C. to introduce her for the first time to my 5-year-old son -- the one she dutifully sends gifts to each year and who responds each time with some variation of "Who's Aunt Pearl"

Yeah, it's shameful, and now that we have the Internet and On Demand, I guess we should all move back to the same shtetl.

Or at least Malden, Mass., where Aunt Pearl, her rival Aunt Esther and my grandmother Rose (whose brothers the two aunts married) grew up together and, judging by the stories I've heard, drove each other somewhat crazy.

My grandmother's long gone, but on the rare occasions in the last 20 years when Aunt Pearl and Aunt Esther have been in the same room and talking about (but not to) each other, you'd swear they were a couple of middle schoolers. "Did you HEAR what Esther said? OMG!"

Unlike Esther and Rose, Pearl apparently came from the wrong side of the tracks, though I can't picture much worse happening there than bagel theft. But she was smart as a whip, as they say, married an economist and got out of town.

She and her late husband (my great-uncle) moved decades ago to D.C., where she's been alternately taking pride in and complaining about the government ever since. Almost 30 years ago, on my first (and only) trip to visit her in D.C., we saw all the iconic sights, waited in all the lines but made sure to be home each day in time to catch "Family Feud." Yes, she has taught me priorities, too.

Growing up, I had a lot of other loving, interesting aunts, but, even then, they and their hard candies all seemed old. Not Aunt Pearl.

It isn't that she tries to stay current with music or knows the latest celebrities or anything like that; she just greets everything that comes her way -- the good, the bad, the crazy -- with an infectious sense of mischief.

Even now, once you get her going on a topic, you'd have no idea of her age. That said, one of our recent conversations was about her lengthy, angry phone calls with the Washington Post home-delivery department.

I don't know what to expect when I see Aunt Pearl on her birthday. My bet is an attitude that says, "Turning 95 is a great thing, but why the hell do I have to do it now?"

Humor & Satire

Humor & Funny Stories - It's Time to Play the Feud (Happy 95th Birthday, Aunt Pearl)

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