When we lived in Versailles, Indiana, you could always count on one thing come Springtime: Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Tony would come down from Cincinnati to visit so she could fish in the swollen creeks in nearby Versailles State Park, one of the state’s largest.
Elizabeth never had children so she doted on me all through my life. She wanted me to call her Nina (Neh-nah), and so I would go with the crew to fish in the park where Nina would stand triumphantly with her stylish straw hat and say, “Fishy, fishy in the brook, come and bite on my little hook.”
Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t, but she really wanted to enjoy being in the country and visiting.
Nina was born in Czechoslovakia and emigrated with the family through Ellis Island New York when she was a teenager. She found work as a tailor in the clothing factories in Cincinnati.
She was pretty and always dressed well. I especially noted her long fingernails always painted red. She liked them, and she said she needed the long nails in her work as a tailor.
We always laughed together, and sometimes we would spontaneously dance a few waltz steps for fun.
Nina was very, very religious and every Lent season she would give up smoking cigarettes. We would tell her if she could do it for Lent, she could quit altogether. I wish she had listened.
Every Christmas she would bring Rugelaches and nut rolls, delicious pastry recipes from what she would call “the old country.”
When we moved to St. Pete, Florida, she and Uncle Tony would fly down to visit, bearing shopping bags full of sliced lunchmeats and sausages from a favorite delicatessen meat market in Cincinnati.
After she retired, she and Tony moved to St. Pete where they bought a house not far from us. It was great having them nearby.
Several years later she began feeling bad and coughing. She had developed lung cancer.
When I visited her in the hospital, she smiled as best she could and said “maybe we can dance together again when I recuperate.” It was the last time I saw her.
She had cradled me as an infant, babysat with me, made pleated tailored pants for me in high school and was there at my college graduation. I never forgot the love she had for me all my life. Just ask my daughter Elizabeth.
As the leaves return to the trees and the flowers burst forth in the Spring, I think of Nina by the creek, smiling, calling out “Fishy, fishy in the brook, come and bite on my little hook.”