When we lived in Great Neck there was a family across the street referred to as the Choroshes. They had two children, Celia and Billy, a pinkish brown poodle named Gammy who was frequently in hump mode, and a housekeeper named Margaret, who baked the best cookies in the neighborhood. I realize now, piecing things together, that my parents moved to Great Neck because my aunt Alice’s family lived there – people called Crystal who were always spoken of with great awe but whom I don’t remember ever meeting, probably because they were extremely old. Our house was next door to the Crystals and my parents were married in their back garden. My mother, by her own account, didn’t feel like she had much in common with the other ladies in the neighborhood. That is, until she spotted Joanna Chorosh emerging from her house across the street. “She was so elegant,” my mother told me years later. “She had on a really stylish hat and the most beautifully cut dress. I knew right away this was someone I could be friends with.”
And she was right. Neither Billy nor I was born yet, but they each had 18-month-old daughters, they’d moved to Great Neck from the city at about the same time, and they were equally worldly and sophisticated. Their husbands got along well, too. Ben Chorosh, a tall, lanky lawyer, had a very similar sense of humor to my father; if you were around the two of them at gatherings or parties, your eyes would water and your stomach would ache from laughing so hard.
Celia and Vivi were toddlers together and best friends for many years, despite very different temperaments, the one bookish and possessed of a natural probity, the other – Vivi – wild, impulsive and prone to envy. After my mother, Celia was probably the person I loved best in the world. I was grateful to her. She was kind, she paid attention to me, and she saved me on numerous occasions from my sister’s terrible sibling rivalry and the havoc it wreaked. So when Vivi tried to drown me in the kiddie pool, along came Celia whose hands swiftly pried me loose. Vivi tried to smother me, too, but Celia intervened. She saved me when my chubby knee got stuck in rungs of the playpen; she shared her ice cream cones with me; she read to me and let me know before anyone else when Margaret’s cookies were ready for consumption. No wonder I loved her so much. Now that Vivi has died, Celia is the one and only person who’s known me since birth, but I’m jumping ahead.
There was a tragedy in the Chorosh family. When Joanna was pregnant with Billy, she fell very ill and it turned out she had polio. She was always a beautiful woman, but I never saw her walk down her front steps as my mother did. After the diagnosis, she was confined to a wheelchair and crutches both of which she used with considerable grace. Celia began to spend more and more time at our house. The dynamic had changed in her family. Her mother was an invalid who had to learn to walk all over again; there was a new baby, and her father was not, let us say, in touch with his feminine side in a way that would allow him to step in as nurturer and comforter. I suspect my father, who referred to Celia as his third daughter, played that role. He truly loved and looked out for her. And when tragedy struck our family some years later, Celia became even more of a daughter.
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