I am sure there will be more laughter in heaven with the arrival of Aunt Millie. The sad news came late Saturday night, January 4, 2014. My cousin, Lynn, called to tell me that Aunt Millie had passed away after a long battle with many health problems.
Aunt Millie was not really my “aunt.” In fact, I am not entirely sure how she was related. Her father, Sam, was, I believe, my grandmother’s first cousin. If that is correct, my mother and “Aunt” Millie were not even first cousins. It would take an expert in genealogy to figure out exactly how I was related to Millie.
The relationship is not important. It is the memories of this adopted aunt which will endure. When I was young, growing up in Great Neck, NY, Aunt Millie and her husband, Abe, were a regular part of my parents’ active social circle. My father was fond of saying to my mother, “Sylvia, Millie is absolutely my favorite of all your relatives.” Mildred was funny, ribald, unafraid of occasional colorful language, and, along with my father, the life of every party.
Aunt Millie’s wit, charm, and very good looks were a marvelous compliment to Abe, who was a criminal appellate lawyer. Abe Werfel was never “uncle” Abe, but rather that brilliant, distinguished lawyer.
Abe Werfel died as a result of medical neglect. Aunt Millie hired a well-known law firm in New York City to handle the medical malpractice case. Unfortunately the lawyer chosen by Aunt Millie wound up on the front page of The New York Times when he was indicted for fraud and a number of other really bad things. The law firm had bungled the case and it was thrown out of court for lack of compliance with the rules. “Cliff, your mother says you are the best. Can you help me?” Never to turn down a relative in need, I handled the legal malpractice suit against the dishonest law firm, as well as the case against the lawyer’s insurance company when the insurance company declined legal malpractice coverage. What a mess! It was fun working with Millie, who impressed me with her honesty, integrity and reasonableness. She was as decent a human being as she was good fun. Some of the best jokes that I heard in any courthouse, were while standing with Millie in New York Supreme Court waiting for jury selection. You know the one about the two religious parrots in the cage? Well, Millie knew that one and a bunch of others as well. The case went well and I was able to help Aunt Millie with some needed compensation.
Another Millie story which I remember well was both of our attendance at the wedding of a most pretentious relative. Millie was holding one of the young children and urged the kid to stick her finger into the cake when nobody was looking. That was Aunt Millie too!
One of Millie’s passions was golf. By all accounts, she was a pretty good golfer. I do not know if she was part of my mother’s foursome, but I think they played a few rounds together. I tried to play golf once with Millie and my brother-in-law at Grossinger’s Hotel, where my father was receiving an award from the National Federation of Jewish Men’s Club. That was the most fun I ever had playing golf. Millie was a pretty good golfer, but it was the laughter that I remember best.
When my son started to play golf actively, he took himself very seriously. We traveled down to Millie’s golf condominium in Florida so that she could see the young wunderkind. Everybody was impressed with Joshua’s game, and we could not brag enough. During dinner, after Millie played a round with our son, she noticed right away that he was extremely fussy about his food. In a comment that Joshua still remembers and talks about, Millie noted: “He may be one hell of a golfer, but he is food retarded.” Okay, perhaps it was a little bit mean, but everyone got it. It was a kind of take off on an old Yiddish saying, the translation of which roughly goes, “If your baby is so brilliant, how come he still pishes in his diaper?”
Aunt Millie was on my call list of elderly relatives I tried to stay in touch with . We have a lot of 80 and 90-year-old people in the family, and I am told even a few around 100. Even during her recent illnesses, whenever I called Millie I hung up with a smile.
What was Millie’s contribution to the world? I cannot write an obituary for the life of Mildred Werfel because I do not know enough detail. However, what I do know is that she brought light and laughter to anyone who cared to spend time with her.
We traded intimate stories of family members that I could not possibly repeat. I gained some insight into the family and the behavior of a number of close relatives. Most importantly was the genuine feeling of respect that I received from this woman, the corny jokes, and the laughter.
Heaven will be a better place to receive someone who knows a good joke when she hears it, and best of all knows how to tell it well. May the soul of Mildred Werfel rest in peace, and may her children and relatives be comforted by the joy the received during her life.
Rieders, Travis, Dohrmann, Mowrey, Humphrey & Waters
161 West Third Street
Williamsport, PA 17701
(570) 323-8711 (telephone)
(570) 323-4192 (facsimile)
Cliff Rieders, who practices law in Williamsport, is Past President of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association and a member of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority. None of the opinions expressed necessarily represent the views of these organizations.