Cary Fagan on aunts and uncles [guest post]

Aunts and Uncles Day? Who knew such a day even existed? I certainly didn’t, until the good people at Anansi and Groundwood asked me if I might write something about it. And given that my picture book, Oy, Feh, So? (with illustrations by Gary Clement) is no less than an homage to my own aunts and uncles, how could I resist?

Cary Fagan's family visiting him at Camp Walden. Left to right: Uncle Nat; his mother Belle; his father Maurice; Aunt Fanny; Aunt Toby; Bubby Sylvia; brother Mark; Cary, age 16; and his brother Lawrence.

My family visiting me at Camp Walden. Left to right: Uncle Nat; my mother Belle; my father Maurice; Aunt Fanny; Aunt Toby; Bubby Sylvia; brother Mark; me, age 16; and my brother Lawrence.

I grew up on Betty Anne Drive, a street near Bathurst and Sheppard in North Toronto. My parents were the first in my family to buy a house in the neighbourhood (behind it there were still farmers’ fields) but it soon became a landing strip for both the Fagenbaums and Menkeses. Before long, my mother’s oldest sister Anne (the only one of four born in the old country) and her husband, Jack, were also living on Betty Anne, just a few blocks west. Further down the street, another sister, Aunt Toby, settled down, along with Uncle Nat (Nutsy, as his own family called him). My paternal grandparents, Max and Adele, landed somewhere in the middle, along with my Uncle Henry, who looked enough like my father that people often mistook the two.

Just on the other side of Bathurst Street was my maternal grandmother, Bubby Sylvia. It was a little farther to reach Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Bernie, Aunt Adeline and Uncle Sam, and also my great Aunt Fanny and my great Uncles Lepa and Itcha.

Left to right: Cary Fagan's cousin Ellen, Cary, and his brother Mark.

Left to right: my cousin Ellen, me, and my brother Mark.

My mother’s parents arrived in the 1920s, but all the others came later, fleeing or somehow surviving the Nazis. All of my family embraced this new, happy life in Canada, where a living could be made and children offered a better life, but still there was a dark shadow that sometimes fell over them, the terrible memory of relatives who did not survive. We of the younger generation only heard much later about those who were lost, usually during some family event, such as a wedding or a funeral where the high emotions and perhaps a schnapps or two would loosen somebody’s tongue. And, thinking back, I wonder if it was this shadow that kept our family so close, that meant my only real friends growing up were my cousins, and that on weekends and holidays our house would fill up with my boisterous aunts and uncles. Those times were among the best of my early years — when I felt safe and loved, surrounded by voices and laughter as familiar to me as my own.

Oy, Feh, So?

Every Sunday Aunt Essy, Aunt Chanah and Uncle Sam drive up in the old Lincoln for the afternoon. They plop themselves down in the living room, and no matter what anyone says their response is always the same — “Oy,” “Feh,” “So?”
Cary Fagan’s characteristically dry humor and Gary Clement’s wonderfully witty illustrations perfectly depict a family with loveable quirks in this story that is sure to become a favorite.

3 thoughts on “Cary Fagan on aunts and uncles [guest post]

  1. Hi Cary,
    By chance I was googling 318 Betty Ann, as we are the current owners.
    You know the very first time we looked at this house I said it had a happy feel to it.
    After reading your story, I see why. It has a warm family feel to it. It is a home I wished we had bought years ago.
    We have been here for 7+ years and bought from Mrs. Abrahams.
    It was great to discover a little bit of history on 318 Betty Ann!
    My husband’s aunt and uncle lived at 209 during the years you lived here.

  2. Great post, Cary. Your family constellation reminds me of my own in Welland, Ontario, with my father’s four siblings and their families, centred around my grandparents and friendships seemingly confined to the family.

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