Those dreaded words, "My mother wants to meet you," rang in my ears. Dodi was not thrilled that her son, Scott, was dating a divorced woman with two small boys. I hadn't even met her yet and already I was in the dog house.
Naturally, I was extremely nervous. "It's nice to meet you, Anne. Welcome to our home," she said formally. Scott quickly ushered me into the living room where a very tan French maid laughed hysterically as she served shrimp.
Her sun-bleached blond hair was piled high in a beehive, topped off with a maid's cap. I thought they must be very wealthy to have a maid. When she saw us enter, she did a curtsy and then ran to hug Scott. Next, she curtsied in front of me, smiling.
I curtsied back and she hugged me close. "I've been waiting to meet you!" she said with a big smile. I liked her immediately. My husband introduced me to his infamous Aunt Ziza.
During dinner, I learned that the sisters were the best—and worst—of friends. Sibling rivalry was alive and well in the form of an endless battle of the beach babes. They arrived at the beach after breakfast and stayed until dinner. Both wore bikinis well into their seventies and worshipped the sun. As their families grew, the beach chair count also increased. A huge circle of multicolored chairs staked out their area on Sea Isle City beach.
At our wedding reception, Ziza held my hands tight and leaned in close. "Anne, I'm dying. I may only have a few months left," she whispered. We both had tears in our eyes. "I don't want a big funeral. Just remember the good times we had at the beach over the years. Promise me there will be no tears. I love you guys."
She repeated those exact words every time we saw her for the next 38 years!
Scott loved Ziza. He sought refuge at her house during his teenage years when he and Dodi battled. Ziza was the cool aunt. After we were married, we announced that I was pregnant at her shore cottage. She immediately dressed a small table in her dining area with a flowing white table cloth, candles and a vase with a single white rose and served us a lobster dinner. She made such a fuss, smiling, patting my belly and hugging us both. The memory of that still makes me tear up.
Dodi and Ziza were eternally stuck in the sibling rivalry stage. The daily competition included which one had the best macaroni and cheese recipe, the darkest tan, the funniest husband, the best bathing suit; who was smartest, best dressed, had the nicest jewelry.
Over the years, there was also an ongoing beauty contest between the sisters. In the fashion world, Ziza outshined everyone. She could've worn a black trash bag, added a belt and heels and looked stunning. In fact, they were both stunning women, but one had to be the most stunning.
Ziza was always the peacekeeper. Dodi, on the other hand, held grudges for years. Scott actually put up a Dodi's Dog House plaque at Ziza's cottage. Each pup had one of our names hanging on the front fence. We rotated time in the doghouse, based on Dodi's moods. I spent so much time in there, I should have gotten my own room.
When Dodi decided her house would be sugar-free for her grandchildren, Ziza naturally bought a three-foot, bright yellow bubble gum machine for the front porch of her little yellow seaside cottage. Our kids arrived with a jar of coins and walked around with purple, green or orange lips the entire visit.
At my daughter's sixth birthday party, Ziza initiated a food fight in the family room with the birthday cake. The more cake that flew, the louder the laughter rose. Dodi was appalled and left early.
At my oldest daughter Erika's wedding, Ziza catapulted over a bevy of single women to catch the bouquet. At the time, she was 74 and flew over the crowd like Michael Jordan dunking a basketball. She was coy and flirted with my son's shy friend as he slid the garter up her leg. He blushed bright red. She did not. She flipped her leg in the air, with unabashed charm—an Academy Award performance! She was thrilled that the audience was enjoying the show.
She pulled me aside that day too,. "Anne, I'm dying. I may have only a few months left," she whispered. "Ziza," I complained, "Not the dying story today. It's a happy day. Let's celebrate." She conceded, but added, "Promise me there will be no tears. I love you guys." I promised no tears and led her to the dance floor.
When we got the call that Ziza had passed away in hospice, it was surreal. All the times she told me she was dying came flooding back. She was surrounded by her family and comfortable. I just couldn't believe it was real this time. I broke my promise and sobbed, remembering all of the good times, just as she wanted me to.
If there are beaches in heaven, we'll know where to find Ziza. She'll be right next to Dodi, sunning in her beach chair. She has found other shores.