By: Julia Turshen
My mom has always referred to herself as a “change-of-life baby.” She had two older sisters, my Aunt Renee, who was twelve years older than my mother, and my Aunt Debby, who was two years older than my Aunt Renee. My mom didn’t have me until she was forty-one, so by the time I came into the world, my oldest aunt, Debby, was fifty-five. She would kill me if she knew I told you her age but, well, she’s not with us anymore. She passed away a few years ago (I’ll stop doing math). We developed a friendship in the decades that we overlapped, something that went beyond us just knowing each other as relatives. It all started when I was in high school and I would take the train from the suburbs of New York City, where my family lived, into Manhattan and meet my Aunt Debby for lunch.
We continued to have our meals together for two decades. Sometimes other family members joined us, sometimes lunch was dinner with her husband Charles, sometimes I would invite a friend, and towards the end of her life I got to introduce her to Grace, who I am now married to, over lunch. Aunt Debby gave me a veritable masters education in restaurants. She adored restaurants. She always wanted to try new ones and she loved judging them. She had so many opinions. She eventually loved going to the same restaurant over and over, delighted to be considered a regular. And through all of those years and all of those meals, my favorite memories are the ones from her small table in her midtown apartment with takeout from the local delicatessen.
Over chicken soup and pastrami sandwiches that we’d split in half, I got to know my Aunt Debby without the dramatics of New York City restaurants. I got to know her and while we couldn’t be more different, we really enjoyed each other’s company. Even though she was stylish and funny, she was never someone I wanted to emulate. She was just my favorite person to have lunch with. When we did, I got to press pause on everything else. I had her undivided attention and she had mine. I hope wherever she is now, she’s stepping up to a podium with her cane, and before she can ask if her table is ready, she’s being whisked away to the best one in the room.
Julia is a home cook, author of three (soon to be four) cookbooks, food writer, and food equity advocate living in New York . She created a database for food industry professionals featuring only women/gender non-conforming individuals focusing primarily on POC and the LGBTQ community called Equity at the Table (EATT). Keep up with everything she’s doing on IG @turshen.