My Aunt Ray was a holy terror, and that was on a good day. Bradley Beach was her center of operations each summer where she held court as "landlady in residence" of a boarding house that could only be described as, well, you had to have been there... This is the Aunt Ray, who, with very little prompting, unabashedly danced on tables with her skirt yanked high, while the klezmer band belted out "The Dark Town Strutter's Ball" at family weddings. Yes, I remember her well.
My family had a bird's eye view of boarding house activities from our attic vantage point, where Aunt Ray provided my brother, mother and me free space during the hottest summer days. Although the attic was not as bad as one might think, especially at those rates, we spent as little time under the eaves as was humanly possible. Mealtimes were interesting, to say the least, as we observed boarders vying for shelf space in one of six Frigidaires lined up along one wall of the vast kitchen. Aunt Ray ran this way and that giving orders to her oblivious boarders. More tumult you could not imagine.
On the bright side, Sunday mornings my Uncle Ben, owner of Gelbstein's Bakery, delivered fresh rolls and bagels on the house for us lucky recipients who enjoyed the lox, cream cheese, pickled herring and smoked white fish that comprised our typical Sunday breakfast. I don't recall having tasted a better bagel since. And then I remember how Aunt Ray spent an inordinate amount of time foraging among the boarder's refrigerator shelves looking for mealtime fixings that would please her erstwhile husband, Uncle Sam, who arrived at noon on Sundays to spend the day at the shore. I guess it never occurred to her that pillaging for food from other people's shelves was not a good way to generate repeat business.
Year after year, we visited with Aunt Ray. Things changed, but not much. I must say, as a fly on the wall, her antics were just plain fun. And a good soul there never was. Customers returned, year after year, for the excitement and positive energy of life at Aunt Ray's boarding house.