by Dawn Turzio
"There's an L around you—Laura, Linda, Lydia…"
I gasped. "Lydia, yes, she was my Godmother."
The cadence of my heart shifted to a gallop. I'd never been to a medium before, but the ache to talk with my favorite aunt, the only person with whom I felt truly understood, was coming through from the beyond.
"Lydia says to eat Danish pancakes."
"Danish pancakes?" I stared at the everyday-looking Brooklynite sitting beside me in her Bay Ridge walk-up, her tank top and jeans befuddled. “Why Danish?”
Aunt Lydia, my mom’s sister, was born and raised crosstown in Canarsie. A preschool teacher with pizazz, she was considered eccentric, “woo-woo” as my dad had put it, and reminded me of the character in my favorite storybook series, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Her home was the prettiest on the otherwise rugged East 98th Street and she welcomed everyone despite age, race or gender during the ‘80s, a time when too many people just wouldn’t.
Most of the visits with Aunt Lydia were only when Mom (the complete opposite of woo-woo) threw us in the car on a random Sunday morning for the hour-long trek across the stretch of the Belt Parkway, which was an obligatory trip for her, but exciting for me. My nerves would dance as we sailed the highway, kites flying gallantly in the air along the water, to Aunt Lydia's part of town; adventure awaiting reminiscent of the bricked yellow road for Dorothy.
“Do you know why the pancakes have to be Danish?” I repeated to the psychic.
She blinked at me equally puzzled (probably because everything in Brooklyn is understood to be Italian, or at least stereotypically so), then changed the subject. But, I knew my aunt was trying to tell me something.
After the reading, I raced to the car and called Mom for some clarification or, at the very least, a clue.
“Well, Aunt Lydia loved French food,” Ma said.
“What does that have to do with Danish cuisine?”
Even over the phone, I felt her shrug.
I ended the call and resorted to a little search engine tomfoolery.
“Danish pancakes are also known as crepes,” the internet said.
As I was about to leave Google, an email notification sounded. Congratulations, Dawn. You have been selected to chaperone our students’ upcoming excursion to Europe to study the path of World War II.
“Holy shit, that’s it!” I squealed and fist bumped the steering wheel, then quickly dialed back Mom. “Hey, guess what?” I didn’t let her respond, but instead continued, “It was Aunt Lydia! She knew that I was going to be accepted for the international trip with school. She knew that I was going to France and she wanted me to try crepes!”
My mother was quiet for a moment, partly because I talked in an anxious ramble or possibly because she was feeling what I felt was happening: my Godmother, an absolute treasure in our family lineage, had communicated a message to me, to us. I now felt honored and on a mission: I was going to eat a handmade crepe in the heart of Paris, paying homage to a woman whose life was cut short by a battle that was not yet rendered an epidemic in women when she was ill-stricken, but who deserved all the joy.
Aunt Lydia, who died at 42, an age I was getting eerily closer to, had never visited France. Through Julia Child and various other experiences, she found French cooking to be exquisite; a tasty home-felt meal.
On February, 19, 2018, on the street adjacent to the grand entrance of Notre Dame Cathedral, I fulfilled her request. Oozing out of a warm buttery shell was the liquidity goodness of Nutella and slivers of a ripe banana; the mother of all snacks. I had purchased the crepe on the street parallel to the church and it was delicious; my students were quietly munching on theirs beside me.
My aunt, who’d always praised my miniscule accomplishments as big deals, was guiding me through a top-rated life experience via food. With every bite was an explosion of sweetness; her continued cheerleading of my efforts regardless of the absence of her presence. I felt consumed with every morsel; I felt her warm hugs. Aunt Lydia’s zest for adventure resonated in me, her message clear: engage fully in life’s magical moments while you can and partake in the indulgence of Danish pancakes.