I’m not comfortable with this first-person bit, but I couldn’t figure out how to write this any other way.

The lake community lost an icon on July 9 and I lost Aunt Marie.

Marie Itri Quaranta was not my “real” aunt, but, since we are Italian, blood relationship is not necessary, so she was.

Since my only sibling is a lot older than me, I escaped Down Jefferson as often as possible. That’s Jefferson Lumber and Millwork formally, but Down Jefferson for us. Topographically, it was. Our house was part way up the hill on what is now Bird Lane.

Marie was 95 when she passed, but until her last illness, she was ageless. She had more energy than everyone else put together and she always had a smile.

Marie WAS Down Jefferson. She was the face of the office, especially after the passing of her mother-in-law.

When she wasn’t waiting on or just generally entertaining customers, she could be found in the back office behind the Burroughs bookkeeping machine. It outlasted pretty much every other Burroughs in history, according to her longtime repair man, Jim Banta.

The office and hardware department of Jefferson Lumber are attached to two apartments.

Aunt Marie and Uncle Ralph raised four children in the back apartment before they built their Mount Arlington home. But there was always something going on in the front kitchen, and it was sure to be delicious with plenty to share.

My mother always said she didn’t know how Marie could get anything done with all those kids in a small space. I just knew it was so much fun to be with all those kids: Dianne, Judy, Sandra, and Ralphie, plus her nieces Maria and Susan, in such a small space, although, of course, we spilled out into the other living room and kitchen.

Once she was ensconced on James Drive, Marie truly began to hold court at her kitchen table. It was sort of like Times Square; you would meet everybody there.

Family, neighbors, friends. No matter the time or day, there was always more food and a bottle of wine in the refrigerator, although it could take a bit of time to locate the wine. The kids referred to the refrigerator as “the Bermuda Triangle.”

“I know it’s in there,” Marie would insist. And it always was.

Time was fluid at Marie’s. Everything that went on was so interesting, you never realized how much time had passed. And the kitchen clock was not really any help, since it was always set at least 15 minutes fast.

Halloween was especially fun. I remember one year running into a prominent Morris County accountant in drag. . .

My kids would insist after trick or treating around our neighborhood we all pile into the car, including a number of friends, probably in all sorts of seat-belt violations, and drive over to Aunt Marie’s so she could admire their costumes. And give them each a dollar.

There were certain things Marie believed in. Like that sheets should always be dried on the line. Even in the dead of winter. Of course, folding a frozen sheet can be problematic. . .not many people can claim they broke a sheet. (For the record, I never did, although my kids claim they saw me do it).

Before my mom went back to work and we had a second car, going shopping with Marie was a treat. Especially when she had the pink Lincoln. It had a back window that went up and down, which we kids thought was amazing. And yes, I will admit, it was her niece, Maria, and I who circled the Morristown Bamberger’s perfume counter spraying each other with all of the testers. Aunt Marie was angry to say the least, but she got over it long before the car stopped smelling like a bordello.

I heard Aunt Marie play the violin far too rarely. But there was often music. Her brother, Aldo, played the accordion, and whenever he was there was a singalong of the great Italian songs.

Food, music, great conversation, just plain fun was what Marie was all about.

She introduced me to S&C (Strega and Chartreuse, which is as lethal as it sounds) and that you can have fun canning tomatoes or peppers in a hot garage because when family is together that’s all that counts.

Mostly she taught me that family IS what counts. Always.

And that’s why among all the tears at her memorial, there was so much laughter too.

Cent anni.

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