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UnBridaled Gratitude

Hitting the family lottery

Cindy Gabriel
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Aimee Ehrenkranz McCrory and Cindy Gabriel

FAMILY TIES Sisters-in-law Aimee Ehrenkranz McCrory and Cindy Gabriel just before Stan-the-Man walked daughter Jenny down the aisle in the latest Ehrenkranz wedding. The photo was taken by brother-in-law Bob Westendarp (Heather’s husband).

One of the joys of writing is you get to make up the rules as you go. That’s a rule I just made up in order to (A) show off my fake (spray) tan in a picture that makes me look better than I actually look. And (B) take a break from my Not a Memoir series, where I seem to be stuck at 4 years of age in 1958 Fort Bend County. 

My sister-in-law Aimee Ehrenkranz McCrory (who, at 72, actually does look that good) and I are seen here claiming front row seats for the latest Ehrenkranz wedding. My man, Stan, who is Aimee’s brother, was about to walk his lovely daughter Jenny down the aisle to marry Jason Presley under clear blue skies, oceanside, near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico on April 1, no fooling. 

This was not my first Jewish wedding, but it was my first time to feel it from inside the immediate Jewish family as one not raised Jewish. Early on the day of the wedding, Stan went to Jenny’s room to deliver his tallit (or prayer shawl) from his Bar Mitzvah at age 13. It would be draped across the chuppah (or canopy) hovering over Jenny, Jason, and Rabbi Scott Weiss during the ceremony. 

That morning, in exchange for the tallit, Jenny handed an envelope to her father. Inside was a handwritten letter, three pages, front and back. I was honored to be in the room with Stan as he read it slowly, savoring the words, reading bits and pieces to me as tears ebbed and flowed. Jenny’s words seemed refreshingly unrehearsed, tumbling onto the page with honest, humble, specific expressions of unbridled gratitude. In the end, he was always there for her, she said. Always. Her Rock, she called him.

True as those words hit me, I have never heard Stan described as a rock. It’s not exactly an image he cultivates. I always think of him as a happy-go-lucky jokester who teases everybody he likes. But I guess it’s possible to be a rock and a jokester at the same time. 

I was drawn to Stan Ehrenkranz the first time I met him. When he told me he had three sisters, who were all very close, and all live in Houston, the plot thickened. Of course, my thoughts were mostly about me. Would they meet me, then get together and analyze me, tear me apart, then accept or reject me piece by piece? 

Here’s how I feel five years later. Close families like the Ehrenkranzes survive by not taking themselves too seriously. Everybody’s quirky. Everybody talks and laughs about it. Now that they know me, they talk and laugh about my ditzy side, like welcome to the club.

It brings out the competitor in me. You think you’re dysfunctional, listen to what I just did, or thought, or said, or most commonly, lost or forgot. They never pretend I’m faultless, they laugh and agree. Yep, that’s you! 

These women – Aimee, Heather, and Mindy – are far too interesting to be described on this one page. They are deserving of a novel, a Jewish version of Little Women. I need another life to write it.

Aimee tells her own story through her camera lens and goes out of her way to help me tell mine whenever I need a picture for a story. We recently traipsed all over Fort Bend County looking for landmark hints of my past life. After a morning of shooting, Aimee said, “I’m starving.” 

Then, magically, like a mirage in a desert, there it was, Larry’s Mexican Restaurant, where I took my first bite of Mexican food in 1960. Dad loved Larry. Both men are gone now, but Larry lives on through his family-run restaurant that still has the original front door. Aimee and I left that day feeling sister-bonded and full of Larry’s Mexican food. 

Full. That’s how Stan said he felt after reading Jenny’s letter on her wedding day. He sat back as if he’d finished a whole plate of enchiladas and black beans. But this kind of fullness added nothing to his waistline, just perhaps a little time to his lifespan.

All we had thought about before was his suit, his tie and shoes for his big moment, walking Jenny down the aisle. It pales in comparison to a father with a full heart. As the couple stood under the chuppah, beneath Stan’s tallit, blowing in the breeze, I pictured 13-year-old Stan, flanked by his parents, Henry and Marion on the day of his Bar Mitzvah. Henry and Marion are no longer with us, but their DNA remains on that tallit, swaying like a veil between earth and sky. 

In a world so bent on change, I’m anxious to grab on to the things that remain, like words of love and truths embedded in ancient stories and traditions that survive through the ages, including places like Larry’s Mexican Restaurant. 

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