Posted 10/5/22

The first “Irreplaceable,” which ran in the River Reporter almost a year ago, chronicled Cass’ memories of her Aunt Nell.

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The first “Irreplaceable,” which ran in the River Reporter almost a year ago, chronicled Cass’ memories of her Aunt Nell. 

And now, Cass takes us back to Eleanor Davis, so we can say goodbye.

I express myself in words. If I couldn’t write, I think my mind would explode. Before I could write, I talked. Fortunately, there was someone who always listened to me. That person was Nell. My mother’s beautiful younger sister. 

In the earliest photo of us together, she is dressed in blue taffeta for her wedding to my Uncle Hal. She was the Grace Kelly of our clan with her slender figure and graceful posture, which she used to good advantage modeling as a young woman. Her cerulean blue eyes were the portal to her sharp intellect. While raising her family she earned her Ph.D. in psychoanalysis and had a private practice.

She spoke to me always as a peer, even when I was a child, never condescending to me. But in a conundrum of personality, she could be dismissive of and downright rude to waiters and taxi drivers. At least she tipped well.

I don’t remember ever being on the receiving end of her anger, although I saw it directed at others many times. Maybe I never dared risk it. 

By the time I was in high school, I was living with Nell and her family in their apartment on East 10th Street in Greenwich Village. It was easier to ride my bike through the Village to school in Chelsea than to commute by subway from the Upper West Side, and besides, my mother and I were not getting along.

When I moved back to New York after living in Boston after college, she and Hal rented me an apartment they owned for an affordable rent. I lived there for two years until I met my husband-to-be. Until then, she never urged me to marry. I can see now that it was because none of my romantic choices lived up to her standards for me. 

For all the years I lived in the city, we saw each other at least once a week and talked. We met at coffee shops and fancy restaurants (her preference) or at her home.

In February 2012, Nell joined us at our downtown loft for our annual anniversary party. She had stressed about making the meatloaf she always made for us, and I begged her just to come and not bring anything. That was not her way. But I barely saw her that night as I mingled with guests and kept the party going. She sat with Hal on our long sectional, looking tired.

The next day, at age 77, she had a stroke in her dining room. The damage was severe. With therapy, she learned to walk haltingly but never regained the ability to speak clearly, as she had done professionally for so many years. 

While she continued to live in New York City, we saw each other regularly, but it was never the same. I could still wax on about my life but she could offer nothing in return. We last saw each other in person in February 2020. We drove to her son’s home in Concord, Massachusetts, where she was living before going to a nursing home. She sat in her favorite upholstered armchair with the high wing-back, dressed in Eileen Fisher silk with a shawl of bright woven colors. She was still beautiful. Bones don’t lie. High forehead, perfect nose, those blue eyes. Her black-and-white cat Maggie sat behind her on the chair, keeping watch. But Nell’s eyes were not the portal to her intellect anymore. Instead, they stared blankly ahead. What’s it like, I wondered, to be locked up inside, without expression?

(On August 28, 2022, Eleanor Davis, Ph.D. died in a nursing home in Massachusetts. Her daughter Jennifer was with her.)

Read the original “Irreplaceable (but not lost)” at river


story, family, loss, memories, rememberance, irreplaceable


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