By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
My cousin Jane was an extraordinary woman. She was a writer, gardener, activist, teacher, accomplished cook, and traveler. She died peacefully at 78 on October 16, with her wife Carmela Aliffi by her side. There was never a more loving, devoted couple than these two. They were a hoot together.
I’m proud to say that Jane and I were first cousins, even though our families were estranged when we were children and for most of our lives. We reconnected with Jane about 20 years ago at the bar mitzvah in Southfield, Mich. of our mutual cousin, Eric. My sister, Nancy, and I hadn’t seen Jane since we were kids in Detroit . We decided to find her in the sea of people lining the pews of the huge synagogue. We went up the center aisle, took one look at a smiling woman who looked just like our family, and asked, “Is that you, Jane?” Her quick-witted response? “Of course it’s me!” The three of us ran into the ladies room like 13-year-old girls avoiding the rabbi’s sermon and cackling away!
Ever since then, Jane and Carmela have been involved in our lives, even though they lived in Savannah, Ga., and the rest of us cousins lived in Detroit all those years.
We became fast friends and close cousins. Jane would just call us “cuz.” We solidified that bond at my dad’s 85th birthday party in 2005 in Florida, where most of the Fishman cousins came to help celebrate.
I would see Jane during the years from 2008 to 2010, when my dad and her mom both lived in the same assisted living facility in Southfield. Jane would come up from Savannah and I’d meet her in the lobby for a visit. When her mom passed in 2010, Jane’s first phone calls were to me and our cousin, Jeri. We sat in her mother’s small studio apartment, comforting Jane. Even though all those years had passed with no connection, she felt close enough to reach out to us at a very sad time.
Jane lived life to the fullest. She had friends all over the world, and particularly in her Savannah community. Once when visiting her in her home, we spent the day flitting about town. Everywhere we went, people knew Jane. I was with a local celebrity! She was a people person if I ever saw one. The best part of these encounters was how folks just lit up when they saw her. So special.
Jane was a stitch. She was a master storyteller, just proclaiming what was on her mind, unfiltered, and would soon have you rolling on the floor. One of our favorite Fishman stories was a cousins’ reunion we had in September, 2016 at our family’s old Camp Michigama on Peach Lake in W. Branch, Mich. A few of us went for a lake swim. My sister Nancy followed in a canoe for safety reasons. My cousin Carol and I were swimming east toward the dock. Jane, on the other hand, kept going south. Nancy yelled, “Jane, you’re going south!” a number of times. Jane kept moving on. That became a catch phrase for us when Jane marched to the beat of her own drum.
Last April, we had a Fishman family reunion at our compound in California, as described in my column “We Are Family”. Unbeknown to us, it would be our last time with Jane. We had a blast. A fond memory of her: we were having coffee on my front porch and Chester, our springer spaniel, has a playful tendency to “steal” stuff out of guests’ suitcases. He started parading around the orchard with something in his mouth. Jane pointed and said with amusement, “Is that my bra?” Getting it back was no easy feat, several of us chasing the dog in circles.
What more can I say? Jane is gone but will not be forgotten. She had a very open heart to all peoples from all walks of life. Her intellect, her wit, her warmth, her myriad interests will be missed by the Fishman family and the rest of the world.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.