Rebecca is a popular name for girls on the Lower East Side, a nice Old Testament name, seems like every Jewish family in the tenements has a Rebecca. And they all change their name, Americanize it, Christianize it, whatever. So my father’s sister Rebecca becomes Rita and his cousin Rebecca becomes Betty, it takes me forever scanning old census record to figure out who these people are, not only the Rebeccas either. My grandfather calls himself Morris on occasion, my aunt Fannie says she is Fay.
Rita is the glamorous sister, she dresses like a movie star, has a cream complexion and red lips, her hair is swirled perfect, she is a corseted puffball of a woman.
Rita marries Joe which is a problem because Joe is glamorous too but a guinea, an Italian, we whisper that he is part of the Mafia. Really, he just works at Tammany Hall, the kind of fellow who knows the judge and can fix a traffic ticket. Rita tells her father that Joe is Jewish, Joe goes along with it, speaks some Yiddish, he is swarthy and has a big nose so no wonder he fools the old man.
Joe’s fortunes ebb and flow, when he is short of cash he asks my father for a loan, mostly forgets to pay it back. When he is flush he buys Rita a mink coat. They have two children, one is a lawyer, the other a psychologist, neither is half as colorful as their parents.