My mother's sister Mabel was a trip. She was the cheapest person anyone knew. Her antics still crack me up, to this day. Some of it is rather ugly – like the fact that she wouldn't come to my grandfather's funeral because he died in New York and she was in Florida at the time and planning on coming back a month later. Therefore, she didn't want to spend the money for the ticket to turn around and come right back. Her husband, my uncle Morris, did pretty well over the years. They had a house in Florida, one in the Catskills, and for a long time, a co-op in NYC. The way she behaved clearly came from childhood. Whether she got it from her parents or from growing up during the Depression, I'm not really sure.
I always said that if I were going to be a stand-up comic, Aunt Mabel would be my best material and then I'd be done. She was notorious for never, and I mean never, throwing anything away. After her funeral, when we went back to the house for the shiva, I was helping clean up in the kitchen, washing some dishes. I picked up the little dishrag that was sitting behind the faucet. It felt funny, like not an absorbent texture or something. I un-wadded it and held it up. It was the armhole of a bra. She took an old bra, cut the cups off (lord only knows what she did with those!), and used the remainder to do dishes.
When they were kids, her daughter told me, if they used Q-tips, she and her brother would have to break them in half. Otherwise, my aunt would grab them out of the trash, pull off the "used" cotton, and put them back in the container (ick!). The original recycler, my mother used to call her.
Aunt Mabel used to steal, too. She told us (and anyone else who would listen) that she paid for the carpet in her house with all the money she didn't have to spend on Sweet 'n' Low over the years because she stole it from restaurants. Apparently, she's not alone. If you go to south Florida – not South Beach where the swanky folks hang out, of course – and you want Sweet 'n' Low or Equal or whatever, you have to ask for it. And they will only bring you 2 packets at a time.
I also am the proud owner of several sets of Eastern Airlines flatware. When I moved into my first apartment in college, Aunt Mabel asked me if I needed silverware. I should have known better, but I didn't have any so I said, "sure." The stuff she gave me was such junk that, if I left it in the stainless steel sink overnight, it would rust. So, the next year, I got ready to move into a new apartment. I was at her house over spring break, and she asked me again if I needed silverware. I must have made a face (thinking about the rust!) because, before I could say anything, she jumped in with, "Oh, no. This is not like last time. This is the good stuff. This is from the airlines!"