When my mother visited me in Paris, in the late 1960s, she brought a telephone number of a friend she had not seen for nearly 50 years. Her name was Mitzi, and they were both born in a rural region of eastern Hungary, where my mother's father owned a great deal of land and Mitzi's father was a greengrocer.
My mother told me that Mitzi, pretty and ambitious, "tried to take advantage of her eyes, the shade of violets," in "snaring" one of my mother's brothers. But nothing came of it, and Mitzi immigrated to France in the early 1920s; the only thing our family knew about her was that she became a seamstress.
My mother telephoned Mitzi, who explained that her name was Mimi now, and suggested that we meet for tea at the Cafe' de l'Opera. "But how will we recognize each other?" my mother asked. "The color of my eyes hasn't changed," Mitzi-Mimi said. "My son looks just like my brother looked in his youth," my mother said. "You'll recognize him instantly."
My mother thought it would be impolite to arrive a minute late, so we arrived 15 minutes early. Mimi was already there, wearing white gloves, a jaunty hat and a tailored jacket that matched her eyes. My mother wore a smart gray dress, elegant in an understated way.
Mimi didn't waste a minute in telling us about her husband, a prominent, wealthy jeweler, a daughter who married the scion of one of France's oldest families and a son who worked in the finest law firm in Paris.
She spoke a bit too loud, and on one occasion she tugged at my mother's jacket sleeve to emphasize a point.
My mother, usually talkative, listened politely, sipping her tea.
In a few minutes, 50 years peeled away; two world wars, expropriations and revolutions unhappened. Mimi was once again the greengrocer's daughter, and my mother the landowner's.
Suddenly, Mimi stopped herself in midsentence. "How is your brother?" she asked. "What kind of a woman did he marry?"
"Oh, he is fine, thank you," my mother replied. "But, unfortunately, his wife is not well, just now. We aren't getting any younger, you know."
Mimi asked if my mother had a family photo with her. She did.
Mimi lunged into her handbag and pulled out a pair of thick glasses. She examined the snapshot for a long time. Finally, she said in a flat voice: "I wouldn't recognize him if he sat across the table from me."
Then Mimi looked at me.
"My God," she said, "you do look like your uncle. But, and I hope you don't mind my saying so, he was much more handsome than you are. He was the most handsome man I knew."
She took off her white gloves and put her hand on mine. "I have a fine husband who brings home every penny he makes. But your uncle did not marry the right person. I know. I even know that her eyes don't match; one eye is brown, the other green. They have no children. Right?"
"You are right on all counts," my mother said with a sigh.
"I would have been a good wife to him," Mimi said.
She took off her glasses, and her eyes were filled with tears.
"You have lovely eyes, Aunt Mimi," I said. "Violets in the rain."
Her hand was pressing mine so hard that it hurt.