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“My Bonnie”

November 7, 2017

My sister Bonnie Braine died at 9AM this past Saturday. She had been battling Picks disease for more than 12 years , a rare brain disorder with symptoms much like Alzheimer’s, which gradually resulted in the deterioration of all her mental and motor facilities. It was very difficult to see her gradually die, but it was a blessing when she finally did. Obviously, none of us want to remember Bonnie this way. So here are some of my favorite memories of Bonnie.

Bonnie was a kind and gentle sister with a brilliant and creative mind. She graduated from Brown Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude (which she modestly never told any of us about until her graduation day) and then excelled getting her Masters in Urban Planning at Columbia University. Only Bonnie could come up with her very unique major at Brown: 17th and 18th century English and French literature, which of course allowed her to read and study Shakespeare, who she absolutely adored.

My first “memory” was  Bonnie at age 5 or 6 giving me her pennies which she had been saving for her “baby-brother Bruce”. (I was 2 or 3 at the time.) This act of generosity was apparently not appreciated by yours truly who immediately threw these pennies all over the floor. Though my exact memory is obviously hazy, this was what I was told happened, naturally by Bonnie herself!

Until she was about eight or nine, Bonnie played with Geoff and me (and even shared the same room with us). She showed her particular creativity and her later interests in urban planning, when we played with wooden blocks and constructed subway systems, with our games often ending with a flood or another natural catastrophe destroying what we had created. Later when we were much older, Bonnie created another subway game, where the three of us would stand on different sides of a narrow doorway in the apartment, one of us would make a pseudo door chime sound (to announce that the subway doors were opening) and then we would all attempt to go in different directions thru the doorway.

Bonnie always talked about Geoff and me when looking back at her childhood. She loved to taunt Geoff about his playing in and apparently even drinking from the bird bath when we were vacationing in Alder Creek NY when he was only 3 or 4. She invented the story about Geoff being adopted and brought home from Macy’s in a shopping bag and she always recounted this story to many unknowing guests well into our adult years.

On a family trip to England in 1965, Bonnie (then age 13) rather extemporaneously developed a musical parody of My Fair Lady which she dubbed as the musical “My Fair Car”. This was likely necessitated during long drives thru the English countryside with her two impatient brothers in the back seat with Bonnie. (I can remember that my parents were VERY stressed about having to drive on the left side of the road. However, my father did enjoy honking his horn to help clear the sheep from the country roads, almost as much as the three of us in the back seat enjoyed hearing it). Bonnie no doubt responsibly developed this idea to get her brothers from bugging her parents, though I recall Geoff was a little too young to meaningfully contribute and I only helped very marginally.

I don’t believe the lyrics were ever written down (a bit like an old-style madrigal), but I do remember some of them. The opening song of course was “Why Can’t the English Learn to Drive?” (which in the original film musical was sung/spoken by Rex Harrison as “Why Can’t the English Learn to Speak?”):

Oh why can’t the English teach the English how to drive?!

Oh why can’t the English? Why can’t the English … Learn to drive

It’s positively frightening the lightning speeds they go

They drive on the shoulders and pass you when you slow


The Venetians drive on water

The Romans drive on cars

And the Russians drive their rockets

All the way to MARS!

So … (Repeat Refrain) 

The Germans drive their VWs

as fast as grease lightning

And the Americans do it backwards

which is positively frightening

When I first arrived at Brown in the fall of ’72 as a freshman, Bonnie, then a senior, invited me to have dinner with her at “Professor” Falkowitz’s apartment. I remember she pronounced it “Falk OH Wit ZEE” in order to make it sound more foreign. As a naive freshman, I assumed she was telling the truth even when she explained that he was a Full Professor in the field of Psycho-Ceramics (which I only later realized was the study of “crackpots” or crazy people). Little did I know that Robert Falkowitz was one of her close friends at Brown. Later at his apartment, Robert played along with the ruse asking what I planned to major in and which professor was my advisor. Eventually, he broke down and told me that he was in fact a senior at Brown (along with Bonnie). I don’t think Bonnie would have ever told me if Robert hadn’t!

As much as Bonnie liked to kid us, she was also extremely protective when it came to her brothers. I can remember going thru a terrible ordeal of back pain for more than a year which had me bedridden and in great pain and linked to major stress at work in the late 1990s. Not only did Bonnie provide constant reassurance and sympathy, she even made me a needlepoint which said “Illegitimi non carborundum” meaning “don’t let the bastards get you down” in mock-Latin.

I was very lucky to have such a kind, wonderful, bright and interesting sister. I will miss her terribly.

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  1. Sandy Braine permalink

    That’s beautiful, Bruce. I had not heard all of those stories. Especially love the subway game. It’s good to remember all the good stuff.

  2. Ed Kaufman permalink

    My sympathies,  Bruce, to you and your families. 

    Edward A. Kaufman

  3. Laurie Davis permalink

    Thank you for posting this lovely remembrance of Bonnie. This is the first that I’ve heard that she has died. Although this is something of a blessing, it is also a terrible loss for you and everyone in your family.
    Sending love and prayers to you all. – Laurie

  4. Robert Carey permalink

    Bruce, I am so sorry to hear this. Brings back memories from the early part of my life. Robbie.

  5. Tina Lund permalink

    I remember her talking about that trip to England! I think that’s where she developed her love of fish in the morning. I am glad that she is finally at peace.

  6. Thanks Bruce … great stories … and I can confirm them, although I honestly don’t remember the bird bath experience (must have been something in the water). I also thought the story was that I was brought home from *Bloomingdale’s* in a shopping bag. Guess the story could have been worse … I could have been brought home from Woolworth’s or a 5 and 10 cent store.

  7. Probably right about “Bloomingdales” but I would like it more if it were a 5 and 10 cent store. ;)

  8. Joyce permalink

    Dear Bruce, what wonderful memories and love hearing more about your lovely sister. So sorry for your loss, but keep those special, lovely memories close to your heart to give you comfort! Love to you and your family, Joyce

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