``Be nice to them,'' my mother always said whenever she sent me to their house with a cake or pie or fresh-baked bread. And so I sat in the dark chair in their lightless parlor where they lived among ancestral portraits and old bric-a-brac as though interred like an Egyptian king with all his entourage and prized possessions entombed as well. And I would listen to the queenly one retell her tales of triumphs, proposals, dancing with a prince when she was called, she said proudly, ``the Pearl of St. Thomas'' while her wispy sister with graying bird's nest hair stared, half-hidden in a doorway, fluttering out of sight if I looked up. ``Be nice to them,'' my mother always said. And so I was, but out of her compassion, not my own. I did not understand there are needs that, deep as they are, are not too deep and wide to be in a way, allayed by the sometime presence of a child.