May 26, 2014
It's a sleepless night. Thoughts of end of the semester work, and Montreal conference programming, and the shooting rampage that left six innocent young students dead swirl through my brain. And I lie on my back unable to sleep. Michael is facing me, his strong arm around me, his warm breath exhaling against my arm and I become hyper aware of his breathing...exhale, exhale, exhale. I flash back to the cold surroundings of ICU and the machines breathing for him. And then another one comes...our bedroom in Woodland Hills. I'm alone on top of the covers of our big bed wearing two-day old clothes. Michael's side of the bed is empty with just his pillows and a porch light is shining in my face. I am attempting to get my two hours of sleep before heading back to ICU at 4 a.m. to be sure I'm there for his bath so he can feel my presence. And then I'm in the present again, exhale...exhale...exhale...and the stress of the moment leaves my body because I realize that nothing is better than my life right now, at this moment. It is the what I prayed for. Hoped for. Begged for. Michael's life. Michael's breath.
We celebrated nine years of marriage last week. Nine years of love and romance, and friendship and family, and grandchildren and laughs, and illness and survival.
My sister sent me a quote by Lao Tzu: "If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present." I struggle to live in the present because I know that at any moment, life as we know it can end. A shooting. An accident. An illness. But then he breathes...in, out, in, out, and all is well with the world.
January 8, 2014
A Christmas Poem
Naked on the shower chair,
For the first time, as the hot water rained on my back,
And the soap cleansed the residue of
I heard the sound of my ring before I saw it,
Rolling on the tile floor
After slipping from my finger
Muscles wasted from the trauma
My heart stopped as I bent over and picked it up,
Held it close for a breath,
And slipped it back on my finger,
Clenching my fist to keep it from
That gold ring is my most
Precious material possession,
Circling my heart and protecting
A symbol of our love,
And a promise;
That I will always be home for Christmas.
May 15, 2013
You want the moon?
The moon is nice, but want I really want is more time. Today is our anniversary. Eight years of love, laughter, life. Michael brought me flowers, which he does each week on his way home from work - the usual stargazer lilies because he knows how much I love the fragrance, but today they were bigger and filled with various shades of green. And he gave me two handmade necklaces; one, a locket with an engraved poem by EE Cummings, and the other, words from George Bailey: "What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down." And he has. He's given me the moon. My George Bailey, whose life is filled with things that money can't buy - love, friendship, family. And every day I look at him and feel the same as Mary: "George Bailey, I'll love you till the day I die."
But life has dealt us some blows and I've yet to fully recover. I can still see him on that hospital bed fighting for his life, unable to breathe without a respirator. There are days I look at him, or just hold him at night, and my fears set in. The unspeakable question: "What would I do without you? How could I live without you?" But then I bring myself back to the present and I feel all kinds of grateful, for this man, for his strength, for his ability to fight. And I hear the words he told me after he survived: "I'm too in love to die." And I keep the faith, in him, in us, in our friends and family, and love.
"Well, then you can swallow it, and it'll all dissolve, see... and the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair..."
November 30, 2012
For this I am grateful
"Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." ― Marcel Proust
It's taken a few days for the Thanksgiving holiday to sink in but was a great one, spent with Michael's family. Since I am not one of those people like Oprah who keep a daily gratitude journal by the bed, I've put together a list of the things I'm grateful for.
My romantic, passionate, intelligent, loving husband
Andy, Summer and Ami
Cooper and Hazel
My sis and her husband
That my son and daughter turned out to be such amazing people
Michael's family, Richie, Helen, Liz, Hugh and Fin
Becoming a great aunt for the first time
My cousins - New York, Italy, So Cal and beyond
That I'm Italian
Wine and champagne
Time to write
Our very comfortable bed
That Michael can breathe on his own
Norah Ephron's and Woody Allen's writings
Michael's strong arm around me
The way my sister takes care of me when I visit
Michael's sense of humor
My best friend Joanne
My students past, present and future
The spirit of my mother that lives inside me
Cafe Lalo and the Upper West Side
The view of an iconic bridge
That Obama was reelected
September 22, 2012
Thankful to be annoyed
"These are the things we beg for. A root canal, an I.R.S. audit, coffee spilled on our clothes. When the really terrible things happen, we start begging the god we don't believe in to bring back the little horrors, and take away this. It seems quaint now, doesn't it? The flood in the kitchen, the poison oak, the fight that leaves you shaking with rage. Would it've helped if we could see what else was coming? Would we have known that those were the best moments of our lives?" Meredith Gray
I remember hearing these words in an episode of Gray's Anatomy. It was late and I couldn't sleep. Michael was already in bed and I decided to go ahead and watch it alone. It's much more fun watching with him as he tells me which medical scenarios would happen in real life or he figures out a diagnosis before it's revealed on the show. But I watched it alone, knowing Michael was safe in bed. I have to remind myself of this when the house is quiet. I still have flashbacks of his illness. Sometimes I run into the bedroom and get behind him to hold him and hear him breathing. The sounds of his breath are soothing and validation that he is still alive.
But sometimes you start to forget the hard times. You're faced with annoying things like blood sucking ex-wives and noisy French neighbors and dog poop on the sidewalk. But each time I get annoyed I stop for a minute and ask myself this question: "Would you rather be dealing with these meaningless annoyances or sitting in an ICU wondering if you will ever lay behind your husband in bed and hear his breath again?"
I remember the day he called to say he was diagnosed with pneumonia by his friend at the hospital. I was on my way to lunch with my best friend and offered to come home. "Don't be silly honey," he said. "I'm fine." Within three days he was on a respirator fighting for his life.
Today we'll walk outside and hold hands and breathe in the crisp fall air. He'll give me that smile and I'll hold his hand tighter. And I'll wonder if it can get any better than this. But the little voice in my head will wonder if it can get any worse. So I try not to think about what might lie ahead, and for now, ignore the dog shit.
August 2, 2012
That Crazy Bible
Some Christians love to hate in the name of The Bible and are quick to use the Bible to validate their intolerance of gays and gay marriage. "It's a sin!" they say. I'm always amazed how people who appear to be somewhat intelligent can actually look to The Bible, a book written at a time before science and common sense existed, to use as their moral compass for running their daily lives in today's society.
I'd like to add that the argument - "We're not haters, it's just that our Christian faith believes that marriage is between a man and a women" - is a poor and ignorant excuse. While these so-called Christians don't like the idea that this belief is one of hate, it is certainly one of intolerance. Taking away a fundamental right from a group of individuals is wrong. And making hateful statements about a person's sexuality as if it is a choice - "they choose to be gay," is just plain stupid. This view has caused innocent young people to be bullied, even killed, and has resulted in these innocent victims of hate and intolerance to take their own lives.
I thought I'd post a few tidbits from The Bible to show our Christian friends what The Bible also supports. Maybe one day, taking a stand against gay marriage in the name of The Bible will seem as ridiculous as some of these other incoherent ramblings.
RAPING VIRGINS, PAYING THEM OFF, AND MARRYING THEM FOR LIFE: "If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels[a] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives." Deuteronomy 22:28-29
CUTTING OFF WOMEN'S HANDS: "When two men are fighting and the wife of one of them intervenes to drag her husband clear of his opponent, if she puts out her hand and catches hold of the man by his privates, you must cut off her hand and show her no mercy." Deut. 25:11
PIMPING OUT YOUR DAUGHTERS: "Look, I have two daughters, virgins both of them. Let me bring them out to you and you could do what you like with them. But do nothing to these men because they have come under the shelter of my roof." Genesis 19:8
JACKING OFF ON YOUR BROTHER'S FLOOR AND COMMITTING SUICIDE: "Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother's wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother. But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD; so He took his life also." Genesis 38:9
KILLING INNOCENT BOYS AND WOMEN WHO'VE HAD SEX, BUT SAVING VIRGINS FOR YOUR OWN PERSONAL PLEASURE: "Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourself every girl who has never slept with a man." (Numbers 31:17-18)
SLAVERY: "When the Lord delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the males .... As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves." (Deuteronomy 20:13-14)
SLAUGHTERING INNOCENT WOMEN AND CHILDREN FOR REBELLING: "The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their women with child ripped open." (Hosea 13:16)
PROSTITUTION AND DICKS THE SIZE OF DONKEYS: "Yet she increased her prostitution, remembering the days of her youth when she engaged in prostitution in the land of Egypt. She lusted after their genitals - as large as those of donkeys, and their seminal emission was as strong as that of stallions." Ezekiel 23:19
And then there are the contradictions in the Bible. (taken from Gospel Contradictions)
Reminds me of Mitt Romney.
"For I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger forever." (Jeremiah 3:12)
"Ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn forever." (Jeremiah 17:4)
"If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid." (John 5:31)
"Jesus answered: Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid." (John 8:14)
"For God so loved the world" (John 3:16)
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (1 John 2:15)
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)
"Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 6:1)
"Jacob said, 'I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.'" (Genesis 32:30)
"No man hath seen God at any time." (John 1:18)
"We should fear God" (Matthew 10:28)
"We should love God" (Matthew 22:37)
"There is no fear in love (1 John 4:18)
"But anyone who says 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell." (Jesus) Mat 5:22
"You fools!" (Jesus) Luke 11:40
"You blind fools!" (Jesus) Mat 23:17
"How foolish you are" (Jesus) Luke 24:25
"But God said to him, 'You fool!' " (Jesus) Luke 12:20
"You foolish Galatians!" (St. Paul) Galatians 3:1
"You foolish man" James 2:20
"Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles... If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink... He who rejoices at calamity shall not go unpunished." [Prov. 24:17; 25:21; 17:5]
"The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance, he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked" [Ps. 58:10]
"Blessed are the merciful" [Matthew 5:7]
"Leave alive nothing that breathes. Show them no mercy." [Deut. 7:2]
"The Lord hardened their hearts... that they might receive no mercy." [Joshua 11:20]
"I will dash them one against another, even the fathers and the sons together, saith the Lord: I will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy them. A curse on him who is lax in doing the Lord's work! A curse on him who keeps his sword from bloodshed." [Jer. 13:14; 48:10]
July 26, 2012
I am now living in New York (yes, dreams do come true). I am working on a couple of projects that I will write about soon but for now I'm busy organizing and getting settled. While sifting through cards and kid's drawings and event tickets, I stumbled on something my husband gave me on the first night of Hannukah in 2009. It was so beautiful and timely that I wanted to share.
What do I remember about the beginning? I remember your smile the first time you came for dinner and the way I could talk to you without the clumsiness I usually had with beautiful women. I remember driving to see you at Paradise Cove, having lunch on the beach, and walking hand-in-hand on the shore. I remember driving to the theater on one of our first dates and getting lost and confused and not having you yell at me; telling me it was OK. Being with you in different places and wondering what was happening to my fear of relationships, of my own perceived inability to love and relate. The fear of vulnerability.
I remember our first night together, wanting you and the fear of being inappropriate. I remember looking at your bags alongside the couch when you came over. It seemed so natural for them to be there. I would bring the puppies to smell your things and watch them wag their tails. Some non-verbal communication. I remember the first time they met you and fell in love with you, erasing their prior life of fear and tension. I remember driving you to your apartment in Santa Monica and using paper clips to get your TV to work and I remember the first time I used your knives in your kitchen. I wanted you to have better ones but you explained they had always served you well, and your mother, and your nonie.
I remember the party you had and the food you prepared and the wine you served. It was strange to watch you so at ease, talking with friends and family, no stress, no time limits, no expectations. I remember time passing so quickly on our drives that we didn't know how we had gotten there. I remember walking in the dark to get the keys to the cabin we rented in Cambria, drinking three martinis and getting drunk. Your birthday strip tease for me to Tom Jones' sex bomb. The Sophia Loren negligee you hid all night under your trench coat dress. Starting to feel alive again.
I remember New York and the way you looked at me when we brought your torn bag to the airline office and I got them to arrange for a new one the next day in the city. You never asked for this but made me feel like a hero for doing it. The walk we took through the park, stopping to sit on the bench and watch people with their dogs and noting how much alike they were. Loving your city which is also my city.
Taking you to your first formal opera at the Met and the dress you wore, and our dinner at Cafe Des Artistes. Watching Woody Allen at the Carlisle. Window shopping and browsing through stores. I remember paranoia at being gone from the room too long and not quite realizing that it was OK not to be on a very short leash. Walking back in the room and you smiling and saying, "Back already?"
I remember getting you a real turkey dinner at the hotel and watching Auntie Mame on Thanksgiving. I remember the puppies in your office as you worked and Cody in bed and wanting to shower with you. I remember the sauce you kept in the fridge to mix in the dog's food and the Parmesan cheese you grated on top. Being at the hospital on June 9th when our first grandson was born and bringing you lunch while you waited. I remember our trip to Hawaii and never turning on the TV. I remember the feel of your body next to me and the way your blonde hair tickled my nose as I scrunched up behind you.
I remember our Taxi ride to Manolo Blahnik and our walk to Prada in Italy. I know the history of your family and now look differently at the statue of Garibaldi in the park in New York. There is so much more, but there are seven more nights of Hannukah.
May 29, 2012
Happy anniversary my love
We just celebrated our seventh anniversary. Every year is special, but this one meant more than all the others because we are more grateful then we ever thought possible. Michael gave me the most beautiful gift- a handmade necklace by an artist who takes old pictures of NY and reduces them to tiny portraits that are put into round lockets that resemble little globes. Beautiful. And then he gave me this:
I can dance with you in the kitchen
Sing to you with lights on my head
Make you laugh
Which fills my heart with love for you.
I can hold you in my arms when we sleep,
Make love to you and feel your body with mine.
I can shiver with you in the cold,
And sweat with you in the heat.
Drink cold water and smell freshly cut
All the small things that make life I am
Grateful for, since the time
I walked through the shadow of the valley of Death
And feared not death nor evil,
Were with me;
Not as an angel but as
An avenging warrior girded for battle
With forces unknown
I love you forever.
May 9, 2011
Happy Mother's Day, from my husband
I have seen you be mother to the world
A title you inherited from your mother,
And you have done her proud.
Your heart wraps itself around all who come into
I have seen you overcome your fears and care for
Creatures with fur and feathers.
I have seen you you turn a rainy day into glorious sunshine for
The little boys just by the anticipation of your arrival.
You carry a toy store in your suitcase and the
cure for sadness in your heart.
Your smile lights up my world and your voice
comforts my soul.
You have changed the lives of so many in the
Drama department and make the world
a place where I
never wanted to leave.
I love you.
May 15, 2010
My king, my prince
Five years ago, I married the love of my life. Last night he walked in carrying dozens of red roses with a big smile on his face. I had just picked roses from our gardens and had filled vases everywhere. We think alike. Needless to say our house smells rosy.
I love this man. It never gets old. It's a constant adventure. Life is filled with surprises and children, and family and connections and love, lots and lots of love. We woke up this morning and held each other for a long time. We drank coffee, opened gifts and talked about the wonderful party tonight at Il Cielo where we married. Our closest friends and family will celebrate with us. My best friend of 38 years and her new husband of two days, Stuart. Mark, Michael's friend of 48 years and his wife Melinda. Michael's former partners, Bennett and Danny, who have both known me since I was 23. My son and his wife and our grandson, and my sister who understands the true meaning of carrying on our mother's legacy. And the rest of our amazing family, what a fantastic bunch!
But after everyone goes home, Michael and I will continue our journey together. We're getting older and sometimes that scares me. I want to live a long life with him so I hope for the best. He promises me that we will and I believe him. He gave me several poems today that he wrote for our anniversary, but this one went straight to my heart...
Toni, my beloved
You are the woman who
Gave me back my life
Looked into my soul and found truth
Purged my demons and made me whole
You are the woman who, hating hospitals
Crawled into my bed after surgery,
Amidst the tubing and the monitors and the urinal on the bedrail
And slept for nights beside me
You are the woman who is mother to all who know you
A duck with all her ducklings who grow and spread their wings
And fly off to do great things.
Andy is right that you are the most loyal of friends and the most
Protective of family.
You are my friend and lover and sweetheart and wife and Queen and Princess.
You are the castle of our kingdom and I defend it against all, to the death.
Dragons beware that this place is sacred and protected.
I am in love as never before
And have never been happier than
February 21, 2010
Yankee yachts and lobster pots and sunshine
I took my dreams down the sea, again. Maybe it was watching my little beach cottage torn down with nothing left but the remains of my red kitchen wall and a slab of black concrete from Andy and Summer's room, but I needed the ocean.
We arrived at this little beach house in Cambria after a foggy and misty drive in the dark. There are signs that you are meant to be someone that come throughout a relationship. Driving with Michael is one of those signs. I can remember drives with my ex-husband that usually consisted of bickering, his fear of heights and just overall anxiety. We just didn't mesh well together in life, but put the two of us in car for five hours and it wasn't a pretty picture.
I took my first long drive with Michael to Cambria. Cambria is a very special place in my family's life. My mother discovered it long ago and used to come here often with friends. She and I once took a road trip here and it was one of the best times I've ever had. We have celebrated holidays here, camped here, and even held Andy and Ami's wedding here.
It was 2004 and Michael and I were dating. We were falling in love and it was new. We were both scared, but when we were together, the fears disappeared. I took Michael to the beach to celebrate his birthday which happens to fall on the same day as my daughter's. I rented a beach house with a Viking stove and gourmet kitchen so he could cook his heart out. Since his divorce, he had become a great chef and I loved being the recipient of his creative dishes.
As we drove, we talked and laughed and arrived in Cambria in what seemed like an hour. This is the way it looks when you are meant to be with someone. Things that may annoy one person may be the very thing that someone else loves. I love that Michael analyzes life and knows so much about so many things. I find him incredibly interesting and could listen to him talk forever. I also love that he's so calm and that he loves driving. He is the yin to my yang. Put the two of us in a car and it's magic. It always seems as if we arrive to our destinations in half the time that it takes. I actually look forward to road trips with Michael.
The beach house is set right on the beach in an area called Marine Terrace. It is the closest I've ever stayed on the water. We are literally right on the rocks. If there is ever a time that I appreciate California, it's when I'm at the beach. The Northern Coast is rocky and misty and beautiful. Sounds of seagulls and pelicans fill the air, and the waves crashing on the rocks is heaven. Every time a new bird flies overhead, Michael runs out to see what kind of bird it is, followed by a lesson on the history of the bird, told with a boyish grin on his face. We turned on the radio yesterday and found a station that plays music from the 1930s and 40s and found ourselves dancing in front of the picture window. We cooked some great food, ate cheese and bread and drank wine and talked.
I wondered what life might have been like if Michael were the one in the old beach house. I try not to go there because I don't want to upset the good memories. I never want to forget the skinny little girl that loved to dive in the waves or the boy who wouldn't leave his computer long enough to brush his teeth, or the little boy who only had to walk a few steps to spend time with his aunt, or my mother's face every time she watched the sunset. The house may be gone but the memories aren't. And as I watched the sunset last night, I thought of the beach house and the good times with my children and sister and mother and Bryan, and I felt lucky. Lucky to be alive to tell the memories and lucky to be creating new memories with the love of my life.
"Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories." -Terry McKay
February 11, 2010
I took my dream down by the sea...
I once lived in a house on the sand. It was torn down yesterday but these memories remain...
Ocean Ann Allen swimming with the dolphins
A little boy brought home
A hand-painted wall with Pooh and a tree
Sitting on the sand
A blue and white checkered room for mom
The art room
Carrying a little girl in from the car, asleep
Falling through a window on a rocking chair
Cliff and his dog
Pounding on the floor for Summer and Andy
Black and white checks on the kitchen floor
Watching Fourth of July fireworks from our bed
Drawing Teletubbies with Cooper
Watching Jeopardy with Mom
A sandwich from La Dolce Vita
The Corner Store
A marriage falling apart
Sand in my bed
Watching a beloved cat take his last breath on the bathroom floor
Sand piled so high you could barely see the ocean
Hans and Sean
Taking care of mom in her last days
Todd playing guitar and mom and Summer singing in the art room
Cooper coming to my house while singing, "lalalalalalalala"
Chester carefully walking on the wet sand
Watching out the window for Summer's school bus
Andy's very hot water bed
The suicide birds
Summer's friends performing at our house
A bright yellow wall and a ceiling fan
Sex and the City marathons
Mom walking back and forth from her little house
A very pregnant sister
Audra, Tianna, Brittany
Hair dye in my bathtub
A visitor from Erie, PA
Early morning sounds of a hot rod leaving
Ami as a young girl
Cooper in his diaper with the water hose
Foggy days and nights
Crystal and Summer
Mom rocking Cooper in the glider
Mary's overnight visits
Summer's messy room
Morris the cat
Dennis Driscoll's visit
Pink giving birth to kittens
Dog poop in the sand
Mom tap dancing in the kitchen with Summer and Mary
A possum on my porch
The sound of waves
Attack of the prehistoric bug in Summer's room
Andy and Ami, the beginning...
The first cup of coffee with mom...."ahhhhh"
Family parties on the deck
A vegan Thanksgiving
Three cats on the bed
Taking mom away from home for the last time
I took my share down by the sea
Paper plates and Javex bottles on the tide
Seagulls come down and they squawk at me
Down where the water-skiers glide. -Joni Mitchell
February 10, 2010
I want to always:
Make love to you every day
Open the car door for you
Carry any package that is too heavy for you
Make you laugh
Make your eyes twinkle
Sway with you
Hum the songs that you sing or whistle
Cuddle behind you in bed or roll over and let you hold me
Never go to bed without you
Cook for you
Eat what you cook for me
Drive you anywhere you want to go
Take you back to Italy
Take you to England and Spain
Buy you an apartment in New York
Buy you a beach house
Keep the house filled with tulips and yellow roses and stargazer lilies
Kiss you a lot
Hold an umbrella over you in the rain
Hold your hand when you fly
Hold your hand when you don't fly
Slip money in your wallet when you aren't looking
Say I love you more than once a day
Dance with you in the kitchen, dining room, living room and wherever
Rub your feet and back
Listen to you tell me all about your day
Applaud for you after your lectures
Find things you think you've lost
Give you the half of the bagel with the seeds on the top
Marry you again
"For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation." -Rilke
February 9, 2010
I wish I could have...
taken my mom to New York, Hawaii and Italy on a First Class flight
told my mother that I was in love with Michael
put Michael's hand on my pregnant belly
made Italian food for Michael and his classmates in med school
watched my mother tap dance with Hazel
introduced Michael to my father
witnessed the joy of my mother playing with her great grandchildren
bought my mother something extravagant
taken a road trip with Michael and my mom
watched my mom celebrate at her 80th birthday
seen the look in my mother's eyes at my wedding to Michael
watched my father be a great grandfather
saved my mother's life
"There is nothing to regret - either for those who go or for those who are left behind." -Eleanor Roosevelt
September 28, 2009
PICTURED: SAINT AUNT MADELINE AND SAINT AUNT MENA
I've been thinking a lot about expectations. I was raised by a mother and father who expected a lot where family was concerned. After my Nonie died, my mother was expected to cook an Italian meal exactly like hers, every Sunday. She always did.
Considering that my mother was Irish, learning to cook like Nonie wasn't easy. It was an expectation that was fulfilled after the first year that my mother married my father and moved in to Nonnie and Poppy's house in New Haven, CT. My mom learned how to cook it all, from pasta fagioli to bracciole and she became, as she called it, "Italian by injection." She even acted Italian, flinging her hands in the air when she spoke, and often replied when asked what was for dinner, "Cappi cazzo on toast (balls on toast)."
When I married my first husband, Steve, at the young age of 18, my mother was expected to cook 600 stuffed pasta shells for 150 guests because my father didn't trust anyone else to cook like his mother. This was served in addition to prime rib, vegetables, potatoes and a slew of other foods. My mother was also expected each day to comb his hair, lay out his clothes, and wait on him hand and foot. This was something she did happily.
His wife and children were expected to go to church, even though my father only stepped foot in a church when someone got married, or had their first communion or confirmation. And then, he sat in the back of the church with his brothers and friends reading the racing form. But we went. We had no choice. My mother was also expected to convert from Protestant to Catholicism when they married. She did.
Being with family was a given. Every Sunday, we were all expected to be seated for dinner. None of us even thought of saying we had other plans. If we didn't show up, my father would hunt us down and bring us to the table. The same applied for all holidays, other people's weddings, funerals, birthdays, First Communions, Confirmations, anniversaries, and other various celebrations.
This might explain why my sister and I have expectations. Gina expects her in-laws to want to see her children and to long for them when they can't. We expect our brother to want to be with us. We want our nieces to miss us when they have not spoken to or seen us. We want everyone in our family to feel the way we do, to want to get together and hang out and eat and have fun. But times change, and that hurts. Mom is gone and we want her back. We want the family back, like it used to be.
We have our aunts in Connecticut who are the only ones left of this generation. They never forget birthdays. They send a gift to every single child in this gigantic family until they turn 18. When my Aunt Madeline was two days out from a stroke and a massive heart attack, I visited her. She looked at me and was trying to speak. "Hadel...Hadel," she said. "Hazel?" I answered. "Yeah, Hadel, it's her birday." This woman is facing open-heart surgery and can barely speak and she is worried that she had not bought her great niece a birthday present. My aunts exceed my expectations.
Gina and I wanted to believe that it is all the same in Connecticut, but it isn't. Nonie died and so did the family. With the exception of a few of my cousins, no one comes around anymore. The aunts sit for days on end with no visitors. Even the families and their immediate families do not see each other much. And I just do not get it. Since the reunion three months ago, hardly anyone has seen each other.
I find all of this sad. I want it all back, Nonie and Auntie El and my mom and dad, and the expectations. Maybe we all need to have something expected of us. Maybe they were all onto something. Maybe family really is all that matters in the end. As my Aunt Mena says, "You can't get it back."
Where do you think you're going? Nobody's leaving. Nobody's walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We're all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We're gonna press on, and we're gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse. -Clark Griswold