DelBloggolo

Monday, June 27, 2016

THE DAYS I NEVER KNEW



If I could journey beyond my time, I would be willing to be brave enough to take the voyage from my ancestor’s hometowns and venture to America. Why? Just a peek to feel the idea of coming to America, to see for the first time the Statue of Liberty, to feel what it was like to see the shores of America for the first time.

It seems so contradictory to travel to a land called; ‘America’ knowing that Amerigo Vespucci was the explorer, a fellow Italian who they named two continents after, yet the arrivals faced prejudice and hatred, suspicion and humiliation from those who came here first, and I’m not talking about the Native Americans!

I guess it is something akin to penicillin, it grows as mold, but then is turned into something beautiful and helpful. In America, just about every city, town and hamlet own an Italian restaurant, and it shares with Chinese restaurants, bagel shops, and sushi bars!

I often wondered what went through the mind of my grandparents on the first sighting of the cities, rolling mountains and glorious harbors, all harbors of hope, adventure and of course: uncertainty. It reminds of a story of my grandmother once so long ago. She traveled back to Italy, and on her return voyage on a ship, she had purchased a trunk load of salami, cheese, and pork products, all locally in Naples. This was illegal and customs was beginning to crack down on the undeclared imports.

The inspectors were checking luggage and with a sniffing dog, Grandma’s large trunk became under suspicion. They asked her to open the trunk, and grandma asked why. To no satisfaction on her part, they refused to answer her. They asked what she had in the trunk and now she kept silent. Then the trunk was opened by customs, under a hail of Italian curse words, that nearly sunk the ship, and caused permanent ear damage to the agents, as the salami and cheeses flew overboard miles before the entry into port. To the day she died, grandma regretted the loss of such precious cargo from “Da sonnamabitches”. My dad loved to tell this story whenever we would discuss how feisty grandma, the redhead was.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

ANNIVERSARIES AND DAD


As the media has continuously reminded us since Mother’s Day, today is Father’s Day. If you are lucky to have a father it is a better day yet. I can’t extol the virtues of being a father but I remember
my Dad, every day since he passed. He worked, loved his kids and gave us whatever he could afford. We really didn’t have much as his children, but he had less. But he did teach me to fish so I could eat; as they say.

Today is my wedding anniversary, 45 years, the best years of my life. At her worst, she is still better than anyone else at their best for me. She is unselfish, loyal, loving and the best mom there is, which makes sense since she is the best wife there is.


We had a magical courtship, meeting on a train and getting engaged on the same train, with many friends around us and spent those days planning for our wedding. Our honeymoon was spent in Europe, traveling to England, France, and Italy, how beautiful it was!

Marriage does not guarantee happiness, it only guarantees joy, and tears, love and worry and birth and death. We have seen our lives challenged, facing a child with mental disabilities and a child that passed at such a young age.
We have also seen that our love through all the tribulation is undying, it lives and breathes because we are in it for each other, not 50/50, but 100% for the other. The life was tested, but never the love. When it was dark, I reached out and there was her hand. When it rained she shared her shelter: when it was cold:

her devotion kept me warm.

And so we celebrate 45 years together, but not really, it is just another day we are celebrating as we have for 45 years.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

THE HOW TO’S WITH AN ACCENT


Back in the day of Nona and her trusty companion, even with the orders and bickering; Noni: there were many secrets that needed to be revealed to the younger generations coming up and about to make their mark on the family culinary history and traditions.

Putting a flame under a pot was not what it was all about, there was certain prep that needed to be done.

“Nona, how do you make…”

“Come, I show you.”

MEATBALLS!!!

We all know how linguini with white or red clam sauce should taste, grandma made it, it was delicious! We knew how a good meatball should taste, grandma rolled enough or maybe more than a ball bearing factory in a busy month! Those mushrooms, where did they come from and who picked them? The wine: fabulous and so earthy! Grandpa’s pride and they should have labeled it that.

Picking mushrooms was an art, but then again, everything my grandparents did was art, from waving their hands to talk to picking mushrooms you needed to know what you were doing. She showed us how to find the non-poisonous variety, how to clean and shuck a clam, how that delicious broth came from those mussels and clams, and how not to overcook scampi.

Pasta was a staple, not from the box, but by hand and it needed (kneaded) to go through the steps, and as she went through each step she instructed: “Likea deese.”

Jarring or picking eggplants, peppers, and a combination of things such as olives, peppers, and eggplant, maybe a little zucchini and capers made you save money and enjoy your family favorites, because if you dared purchase them in a store, they would be hard to find and expensive, and probably the main complaint would be they were too salty: “not likea mine”.

Shopping was like hunting if you tagged along with grandma. In a butcher shop she gave her order and then watched them carefully, picking through the vegetable stand, she as much selected the best as she also aggravated the owner of the stand. Then there was the bakery, filled with wonderful flavors and smells, and she made sure they gave her the usual; Stracciatella, Sbrisolona, Torta Caprese, not to mention: Cannoli, Pasticiotto, San Giuseppe, Sfingi, and Bomboloni.

Making the wine and then the vinegar were where grandpa reigned. This was a religious event, filled with the icons and rituals including the flies that came with the process.

If there was one thing I will always remember, and miss is the steak grandma made on her open burner on a gas stove in her basement! No one to this day can duplicate that, it was soooo delicious and mouthwatering as she cooked it in a wired holder, along with Italian bread, broccoli rabe and provolone and some pepperoni.

I’m sure you all came remember something that was made better than anyone else could do, too.

Technique, technique, technique!

 

 

 

 


Friday, June 17, 2016

RETRACING MY STEPS


I know I’m getting old, but why do I have to prove it all the time?

When I got the news that my daughter was leaving the rehab center in Southampton, I decided I would go back again because I needed to. I’ll get to that need later here.

It was a week since my daughter Ellen left the rehab center when I entered, filled with confidence that I knew where I was going. I drive up the long entryway and start searching for a parking spot since it is so difficult to find one during the week. As luck would have it, there was one, the best spot in the lot, and I had it! Feeling like George Costanza of Seinfeld when he visited the hospital one day! I sign in, say Hello to the receptionist, who asks me how Ellen is doing and off I go to the elevators, I enter and look for the 2nd-floor button, the doors close, and the elevator moves.

The ride from the 1st floor to the second floor seemed kind of quick but my mind was elsewhere when the doors opened. I go the usual route to where I needed to go and start to search for Stephany, the lady I was visiting. As I search, the hallway and the set-up seems somewhat disjointed. I get to a set of doors that are locked and a nurse tells me the code. A code I think is strange, I never had to use a code on double doors before!

I get through the doors and search some more, looking for the dining room. There is no dining room! In fact: the place seems darker, surreal almost, no dining room, my daughter’s room is not numbered correctly, and the nurse, with a quizzical look on her face asks me who I’m looking for. AS for me, I thought I had a major senior moment, maybe little dementia, maybe Alzheimer’s disease, I was suddenly scared!

“I’m looking for Stephanie Doe”, I state.
Her face crunches and she says “What section is she in?”
Confidently I state: “Section G!”
The quizzical look start to disappear and she says: “this is section C! You, sir, are on the wrong floor, you need to go up to the second floor.”
“Huh! I’m on the second floor!”

And so gratefully I went back to the elevators, punched the #2 button, watched it light up and checked the wall that indeed I was now on the 2nd floor when the doors opened!

The lady I was visiting wasn’t expecting me. I had notified the nurses station the day before that I was coming to read to Stephanie. A middle-aged woman who sits very silently in her wheelchair all day, never leaving the floor and never having visitors. She has suffered some kind of brain trauma and has difficulty remembering words to use in her sentences, while missing her lower legs from the knees down.

When I told her I was coming back to read to her, she broke down in tears, reaching for my hand and saying: “You will do that for me?”

Finally finding her, I say hello and she is startled! She breaks into tears once again and I ask her if she thought I was not coming back to see her: she shakes her head ‘yes’. The tears are flowing and it makes me uncomfortable, but we find a place to read and she settles in.

The reading session was a great one, a short story by Pushkin, entitled the Ace of Spades. Stephanie seemed caught in the story, her face telling all the emotions and events as they pertained to the story, Pushkin was a genius!

Leaving the rehab center I still had my mind, and I still had my soul, my word was worthy of someone who thought no one cared when in fact I am blocking out Wednesdays from here on in for Ms. Stephanie.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

GIOCHILO ANCORA, SAMUEL!


During the height of the 1960’s surge of Italian singers and love songs, there was one song that make made the charts, and made Italian/Americans take pride in their native tongue and the stories conveyed by music. That song was Mala Femina about a wayward woman.


The song with its pleading and classic tango tempo seemed to mesmerize the listener if he/she was Italian, and often it was lip-synched and sometimes sung along. It was the favorite of old unmarried or widowed ladies especially.

Being Italian/American, there was often a wedding of some cousin or distant relative and your presence was needed to avoid embarrassment for the bride’s father, and so you went. The record book was taken out, and next to your name were two things:
1)    Did you show up?
2)    How much you gave
This record keeping was for future use, in case you were having a wedding, it was important to receive in kind what you gave.

AS you sat through the ordeal of the other side’s family, the food, and the music you decided how much could possibly be given for the occasion. If the food was bad, or the music bad, or God-forbid you were seated with that loud-mouthed son-of-a-bitch at the same table, you retreated to the restroom and extracted some money from the envelope or ‘Aboost’. This was acceptable behavior and practiced by at least half the attendees.

Once the dancing began, the MC would ask for request, and the favorite was from the little old ladies and you guessed it: “PLAY MALA FEMINA!” “PLAY MALA FEMINA, oh I love a the song, “PLAY MALA FEMINA!” Suddenly the lights went low, as the introductory notes of the song commanded attention and the song was sung, the only light emanating from the flicker of little candles that danced at each table. Faces turned to stone and voices silenced as the singer begun to play on the heart strings of the old girls.

This of course got a lot of laughs out of me, as I watched these old gals get up and dance with one another, all with stiff grey hair packaged in a bun and dressed in black. Most of the dolls were widowed for over 10 years and more, their husbands died because they wanted to. Once the music ended, suddenly the lights went up and to the center of the dance floor strode Zia Francesca and Zio Felice! All at once the atmosphere was lifted to a new height, and the heart started to beat once more, taking you from the range of melancholy to the joy of the quick stepped Tarantella Napolitana, the mood quickened by joy, laughter and amazement at the skill of the old couple coming alive, bringing you your heritage on the wooden dance floor. Pure JOY!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

THE OLD MAN


My college days
While in Junior High and high school, and again later on in college, I worked for a place that made children’s play clothes. It was in the shipping department and mail order and it was a hard tough job, that took all my energy away at the end of the day. Most days were spent in the summer time, where the temperatures rose to 90+ and so did the humidity. There was no air-conditioning in the shipping and stock room and it was dirty, dusty and hard on the feet.

The owner of the place. I will call Mr. P was a good man with a bad work side manner. He ran the shop like a prison camp of forced laborers and his personal life was dedicated to the community on a board of directors of local bank, Kiwanis clubs, veteran’s associations and the local fire department of which he was high ranked.

Mr. P was also a lady’s man who was discrete but careless about it.

While in college, I got into a car accident that caused me compounded fractures of my right foot, and laid me up for a few months. He, Mr. P took pity on me and gave me a job designing a large mural in his store and doing all kinds of signs for the daily sales. It kept me employed as I healed and that was great.

One Saturday afternoon, as Dad was leaving the plant to go home, he discovered he had a flat tire. We were poor and Dad’s tires were not in the best of shape. As he looked at the tire, Mr. P, was leaving also and watched as Dad kicked the tire in disgust, he couldn’t afford a new tire. Mr. P walked over to Dad and gave him enough money to purchase four new tires!

When Dad was going to buy his new home, Mr. P advised him what he should do, then gave him an extraordinary mortgage from his bank!

He was a fancy dresser, cashmere cardigans, silk shirts, wool pants and alligator shoes were the rule of the day dress code for Mr. P. Always with a big wad f cash in his pocket, on Saturdays he would walk in, everyone would tense up, he would look around and take out the wad, and ordered someone to buy a ton of buns, coffee and rolls for his workers.

One afternoon after lunch, I hobbled over to the designer’s office of play clothes, a rather attractive woman with boobs that cast a shadow, and about 15 years younger than Mr. P. She was sitting on a stool and Mr. P was sending his hand slowly up her skirt! I stopped in my tracks, Mr. P’s hand stopped in its track and the designer jumped off the stool all at once.
I immediately left her office and out comes Mr. P, asking me if I needed anything and how my broken foot was feeling. He was always nice to me after that!

He was a good man, a bit frisky, but still a good man. When he died I went to his funeral and there he was, laid out in his fireman’s uniform and the many symbols of community commitment adorned his coffin. God bless him.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

THE LITTLE PRINCE

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As a young man many years ago, working my way toward college, I worked in a factory that manufactured children’s play clothes for Sears. It was a hard job but it paid my way until I finished college, and for that I am grateful. It came at a price, working under my Dad who ran the shipping and mail order departments. I had to do the most work, the hardest jobs and I couldn’t seek any favors from Dad. It was his rule and I obeyed it.

My job was to fill in the vacancy if someone was missing in either departments and so I did. 8:00 am until 4:30 pm in the summer and sometimes after a 6:00pm to 11:00 pm shift I stocked shelves, ran up and down a ramp loading trucks and unloading trucks, packing and bringing parcel post shipments to the post office. I was on my feet all day, and weighted 120 lbs. I sweated off whatever poundage there was over that.
Inside everyone put their head down


One day a new man was hired to work in mail order and he was just the nicest guy you ever met. His name was Eddie, and he came from Italy. He spoke English and could count beyond 12, which for the plant was pretty good! (I wowed them at 20!)

Eddie would start his morning with a cup of coffee and a Kaiser roll, poppy seeded and buttered, and it looked so good! Not being a cereal or breakfast eater at the time, this made me hungry around 8:30. He would have the whole crew gathered around him and he talked about life in Italy and how beautiful it was, yet he loved America. Then the factory horn sounded and everyone went to work, the sound of sewing machines, electric cutting knives that cut piles of flat cloth into patterns that would be sewed together to make the outfits in the different sizes would all come alive.

Being a rather short man, about 5’1” or so, rounded and bald, he made for the kind of person with his manners you might want to emulate, down to his girth, he was that kind of person.

Meticulously he kept records in legible hand, clear and simple, even opting the English or American way of writing 7. He lined up large boxes with tabs on them that designated the different stores Sears needed mail order shipping to and was always on time and correct.

At lunch time, he sat on his stool and would take out a submarine sandwich about the size of the Nautilus Atomic Submarine and offer part to any takers, sausage and peppers, peppers and eggs and sometimes Italian meats and cheeses. As good as they looked, no one that I can remember took him up on his offers, it would be just too cruel and taking advantage of his good nature. The man was a saint.

Ready to be demolished!

The owner of the company was a bit of a tyrant, with a big heart. He wore cardigan sweaters, silk shirts and alligator shoes, but if you worked for him you better not be standing around doing nothing. He would throw a fit and threaten to fire everyone including the night watchman. But there were days when we were all caught up, there was nothing to do and in the heat and humidity of the summer, under a tin roof, flat that took in the sun, and the department without air-conditioning! On those days we would go into mail order to hide out in one of the many bins that stacked up each about 4’hx5’wx5deep’, that could hold one or two of us at a time. They stacked up to the ceiling almost and stood on after another next to each other.

One day I needed a break from the heat and humidity and went into the lowest bin that came up to about waist high. I crouched down and entered an empty booth to rest. About ten minutes into my rest Eddie whispered: “Watcha hout!” I look and the next thing I know I see a pair of alligator shoes and hands stuck in silk slacks; THE OLD MAN!!!

He leans against the bin and places the heel of his foot onto the edge of the bin… and my pinkie! There is pain, then there is more pain, and even enough pain to cry: “I want my mommy!” pain. It sits there for a few minutes and I am biting my other hand not to cry out, and mercifully he eases up and leaves, never looking down. Had the man seen me, I would have been done, first fired and then shot by my father.

Good old Eddie saved me and my future!

Then one morning I arrived at work and went into mail order to see Eddie. I looked and he was not there, not on the section where the bins were not at his table. I called and there was no answer. I asked someone if they had seen him and they hadn’t. The tell-tale signs of his presence, the coffee cup and roll, his long hero sandwich and his grey cardigan were all missing.

I look up and one f the Old Man’s sons enters the room and with a grey solemn face tells us Eddie had passed away in his sleep.

Monday, June 13, 2016

TUCKING IN THE SHEETS

Mom had a saying: “The way you make your bed: is the way you sleep in it!”

Today, as I think about it, I get the gist of what she was saying, but I’m still not totally sure.

Through the years, she had other phrases she used on me such as describing her favorite celebrities such as Clark Gabel. “He can park his shoes under my bed anytime!” This was my mother. Being I was young I had no idea what that meant, but I often wondered why the guy would take the trouble of putting his shoes beneath  my mother and father’s bed! And did he leave barefooted, or did he sleep in a closet? (We had a large enough closet)

Another of her favorites was: “If it were a snake it would have bitten you!” This followed: “Ma, I can’t find it anywhere!” Then under my nose, she would find it.

Sometimes in life children will have disagreements with their parents about how things should be. As both the argument and exasperation levels rose she would finally explode with: “WAIT, JUST UNTIL YOU HAVE CHILDREN!” That I thought was hurtful, after all, I would be raising my kids as model children.

Then there were times when I decided that life needed some fun in it, teasing a sister or doing something against the rules was needed to brighten my day. Once the long arm of the law (Mom’s wooden spoon) found me, she would then intone: “WAIT until your father comes home.” This little bit of poetry was her way of instilling fear in my innocent little heart!

Although I figured Mom as a pacifist she could disappoint. There was the Sunday morning so long ago when she would take me to church with her. Her plan was with 5 children I was the one that needed God’s intervention the most. Dad was not a church goer, so he stayed in bed while I got my backside hauled out of bed and off to church we went. Before we left one day Mom said to me:  “Go ask your father for some change for church.” I awaken Dad and ask for money. “Mom said to give me money, lots of it.” Dad was wise beyond his years he gave me two nickels. There is always a rainbow to turn disappointment into happiness and I found mine. Thinking that the two shiny nickels could buy a small pack of miniature donuts and a soda, I pocket the nickels and realize that they look like my mother’s silver buttons! An Idea!

Off to church we go, the Mass is filled with dignified church goers, all dressed well for the occasion and the ushers, dressed like it was their wedding almost; would on the end of a long, long handle send the collection basket down each row of worshipers. Hesitantly I deposit the first of my two silver buttons from Mom’s sewing kit into the collection, Mom puts her money in and I think: Whew, I got away with it!

Mom lifts her eyes to Heaven to continue her prayers and I close mine and think of the donuts and soda I plan to have. The second collection comes and like the first, but with more confidence, I deposit the final of my silver button collect into the basket. Mom drops her money and once again lifts her eyes toward Heaven as I dream once more.

The last prayer is said, the music begins as Mom and I exit the Cathedral like church, with its marble columns and floors, it's domed ceiling with fresco paintings and a grotto right out of Hollywood! We walk the two and a half blocks toward  our three storied apartment building. As we walk I start to comment to Mom but Mom is not answering me, no she is just walking straight ahead like I’m not there! We climb the first flight of steps and then the second flight, still in silence. It is at the top of the final flight do I realize, maybe it would be a good idea to disappear for a while, kind of lay low. I make a u-turn start down the steps when a forced grip on my shoulders suddenly drags me into the apartment! And here, is when Mom’s most dreaded saying came into play. “EMBARRASS ME WILL YOU?” Smack, then another smack followed by more with the same intensity and fury, putting my future in doubt. She drags me over to my father who is sipping his morning coffee at the kitchen table and says:
“TELL YOUR FATHER WHAT YOU DID!”
“NOTHING, ” I say.
“NOTHING” SHE SCREAMS! "YOUR son put buttons in the collection basket instead of the money you gave him!" (I always hated these verbal custody battles)

Dad spits out his coffee and is laughing out loud.
“Sure, encourage him!”

Well, it was a long Sunday as all day long I kept putting on my shoes since Mom kept knocking me out of them, as she yells: EMBARRASS ME WILL YOU?” followed by the after-shock of: “And in God’s house!”

There is a lesson in all of this Dear Readers: Make sure you think things out. Had I sat on Mom’s right side rather than her left, the basket would have passed her first then come to me and she would have missed it all. Even the smallest of details is so important if you want to keep your shoes on all day!

The company arrived that Sunday afternoon and I slipped out of the house and had my reward, donuts, and soda!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

STRANGER THINGS HAVE HAPPENED


In 1991, Dad passed away on June 12th. He was buried on June 14th, and Mom 23 years later died on June 11th! She too was buried on June 14th, and share a grave in Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, in Medford, NY. Today is his anniversary, and so it seems I was just at the cemetery yesterday and here I go again. I go twice to respect them individually and feel it is the right thing to do. Stranger things have happened, I guess.

Dad was a piece of work, in fact, Dad was always working. He was married to the job, some kind of bigamist I guess, between his job and Mom. He was taught to work hard from living through the Great Depression and instilled it in me. I also expect it from my sons who both excel at their jobs, but they do it working hard.

Dad was always with some kind of idea he wanted to patent. There was the time he wanted to patent a series of lights that sat outside on the end of a car. The faster you went, the more lights lit up, a visual for traffic patrols to see immediately how fast a driver was going.

He had a little of Ralph Kramden in him, with ideas to make money and a fuse that could be short at times. He loved to laugh, told jokes and developed his own brand of humor. But he was a loving father, always there for his kids, ask him for help and before you ended your request, he was almost done with what you wanted.

He was somewhat cheap from his Depression era life, always looking to conserve energy by shutting off unnecessary lights. Yet he was very generous with his time, always helping people with no money and a need for help. 

But if he were alive today and saw what his grandchildren have acheived, and seeing his name on the lead of a popular TV show and the smile of his beautiful great granddaughter, his beautiful and smart granddaughter-in-law, his other son on the verge of some great things, he would be swelling with pride! I wish he coud see it. He might be most proud of his younger grandson who works helping less fortunate, giving time, patience and care to those less fortunate, that would make him proud!

And so today I remember him once more, and I do that gratefully, his having taught me what he did, and giving me a heritage I didn’t realize at the time was so rich. His legacy is a simple one: he loved people and they loved him. He died a poor man who was rich in kindness.

Thanks Dad for all you did for me, the hard work, the long hours and the support of my career, which I know was what you always wanted to do in your life.

Your Only Son,
Joseph

Saturday, June 11, 2016

MOM

Today is Mom’s anniversary, leaving this world after 96 years on Earth. It was an Earth filled with wars, a father who abandoned her and her mother and two sisters, and one filled with children and grandchildren. Her legacy: Always be honest, honor God, country and parents.

Many years ago when I was working, I recall closing my door after lunch for one hour, so I could catch up with phone calls, emails, and snail mail. I instructed my secretary that no one was to disturb me, not even the owner of the company.

When that door was closed: I used to hear the sound of laughter. Normally it would disturb me and even get me angry enough to find out what was going on, but this laughter was special, it reminded me of my mother’s laugh, it gave me a warm feeling. That woman was a nice enough person and if I always thought of my mother when I heard it, how could I stop it?

That laughter was a trigger that flung me back to my youth, my growing years and the lessons Mom taught from the end of a wooden spoon or at a kitchen table, always teaching and expecting more from me than sometimes I was too lazy to deliver. Yet she always seemed to win, or I always seemed to win in the end because she won!

She would wear an apron in those days while she cooked and cleaned and did the dishes. It was a floral pattern with a bib that made me see her as a real mom. She endured much while raising me, a bit of both a rebel and troublemaker, but she somehow still loved me, as much as I loved her. She was to a 5-year old the most beautiful woman on Earth, the smartest person there ever was and a force to be reckoned with.

The things she instilled in me were things that meant a lot to me later in life, like when my wife was in the hospital having our babies, I could cook for myself, iron my clothes and do any chores that needed to be done, I didn’t need anyone to come and help me. There were times I needed help only when I was away from the house, working.

She taught me that women have a place in this world, right next to their husbands, not above or below, but beside him, that women could achieve anything a man could, and she expected me to respect that, after all, she was a woman who happened to be my mother!

She was a very shy person, one who avoided crowds and attention, it was just the way she was, humble. She was often criticized for that, those that did the criticizing just didn’t understand her. She had fears yet was ferocious when it came to her children, their safety as well as their behavior. She was also very loyal, not matter how much I might stink at something although she might mention it, she never mentioned it but once, and when she did, I believed her because she never lied.

She loved God, was devoted to him and made sure we respected that, yet once we were adults, she never demonstrated any anger when I didn’t go to church. If I told an off-color joke, she would say: “Joseph! Is that how I raised you?” No Ma it wasn’t, I’m just a rotten kid.

Her happiness was her house, the décor and her cooking and baking. She was a magical cook, always great at what she did, a traditionalist, baking the Italian Christmas cookies and Italian Easter pies, which I so dearly miss.

Between her and my grandmother, I never had a bad meal, never missed one and now that they are gone, I miss them and the meals, but most of all, I miss the love.

In 2014 they laid Mom to rest, a rest she so deservedly earned from the suffering of her last months, a graceful death filled with dignity. I sat beside her and told her I loved her and always had, but she was in a coma, but I hope she heard me.

Well she is gone, and just like so many of you Dear Readers, I miss my Mom, but I understand. I understand although she is gone in body, certainly not in spirit, or the lessons she taught me, the greatest was love.

"If I Ever Leave This World Alive"
If I ever leave this world alive
I'll thank for all the things you did in my life
If I ever leave this world alive
I'll come back down and sit beside your
feet tonight
Wherever I am you'll always be
More than just a memory
If I ever leave this world alive

If I ever leave this world alive
I'll take on all the sadness
That I left behind
If I ever leave this world alive
The madness that you feel will soon subside
So in a word don't shed a tear
I'll be here when it all gets weird
If I ever leave this world alive

So when in doubt just call my name
Just before you go insane
If I ever leave this world
Hey I may never leave this world
But if I ever leave this world alive

She says I'm okay; I'm alright,
Though you have gone from my life
You said that it would,
Now everything should be all right

She says I'm okay; I'm alright,
Though you have gone from my life
You said that it would,
Now everything should be all right
Yeah should be alright

FLOGGING MOLLY LYRICS

Friday, June 10, 2016

IF ONLY


The heat of the summer day pervaded the small bed room as it did the rest of the house. The assembly of relatives and staff from hospice, going and coming, the phone calls to doctors and nurses all contributed to the confusion and discomfort but took my mind off the coming reality that soon, too soon, in spite of her 96 years, Mom would soon be leaving us.

As I looked at her in her bed, her arms were now useless, she could not move them, and all her body functions were slowly fading away. I sat next to her the chair close to the bed as I leaned into her right ear and we talked. We talked about many things that day, some had to do with family, she seemed angry about something I won’t mention here, but she was disappointed. She told me so and so I changed the subject.

One of the things I always loved to do was tell Mom stories that made her laugh, or stories she could tell about herself from questions I asked her. I would spend each day for the prior two weeks at her bedside for most of the morning, and she looked forward to it. Many of the stories started with: “Mom, you remember when…” and at the end, she would be laughing.

When she wished she had a TV in her room, I went out and using her money got her two, one for her care taker Anna and one for her bedroom. Her desire was to watch the Mass since she felt needing to go to Mass, it gave her comfort in her final hours. Then she complained she couldn’t hear the TV, so I went to Radio Shack and purchased a remote headset for her to hear, making her Mass more meaningful.

But every day that I left her, I felt the guilt, knowing I would not have very many opportunities left to see her. I had a life I had to live and at some point in each day I had to go back to it, to live it and to restore some normalcy in my life, yet still I harbored the guilt, it poked me at the oddest times, cruelly reminding me that she laid hopeless and lonely in her deathbed, abandoned for the rest of the day, maybe her last. I didn’t want to say to myself the rest of my life: “If only…”.

Over the course of the previous few months, she was in hospitals, and rehab homes, fearing she would never go home again, and expressed that to me. I tried to assure her that she would never be put in a nursing home no matter what. I controlled her money and would spend it all if I had to and then allow Medicaid to pick up the tab to keep her in her own home.

Tomorrow she will be gone 2 years, her age would have been 98 and she lived a long life, from poverty to the joy of seeing her children have children, and their children having children. But no matter what, her suffering is over, her life has left an impression on me, and taught me many lessons, whether I wanted those lessons or not.


Thursday, June 09, 2016

FREE AT LAST!

The room was somewhat small for the large gathering of people assembling in it. The conference table, although long, was just not long enough! As I sat there between the two staffs, if seemed to me that they blended in in their resolve to release my daughter from the rehab center to her home, her convalescing over after 4 months.

It is one thing to want something badly, or in earnest, but another thing to finalize it into a concrete plan. As Her father and legal guardian, I went for 4 months almost daily to visit her, going through the same routines of bringing her water, (She loves drinking water) and feeding her, taking her down to the lobby to people watch and great the many friends she made, walking the different levels of the building, exploring the different wings and seeing the many rehab residents that sat in the hallways around the nurse’s stations.



It seemed like an eternity waiting for this day to come. It was a long drive every day into the Hamptons' to arrive at Southampton, finding parking and greeting the same faces every morning. Carrying a blue insulated bag: I would weigh-in at the front desk, talk about the weather or traffic, or the effects of weather on the traffic and head for the elevators. I would sign the guest book, receive my visitor pass and so my day began.

Negotiating the hallways of a rehab center can be a little inconvenient, as the residents are scattered around the nurse’s station, under the busy and watchful eyes of the staff for the safety of the residents, all in wheelchairs.

Many days I would bring a book with me to read to a woman who has no legs, no family, and friends that took a liking to Ellen, my daughter. Reading to her was my way of saying how much I appreciated her kindness, and so I wanted to extend a kindness to her too. My future will still involve the rehab center as I will go once a week and read to this kind lady.

But the business at hand was the discharging of Ellen, the plans, and needs that both the rehab and agency staff had put together. As the questions and answers flew around the table, finally the words came: “Tomorrow at 11:00 AM?” “Yes, that’s good.” came the response.

Suddenly I felt so good I just wanted to feel the sense of liberation and go home!

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

TRIUMPH OF THE WILL


It is a shame that I pick such a title for today’s reflections since it glorified such an ugly time, but maybe I can redeem these words and concept for something wonderful.

As I enter the long corridor of the rehab facility and look straight ahead, I can see her sitting by herself, her back turned to me as she waits in a blind-like trance. Unaware of her surroundings among the mostly elderly who await either the end of their rehabilitation or the end of the line of life.

She is one of the most fortunate in some sense I yet to have accommodated since the rest of her life will always be guarded. Slowly I come up to her wheelchair and bend down over her to make eye contact, and I suddenly release her from her trance, as she excitedly jumps up and reaches for me.

“Hi Ellen, how are you doing this morning?”
“MUMMA!”

Everyone in her world is MUMMA, everyone who cares for her and seeks her attention in a loving way, I am proud to say I am one of those people!

“Been a good girl? Can I have a kiss?”

She slaps the crown of her now greying head and holds still and awaits my kiss. I roll her away to her room where I take out a large bottle of water, which she sees and immediately indicates she wants some, in a way best described as frustrations and urgent needing to convey her want.

As I pour, she awaits with eager anticipation and when I present the glass to her, she purses her thin lips and hungrily sucks in the water, with a final gasp and a happy smile on her face.

This procedure has been going on since early February and if I don’t do it my wife does when she visits. It has been a tough burden for us, both around 70 years of age and there is not as much stamina as there used to be, driving over 40 minutes one way for our visits and then feeding her her lunch while trying to remain calm and sane, she only speaks two words, one is: “Mumma” and the other: “Happy”: It can be a very difficult conversation for two to three hours. You pray for the day she will go home.

Then one day they tell you she is ready to leave, her broken leg is healed, the very same leg the surgeon said, because of her mental age, she would not ever walk again, that she might lose it but she does. And when she does it inspires you to do the things you think you couldn’t, it makes you understand that sometimes in life, the biggest barriers are you yourself!

Maybe her broken leg was meant for a higher reason I can’t fathom, but I do see some good coming out of it. I found a woman who has no family, no friends and no legs, is partially paralyzed in one arm and had some kind of trauma that leaves her searching for the simplest words. I have been reading to her, and she looks forward to the attention. When I told her I would be back to read to her once a week from hereafter, she broke down and cried, reaching for my hand is disbelief!

Then there is another person, and man, who is without legs, sits by himself but is a lively sort, moves about in his wheel chair, like he was operating a car, swift and deft at it with his two good arms, or the gentleman who sits alone and seeks eye contact as I pass him by, giving out a: “Good morning” with a smile in his eyes. There also sits an elderly gentleman who is in the rehab center for the rest of his life, looks like a mean old sob, but is one of the kindest and compassionate individuals I know. All of these people deal with loneliness, all of them feel the sting and defeat that life has brought to them. I discovered they like to read, so I bring them newspapers, since I get two every morning, and so I go through the rehab center and pass them out to those who love it.

So my little girl has taught me that life is NOT about me, but about those we see and those we meet, all with unique needs and all with their own personal burdens.

Someone once tried to make me pray when I wanted to be by myself, with my own thoughts and prayers, and that someone is not a prayer, but called me disgraceful, and her cohort thought I was not holy enough, like her and so decided to get a nun to talk to me as if it was going to make a difference. But I always found that my religion was my personal relationship with God, it is not a joint effort and I feel it shouldn’t be. If you go to church, fine, don’t try to drag me along when I don’t have that kind of desire. I don’t want to be in public display when I communicate with the Almighty, and seek his solace and blessings alone, without fanfare and don’t care if anyone else knows or doesn’t.

When I feed my daughter her lunch, sometimes she looks me in the eyes and I can see the love she expresses for me, it gives me the stamina to drive 40 minutes each way and to sit for hours with her, knowing she is happy that I came for her. That lessons is for reinforced by the woman in the wheel chair without legs, that is my church, that is my ministry, not the bricks and mortar that others need or the display of self-holiness they project.

When she finally returns to her home tomorrow, I will miss seeing her every day, I will miss her elation both in body and spirit she displays for her daddy, and the quiet lunch we spend together. Most of all, I will miss her.


Saturday, June 04, 2016

DINNING ON A PRACTICE RUN


Tolerance is something you learn to acquire, usually from having someone being tolerant of you first. You experience it and then you know how it feels, so you can be tolerant also.

One night in Boston we (My wife and I) went to UNO, a deep dish pizza place that is franchised. It was late and we were hungry and tired after a busy day of touring. This was the only place nearby so in we went.


As we entered the establishment, there to greet us was this young man who asked the obvious question: “Two?” Yes, his eyesight was perfect as was his math! “TWO” we answered proudly and thought this was going to be uneventful a culinary experience as you can get.

Then we sat down!

Bouncing over to our table was a young lady with a young man behind her. Both wore the dress of the sacred gods of culinary joy, black shirts that said: UNO!

“Hi, my name is Kirstan and this is Mike. I will be your hostess and am working with Mike who is training me. This not the kind of news I want to hear, as she placed a napkin with her young woman handwriting that said: “Kirstan and Mike”! Oh, goody!

TLW (The Little Woman) orders a scotch and soda or: “seltzer if that is how you call it, I don’t want it confused with coke!”

“And you sir?” she asked, pen poised over pad.

I’ll have a Jack Daniels Manhattan, straight up, no ice.

After a reasonable amount of time when you are tired, hungry and perhaps edgy, or an hour later the young woman shows up alone! On her tray was a shot of Jack Daniels and a big old glass of coke! Placing the shot in front of me and the coke in front of TLW, she stands back.

“No, no, nooo!” I reply “A Jack Daniels Manhattan is made with sweet Vermouth!”

TLW seeks some answers too: “Is this a scotch with coke?”

“Yes, that’s what you ordered no?”

“No.”

I ask the young woman to tell the bartender that I want a Jack Daniels MANHATTAN!

Kirstan apologizes and says she doesn’t drink but she made the drink because the bartender was “kind of busy”!

“Well you tell him to get on it. Don’t apologize if you are new at this. WE all make mistakes!”  (It’s true, we went there that night.)