The last words my mom heard Toni say perfectly were, “Maman, sonnez les matines!” (just like in the nursery song, “Ding Ding Dong!”). Toni was living in Liege, Belgium with my dad, who was a coal miner, my mom, and my sister Nora. Toni, named after our maternal grandmother, Antonia, was an adorable little girl, only 18 months old, already speaking French, intrigued by the morning church bells, les matines, ringing loudly down the street. This cute little girl was saying, “Mommy, the church bells are ringing!”
Later that day, Toni came down with a fever. Mom didn’t know what to do. Dad was down in the mines, not due back until nightfall. The fever kept going up and up. Finally, mom rushed Toni to the hospital. Mom somehow sent word to dad about what was happening. Dad took the tram to the hospital directly after work. Scarlet fever, I heard my mom say again and again. Later, an aunty told me, “No, it was meningitis.” Whatever it was, Scarlet Fever or Meningitis, Toni miraculously survived! After the fever subsided, mom and dad took home a little girl who had to learn to walk and talk and be potty trained again.
Toni survived with brain damage. This means she can’t read or write and doesn’t have a concept of time as most people do. Toni has to work 10x harder than your average person to survive in this world. She has a speech impediment, but speaks 2 languages fluently (Italian and English). If she hears a song once, she will remember the words verbatim! She is truly amazing.
Yesterday, with the help of an aid, Toni called me and left me a very loud message, “Francy, this is Toni! Hello! Francy!! Call me! OK?? OK? Call me! Francy, call me. This is Toni!” When I called her, she wanted to thank me for a gift I sent her. Already, I had received a thank you card from her. She tells her aids what she wants to say, they write for her, and she copies the print. It is incredibly heart warming to receive these letters from her. I will save each and every one until the day I die:
If I am a teacher, it is because of Toni. I used to play school with her and try to teach her how to read. I must have been 6 or 7. I was determined. My mom used to pull me aside and tell me that Toni would never learn to read, so I shouldn’t try so hard. I became more determined and developed games to help Toni learn numbers and letters. I saw that Toni enjoyed the learning process, even if some of the material being covered didn’t stick. She inspired me to be creative and to come up with learning games that were fun.
Yes, Toni does yoga. She also does Zumba and computer games at her Adult Day Care. She plays Bingo, sings and dances every day. Everyone who meets Toni falls in love with her. She is a blessing and everyone who meets her, knows immediately that she is VERY SPECIAL, indeed! I have met people, who don’t like to smile, break into a huge smile when Toni walks into the room. She has a way of bringing out the best in people. It is her gift.
Toni is a breast cancer survivor. We came close to losing her about 4 years ago. It was the most sobering wake up call for me! If I had not known it before, I suddenly woke up to how precious and unique my sister is. Not only do I need Toni, but the whole world needs Toni! We all need this person whose gift it is to bring happiness, innocence, and pure love to every single person who is lucky enough to cross paths with her on this life journey.
That is why this blog is my special Valentine for Toni, for Queen Toni. We made Toni queen for a day when she was here in August with my sister, Nora! Toni turned 60 in September 2013, so I had the honor of giving her the first 60th birthday party here in Washington! I asked Toni what she would like for her 60th birthday party. Without a moment’s hesitation, she said, “PIZZA! Just like how ma used to make it! That’s what I want. And I want to dance!”
Homemade pizza and dancing! At your service, Queen Toni!
And Toni does Yoga! She loves yoga. Never mind LEFT and RIGHT…everything is right, when it comes to yoga:
I have been meaning to write this blog for a long time now. The original title was to be “Queen Toni”. Today on Valentine’s Day, I write this for Toni who is pure love! That is why people love her so much. Toni lives in the moment, enjoys life fully. Every day is like Christmas for Toni and she has the gift of bringing out the best in people
My mom and dad adored her. I had to reassure my mother again and again that Toni would be fine even after mom took her last breath. And she is!! Toni continues to blossom! She is my parents’ gift to the world, bringing pure happiness to everyone she meets.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Toni!!! I know Nora is reading this for you today! I love you!