Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

The Most Beautiful Hands (a re-post)

April 26, 2018

Thinking about my mom and dad today.  April 25th was the date of their wedding anniversary. They always celebrated their anniversary.  They bought gifts for each other and often went out for dinner while my sisters babysat me. Being the youngest in the family, the caboose, I always felt that my parents had already had a lifetime of marriage and had experienced many complicated and complex life experiences together well before I was ever born. I was born hearing their stories of growing up in their Sicilian village, of the early days of their marriage in Grotte, of the later years in Liege, Belgium where, for thirteen years, my dad worked as a coal miner, of their time in Boston, and of their settling in Gary, Indiana, where finally I was born.

They passed away within 12 months of each other. I know it sounds strange, but though I know they are deceased, I like to imagine they are on vacation, far off, in some exotic land, having such a grand time that they have definitively put off coming home!  I wrote the following blog post a while back and am re-posting the following in their honor:

There is a close up photograph my nephew John took of my parents’ hands.  It is so unbelievably beautiful and, unfortunately, John cannot find it among his tens of thousands of negatives.  I would have loved to use that photo in this blog, but I have these other photos of my parents’ hands.

My parents got married in their hometown Grotte in Sicily on April 25, 1948!   Today, on my parents’ wedding anniversary, I think of them, of their undying love and respect for one another, and of their loving amazing hands.

(above) This is how I will always remember my parents.

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Their wedding photo. (I know, I inserted myself into the photo when I took this photo of a framed photo!)

Below (the early days in Grotte, Sicily):

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The most beautiful hands in the world are not manicured, soft, and bejeweled.

They are lined,

calloused from coal mining,

encrusted with farmed earth.

They smell of onions and garlic.

They are stained with tomato sauce from canning,

dotted with wet bread dough,

snagged from knitting and crocheting socks, scarves, hats, baby blankets and sweaters.

They are sticky from picking apples, figs,

pears, peaches, plums, almonds, walnuts, and berries.

Their fingers are pierced from embroidery and sewing.

Sometimes they are covered with meat and fennel from sausage making

or sprinkled with wine from the press.

They have made countless meals.

These hands are strong, full of expression,

fearless, protective, hardworking, providing,

worn to the bone.

They are firm and gentle

and have held, caressed, fed, and cleaned many babies and children.

Yes, they are kind beautiful hands.  They speak.  They tell a story.

Written on mom and dad’s wedding anniversary: April 25, 1948 — to eternity

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A New Christmas Song

December 16, 2017

a stream of consciousness flows from my brain to my fingers to the keyboard to the computer screen

my typing fingers are ants scrambling frantically, trying desperately to preserve their lives as a stream of Raid jets forth from a blue can held in the hands of a myrmecophobic person…i’m channeling my mother and her fear of ants..she even used the greek-derived-sicilian word to point them out “firmicoli!”

Eagle Pose at Nisqually National Wildlife Reserve

have i ever mentioned i’m a fast typist? quick-twitch muscles would have made me a competitive sprinter

but mom didn’t allow me to run competitively, said it was bad for a developing girl’s body to run, the nuns telephoned her, begged her to let me join the girls’ sprint teams, said i was the fastest of them all, but Sicilian Mamma said no and her no was a final NO

those quick-twitch muscles have a flip side, too, so that my hands contain much dexterity, flexibility, and steadiness, qualities that would have made me a good surgeon in the days before robotic surgeries

but teaching would become my vocation, my life’s work

and i am content

enough

today’s stream of thought and my fingers bring me to a morning in seattle, a morning at starbucks, where i stopped to get a cup of coffee last week, a common enough occurrence, but this given morning was a frigid one, frost on the pavement, romantic pink-tinged mountains mocking my frozen face

on that given day, as i walked into starbucks, i saw a homeless man standing outside the coffee shop, yet another homeless man looking like all the other homeless people: cold, lost, distant-yet-present, hopeful kind eyes, trying not to look too crazed from the cold frost enveloping his hat-less head, his un-gloved hands, his dusty-dark skin telling me a kind of not-so-kind story about america the sometimes-not-so-great, a story that begs the question WHY?

i went inside the warm cozy starbucks laden with christmas decorations, my ears inundated with the same cheesy christmas tunes i’ve been hearing year after year since i was born fifty-six years ago, thinking to myself doesn’t anyone ever get tired of listening to this crap, but stopping my thoughts quickly lest anyone think i’m a grinch or a an avatar of ebenezer scrooge

and as my hands and feet thaw out while i wait in line in the warm coffee shop with the music i cannot stand, my thoughts go back to the homeless man standing outside

i order up two cups of coffee

one is for him

maybe it was the cold temperatures

maybe it was because he didn’t ask

maybe it was because we connected on some unspoken level

maybe it was because of his very humanness

maybe it was because i just lost my beautiful cousin julie to cancer and my heart was swollen with tears

maybe it was because i feel tons of guilt for not sparing yet another dime, a dollar, a couple of dollars when asked

maybe it is because i am sick of seeing tents popping up all over the city, in the parks, on the sidewalks, reminding me of being in calcutta with rick in 2001

did i know mr homeless would grab the paper cup of coffee and follow me back inside? did i ever imagine he would find a seat next to me and sit quietly?

did i ever imagine the unimaginable would happen:

he started humming and his body started rocking to the rhythm of Walking in a Winter Wonderland and then he started singing, quietly but loud enough for those of us sitting nearby to hear him

a rich baritone voice singing “in the winter we could build a snowman…”, a trained voice, one that has sung in church choirs, a man with a voice that tells a story of one life, his life, a sweet voice that melted my heart and allowed me to hear a new christmas song:

one for julie

one for julie’s children and grandchildren

one for julie’s sisters and brother and their families

one for julie’s inconsolable mother

a sweet simple song to bolster the hearts of everyone at holiday time, a time when we are especially reminded of bitter-sweet loss and fullness, all at the same time

Giving Thanks

November 27, 2017

Last week, my classes were focused on gratitude.  And I have been especially filled with gratitude these past few days.  Thanksgiving and my birthday invite me to be thankful for the life I have, and for the people in my life: family, friends, students.  I have immense gratitude to be living in one of the most beautiful places in the continental USA, one filled with pristine forests, rivers, wildlife (we saw a herd of elk today!!), hiking and ski trails, and all the bounty that nature provides.  I am grateful for my own effort I put into maintaining my relatively good health.  Embracing yoga and making the yoga practice a part of my life, keeping stress levels low, eating a healthy, organic diet, keeping cardio-active, doing weight training, and getting enough sleep are disciplines woven into the fabric of my being.

I also have tremendous gratitude for my parents, who not only gave me life, but also gave me the best in education.  My parents grew up very poor in Sicily.  They both had to stop school in the 8th grade because of poverty and the need to work to help their parents make ends meet.  Instead of continuing on to the 9th grade, my father left school and did hard manual labor in the fields (no tractors or plows used) and my mother became a seamstress.  They worked hard their entire lives.  As far back as I can remember, they always told me that I’d go to college and, no matter how much my university tuition would cost them, they would cover it and give me the educational opportunities they never had.  And they held true to their dream.  They started this dream by sending me to private Catholic school from early on and supported me throughout my university years.

So thank you, mom and dad.  I am eternally grateful.

To celebrate my birthday and Thanksgiving, two great days of gratitude, Rick and I went to La Push on the Olympic Peninsula.  Rick’s Grandma Glenda went to La Push regularly and she always told us how very special it is.  It is remote, a long way from Seattle. The ocean is wild, and the beaches strewn with much enormous driftwood. We have been there four consecutive years in a row and we now understand why Grandma Glenda went there year after year!

Below you will see many photos from the weekend, along with descriptions of the place and of my experience there.

In gratitude, Fran

Below: Lake Crescent, the third deepest lake in the USA.  Our long drive to La Push passes this lake:

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Arrival at La Push: stormy skies, wind, frothy sea, sun setting early

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My new rain boots. Every year, I have seen these boots for sale at the resort reception.  I leave, later wondering with much regret why I didn’t buy them. This year, they were on clearance and I was lucky enough to get the last pair in my size!  They were meant to be mine:

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La Push is on the Quileute tribal lands and these boots are decorated with the tribe’s hummingbird design:

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I was obsessed by both my new boots and this RED driftwood that looks like red-hot burning coals:

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IMG_0857And had to include the photo below..a friendly dog jumped into my photo as I was taking yet another shot of the RED driftwood:

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Most of the time we were there, it was storming.  At some point, the sky opened up…briefly. IMG_0862

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We cooked most of our own meals, but went out for breakfast twice.  There is one place to get a meal and we found it on our first trip to La Push.  Every time we go, we see a charming Quileute elder named Bev.  She always sits in the same seat in the restaurant. This time, as soon as she saw me, she held her arms wide open and gave me the warmest hug! She did the same for Rick. When she found out it was my birthday, she promptly disappeared for a while. I thought she left without saying goodbye, but she came back with a gift for me.  She gave me this precious woven basket, a miniature with a rose motif on one side and a duck on the other side, woven from cedar and local grasses:

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I had my heart set on buying fresh crab while out there, but we found out it is not quite yet the season. We saw crab pots everywhere..the crabbers are ready and waiting for the right time set out their pots.

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Salmon! The quote below comes from a board educating people about the importance of saving the salmon as they dwindle in population:

Generation upon Generation, the salmon have returned to our waters offering of themselves so that the Quileute People might live. There was a time, not long ago, salmon were many. Now they are few.  Generation upon Generation the salmon have helped the Quileute People.  Now the Quileute People must help the salmon.

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You can see the small island offshore, beyond the boats. It is called James Island, but in ancient times, the island was called Aka’lat, Top of the Rock, in the language of the Quileute People.  Aka’lat was the burial ground for chiefs. It was also a fortress in times of defense.  The steep walls protected the Quileute People.  The island is unoccupied, but the Quileute People believe the spirit of their ancestors live there.

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Quileute Tribal Art: Salmon

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Rialto Beach is a nearby gem in the Olympic National Park:

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Dancer’s Pose on slick/wet driftwood:

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The sea brings in a sofa!

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Sicily for Adriana

April 27, 2017

I thought to post some of my best photos from the past two days.   This post is dedicated to my friend and co-worker from Seattle Athletic Club, Adriana Allison Brown, 34 years old, married to Aaron Brown and mother of two beautiful little girls.  She passed away two days ago on April 25, was hit by a vehicle as she was walking the crosswalk at Lenora and Western (Seattle) on her way to work at the Seattle Athletic Club as a personal fitness trainer.  I thought of Adriana all day these past two days.  She told me recently that she would like to come to Sicily one day.

I am heartbroken.

Adriana was as bright as the Sicilian Sun.

Adriana was as beautiful as the red poppies below.

Adriana “era buona comu lu pani“, a Sicilian expression which literally translates to Adriana “was as good as bread”  (see explanation below).

 

Yes, I got my poppy photo! Red is the dominant color for the poppies I have been seeing.

Yes, I got my poppy photo! Red is the dominant color for the poppies I have been seeing.

Bread (pane). For my dad, a meal without bread was not a meal at all. The highest compliment you can pay a person in old time Sicily was to say, "Era buonu comu lu pani" = He was as good as bread!

Bread (pane). For my dad, a meal without bread was not a meal at all.  Bread is the staff of life. The highest compliment you can pay a person in old time Sicily was to say of that person, “E buonu (buona) comu lu pani” = He/She is as good as bread!

Old tile detail

Old tile detail

Sweetness: potted geraniums

Sweetness: potted geraniums

Simple delicious ingredients for sauce alla Norma.

Simple delicious ingredients for Pasta alla Norma.

Sicilian Cat. Her name was Meow!

Sicilian Cat. His name was Meow!

Oranges kissed by the sun.

Oranges kissed by the sun.

Cheese at the Siracusa Market

Cheese at the Ortigia Market

One of the pupi (traditional puppet). There is a puppet theater in Ortigia.

And ancient pupi (traditional puppet). There is a puppet theater in Ortigia.

Ma’s Deep Pockets

February 18, 2017

I solemnly took her coat, a beautiful leather coat. A memento of sorts, the coat was something tangible to remember her by.

I claimed it as my own, a coat I’d probably never buy for myself. I still can’t imagine my mother wearing it and found no photos to prove she wore it. I must have had it in my possession for about a year after her death before I thought to actually wear it. We were headed to see a play. It was a cool Seattle autumn evening. The coat fit as if it were tailored for me.

Ma's Leather Jacket

Ma’s Leather Jacket

On our way to the car, I discovered pockets, deep pockets, to keep my hands warm. It was when I thrust my hands into ma’s deep pockets that I made my discoveries.

In the right pocket, I found a handkerchief. Perfectly clean, starched, and ironed. Instinctively, I put the hanky to my nose, as if to search out a trace of my mother’s smell. All I smelled were mothballs. Those of you reading this, who knew my mother, are laughing. I know you are, but it is no laughing matter! My mother had this thing about mothballs. Or, more accurately, she had a fear of moth infestations so she stuffed mothballs in closets, dresser drawers, coat pockets, and between our folded sweaters. My mother knew that mothballs would keep moths away. What she didn’t know was that mothballs are made of naphthalene, an insecticide, which gives off highly toxic fumes and vapors harmful to insects, wildlife, and humans.

The handkerchief

The handkerchief

In a split second, nose to handkerchief, I was back in my childhood home. The handkerchief transported me to a small brick house in NW Indiana, where the heating and AC vents carried no-longer-secret private conversations between my parents. Conversations about their monetary worries, concerns over the safety of their children, their health, our health, our futures carried through the vents with a frightening and embarrassing clarity. I remember once confessing to a priest about eavesdropping on my parents’ private conversations. I felt that guilty so as to bring my dark shame to the confessional box! I remember the priest taking an unnatural interest in my confession! Ah, the smell of that darned handkerchief!

Back to the autumn theater night in Seattle, my fingers next touched a tube of lipstick. Ma’s coral red lipstick! My mother didn’t wear make up, but on certain rare occasions, she’d put some lipstick on. For some reason, I hardly remember this. It’s a dim memory, only brought to the surface when I found the tube of red lipstick in ma’s deep pockets.

Ma's Coral Red Lipstick

Ma’s Coral Red Lipstick

For some reason the lipstick made me sad. I am trying to understand why it makes me sad. Maybe it’s because the lipstick is a testimony to the life my mother once lived. The tube of lipstick I found bears witness to my mother’s all-too-human life, one in which she wanted to feel more feminine, more beautiful. The tube of color to redden her lips unveils a woman, my mother, who was alive for a brief time. Holding the tube of lipstick makes me sad because I am reminded of her earthly existence, and all the complex feelings we humans may have about measuring up and concerns about how we should look and present ourselves to the world. I see her applying the red lipstick, perhaps in search of a boost of confidence and I continue to feel overwhelmed with sadness.

That same autumn evening in Seattle on our way to the theater, I found one last item, the most significant one, in ma’s deep pockets. I found my mother’s beloved saint card.  I couldn’t believe I now had her treasured prayer card in my possession.

Santa Rosalia, Patron Saint of Palermo

Santa Rosalia, Patron Saint of Palermo

My mother loved Santa Rosalia. Santa Rosalia is also affectionately known by Sicilians as La Santuzza, or The Little Saint. I used to see my mom pull out her saint card, covered in a clear plastic card holder. She’d lovingly caress La Santuzza, flip the card over, and I’d watch her silently lip the prayer on the card.

La Santuzza (1120-1160) is always depicted wearing a crown of roses. She is sometimes shown wearing dark thick fabrics because she cast off her riches and lived a monastic life in a cave. Her story is unusual: Rosalia was born in Palermo, Sicily, to Sicilian aristocracy (Frankish aristrocrats governing Sicily). Her father was Sinibald, Lord of Roses. Rosalia was a descendant of Charlemagne. Rosalia was a beautiful noble woman, who at a very young age, experienced a calling to devote her life to God. At age 13, she moved to a cave near the town of Santo Stephano Quisquina and devoted her life to prayer. She later moved to another cave on Mount Pellegrino, near Palermo. She lived entirely alone and died alone.

Always shown wearing a crown of roses, here La Santuzza wears the clothing of a hermit.

Always shown wearing a crown of roses, here La Santuzza wears the clothing of a hermit.

As a hermit, she was not venerated by her neighbors, royalty, or family. No one came to visit her. She died completely alone.

In 1625, during a period of plague, she appeared in a vision to a hunter near her cave. Her relics were discovered, brought to Palermo, and paraded through the street. Three days later the plague ended, intercession to Rosalia was credited with saving the city, and she was proclaimed its patroness. The traditional celebration of Rosalia lasted for days, involved fireworks and parades, and her feast day was made a holy day of obligation by Pope Pius XI in 1927.

Her festival is an annual celebration in Palermo, but I also found the following:

Rosalia is deeply revered as a saint to this day.  Her festival is a big bash, not only in Palermo, but also in Bensonhurst (a neighborhood in Brooklyn) and other Sicilian communities.  Monterey, California has a three-day fishing tournament and Italian heritage festival in her honor.

Santa Rosalia, La Santuzza, beloved saint of Palermo

Santa Rosalia, La Santuzza, beloved saint of Palermo

My mother must have gotten the card from Sicily because La Santuzza’s prayer is in Italian. On the way home on the cold autumn evening, I dug my hands into ma’s deep pockets. Perhaps like my mother, I found myself caressing the card covered by clear plastic. I didn’t read the prayer until I got home that night.

Below is the prayer on the reverse side of La Santuzza’s card (translated from Italian to English).  This is the prayer my mother lipped silently every day:

Santa Rosalia, pray to God for my family and me.

Through your powerful prayers, may we obtain health, life and salvation.

I also pray for this special need and intention

(make your intention

known).

O St. Rosalia, I promise henceforth to remember and follow your example of faith and love.

Pray for me and mine.

Amen

In Ma’s deep pockets, I discovered a cornucopia of treasures transcending time.

Christmas Growing Up: Indiana 1960s

December 27, 2016

When I was growing up in Indiana in the 1960s, Christmas meant time off school, time to play in the snow and make a snowman. I always received Perfect Attendance Awards in school, mostly because I was healthy, but also because, even if I had a tummy ache, my mom ignored my complaints and sent me off to catch the bus. Unfortunately, as soon as Christmas vacation came around, I usually got sick and spent the first day or two in bed with the flu.

Christmas time meant a family drive to Chicago to see the Christmas decorations in the shop windows along the Magnificent Mile, a one-mile stretch of shops on North Michigan Avenue between Oak Street and the Chicago River. I loved my Dad fiercely as he fearlessly drove alongside big trucks and thick traffic to get us safely into the heart of the big city. We splurged on paid parking, but we saved on meals: mom packed her homemade impinialata (olive onion bread) and had prepared plenty of hardboiled eggs. In our family, there was no driving adventure without at least a dozen hardboiled eggs in tow. (Years later, the first time Rick went on a road trip with my family, when offered a second hard boiled egg, he asked me, “What’s with the eggs?”) In the big city, bundled up as I was, my little feet always got painfully cold and my dad had to give me horseback rides up on his shoulders! The Christmas decorations looked especially beautiful from up high.

Christmas meant having the whole family together. It meant dad coming home early from work at the Indiana Toll Road on Christmas Eve. He entered the house, bringing in snowflakes and a gust of freezing wind, holding a gigantic basket filled with jam, cured meats, mustards, nuts, various types of cheese, crackers, fresh pears, dried fruits, and deluxe chocolates. He proudly handed the basket over to us as we unwrapped it and inspected its rich contents. He won a gift basket year after year for being one of Indiana Toll Road’s best and hardest working employees.

We loved Christmas because it meant my dad had a few days off work and we got to spend every waking moment in his lovely company, all of us! We played his favorite opera and Sicilian folk music records on the turntable. He told us stories of the old country, he sang for us, and he smiled his beautiful contagious smile as he and mom made homemade sausage. The sausage meat mix was ground pork, flavored with salt, cracked pepper, oregano, aniseed, and red pepper flakes. I begged for bits of raw seasoned meat before it made its way into the sausage casings via the hand-crank machine. Again and again, mom and dad patiently swatted my little hands away. Those were the happiest of times.

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at St. Stephen’s was packed with other large Catholic families. Some families were so big, they took up a whole pew. My family -seven of us always arriving late- took the back row. Why were we late? Because mom always had one more chore to do, one more dish to prepare, one more item to put away, one more daughter to dress, one more door to lock. Dad waited patiently in the car. He sat rubbing his gloved frigid hands together and kept the engine running, the car warming up, the windows frost-free.

No one saw our new outfits at Midnight Mass. We kept our heavy coats on during mass because it was so cold. I felt like an Italian-American Eskimo, but at least I could snuggle deep into my coat and doze on and off, unnoticed, during the long late-night mass. The priest, rather than celebrating the many people attending midnight mass, scolded those who only showed up for the holiday masses. I counted the seconds for mass to end. Mom stood at her full height, which was not very tall at all, proud of her well-dressed, bundled up daughters and her handsome husband, proud of the fact that my family never missed a single Sunday mass throughout the year. We were not the ones being scolded. Dad had a smirk on his face as he remembered Midnight Mass of his boyhood at Santo Rocco back in Grotte, where he, the cute blond prankster, tied all the widows’ black shawls together so when they made to leave, their shawls fell off their shoulders in one big tangle! What a commotion! He dared repeat his prank every year and no one ever figured out who the prankster was!

After mass, we came back home and opened gifts under the artificial silver Christmas tree that we, as a family, had proudly assembled and decorated with tinsel and mom’s ancient Christmas ornaments from Grotte, Sicily. The ornaments were hand-painted, made of delicate glass. How carefully we handled them, knowing they were mom’s treasures. She’d certainly kill us if we broke one.

The other treasure was the nativity set my family had brought over from Sicily. On the days leading up to Christmas and for days after the holiday, I loved to say goodnight to baby Jesus before going to bed. I could stare at the tiny figures for a long time and study the faces of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the three kings, the sheep and the cows. The figures of the nativity cast a spell over me. Their faces held magic, a mystery that was too profound for me, a mere child, to understand. The nativity set, I knew, represented the rock that held my family in a steadfast knot of faith.

After midnight mass, we were each handed a wrapped gift from under the tree, while an electric light-gadget facing the silver decorated tree went round and round, magically casting colors and turning the silver tree and tinsel into a spectrum of red, blue, green, gold, and orange.

When I was little, my big sisters told me that Santa was a hoax and that the gifts from Santa actually came from mom and dad. I cried because what they told me was dreadful. How could they have come up with such a cruel story? I told my mom what I had heard. My mom sternly told me that if I continued to believe in Santa, I’d keep getting gifts from him, but that if I chose to believe that he did not exist, Santa would then stop bringing me gifts. It didn’t take genius-brains to figure out what I was supposed to do. I continued to receive gifts from Santa until I was 12.

I received dolls and toys until I lost interest in them. Most of the dolls came from Aunt Lily. Aunt Lily did not have children, so she splurged when it came to gift giving for her brother’s children. She was my godmother and adored me! She brought gifts for all my sisters, but I thought my gifts from her were always super special. I secretly believed she loved me more than anyone else in the world. When I lost interest in dolls, I started receiving practical gifts: underwear, socks, a winter coat, boots, a sweater, scarf, hat, mittens, flannel pajamas, slippers, and long underwear. We children received clothing items to keep us warm during long Indiana winters.

Mom cooked and baked for days before Christmas. We children were given the difficult jobs, like cutting onions and peeling garlic. Can’t believe I am divulging this embarrassing detail, but she made us girls wear hairnets in the kitchen! Serious eating began for my family on December 24 and continued for the next 24 hours. On Christmas day, Mom put a sea of fold-up tables together in the basement and then came the tablecloths, one tablecloth overlapping another. Out came her finest plates, the best glassware, and polished silverware. The concept of potluck did not exist in my family. If my mom was hosting Christmas, she made the entire meal. My dad’s sisters came over and helped with the finishing touches.

The gathering was no fewer than 20 people. We began with a pasta dish, usually lasagna or spaghetti with meatballs, followed by Italian Sausage with roasted peppers and onions. There was always a potato salad with hard-boiled eggs, a baked ham, salad, homemade bread, olives, and dad’s homemade wine. The meal went on and on. I will never forget those Christmas meals!

We ate with gusto and we all drank wine, including the children. Everyone talked and laughed at the same time. The noise level kept going up. My boy cousins could really tuck the food away into their bellies. Watching them eat pleased my mom to no end! The adults and the children all sat at the same table and we all interacted with one another.

At some point, eventually, my mom and the other adult ladies would clear the table, quickly do the dishes, and pull out the baked cookies! Someone started a pot of coffee. Even though I was allowed to drink wine, I was not allowed to drink coffee. A well-kept secret was that Aunt Lily let me drink coffee when I spent the night at her house. I kept my word to Aunt Lily and I never told my mother. I loved how the coffee made my heart pound! I always loved the smell of coffee. It smelled of comfort, warmth, of happiness. It smelled of home. My home.

And out came the desserts! Mom’s Sicilian Fig Cookies were the best. Mom called them cucciddrati. I think she made them from memory because I never found her recipe for them (recipes are below, just before the photos). The best part of cucciddrati is that they are topped with a frosting made of butter, confectioner’s sugar, and milk, and topped with colorful nonpareil sprinkles. Mom also made Anisette Cookies. Nonna Licata used to send a box of baked cookies for Christmas. The treasure in Nonna’s box sent to us from Grotte was the cobaita, a pure-goodness-almond-brittle that my grandmother made with sun-roasted almonds from her orchard. They tasted of Sicily!

Mom also made Sesame Seed Cookies, which are called giugiuleni in Sicilian. These hard cookies were delicious dipped in coffee. When in my mother’s house, I dipped them in milk. At Aunt Lily’s house, I dipped them in coffee!

Don’t forget we lived in Indiana, so a bit of the Midwest came into the dessert scene. Alongside the almond cobaita, the dried fig filled cucciddrati, and the sesame studded giugiuleni, mom presented her freshly made Hoosier delicacies such as potato chip cookies, or jello embedded with either cottage cheese or miniature marshmallows.

And NUTS! Christmas was not Christmas without a huge bag of roasted nuts. By the end of the evening, there were piles of nutshells on the table. My dad would crack nuts for me because I didn’t have the strength to crack a single nut. I couldn’t even crack open my favorite almonds and hazelnuts! As my dad cracked the nuts for me, he’d tell his stories!

After the gargantuan meal, the adults played card games. Sounds of coins, banter, laughter still fills my ears. It feels like yesterday when I watched the adults become as playful as we children were. Sometimes we all formed a circle or a train and did Sicilian folk dancing. We’d move the tables so mom and dad could dance the tarantella. They were so light on their feet. Sometimes we children played “chase” and if you got caught, you nearly got tickled to death. The adults told jokes not meant for children’s ears. We were sent off to play, but we hid nearby and listened. We had a hard time understanding the play on words and the various puns in their slurred fast-clipped wine-dipped Sicilian dialect. The jokes went over our heads.

My mom would tell her animated played-out funny stories for all of us to hear. Every year, her bawdy stories grew more embellished, more dramatic, more comical!  She told her entertaining stories about flatulence happening at the most inopportune moments.  One of her stories, which took place at the Italian-American picnic grounds, was about an unfortunate elderly Sicilian immigrant lady, about to sit on a toilet seat, surprising a bird that was taking a dip in the very toilet she was about to sit on.  Mom also had a pocketful of stories about the many colorful characters back in Grotte.  Her stories filled every corner of our humble home with resounding laughter. Every Christmas, our house became a palace, complete with a banquet hall, a ballroom, and a court jester!

My Christmases as an adult are now quiet, the way I have grown to love them. This year, Rick and I spent three exquisite days at La Push, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. The weather treated us well. We enjoyed cold crisp frost-and-sun-filled days, took long walks, enjoyed each others’ company, caught up on sleep, read books, watched the sunrises and sunsets, and savored life as it is today. I find I do not yearn for the Christmases of my childhood, but every Christmas I do say a silent prayer of thanks to my parents and my aunties for giving me the gift of Christmas memories I will carry in my heart for as long as I live.

And below are photos from our fabulous Christmas this year at La Push, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula.

Haystacks in the sea

Haystacks in the sea

Looks unreal. Color untouched, clear skies, cold day at La Push

Looks unreal. Color untouched, clear skies, cold day at La Push

My Winter Long Shadow against the frosted grass

My Winter Long Shadow against the frosted grass

Rays of sunlight spill into the forest trail on our hike

Rays of sunlight spill into the forest trail on our hike

Another long shadow selfie: shadow against unblemished sand

Another long shadow selfie: shadow against unblemished sand

Long Shadows Across Grass (color untouched, just as I saw it!)

Long Shadows Across Grass (color untouched, just as I saw it!)

The author of this blog (Fran) and Rick

Selfie: The author of this blog (Fran) and Rick at La Push

Ice Puddle I

Ice Puddle I

Ice Puddle II

Ice Puddle II

Eye: Quileute Nation Totem Detail

Eye: Quileute Nation Totem Detail

Mist and Sea

Mist and Sea

Pink Sand makes for beautiful art

Pink Sand makes for beautiful art

Rich Red Drift Wood Against Sand

Rich Red Drift Wood Against Sand (unbelievable naturally occurring colors!)

Reminds me of my family's "steadfast knot of faith".

Kelp Strand: Reminds me of my family’s “steadfast knot of faith”.

The road leading to La Push

The frosted curvy road leading to La Push

Sunset at La Push

Sunset at La Push

Quintet of Daughters

October 1, 2016

I am one of five daughters.

My mother was one of five daughters.

My mother’s mother was one of five daughters.

FIVE DAUGHTERS

FIVE

I come from a lineage of five daughters born on my mother’s side of the family for three generations in a row.  Too bad it’s not five generations in a row.  It would have made for an even better blog post!  There may have been five generations of five daughters, but the fact is that I don’t have knowledge of my mother’s family past my great grandmother, Mamma Rosi.

there are five great lakes: erie, huron, michigan, ontario, superior … i was born in gary, indiana, which borders one of the five great lakes, lake michigan….my birth town, gary, indiana, was also home of the jackson five, there are five points in a star, five cups in a sake set when purchased in Japan, five arms in a starfish, and an earthworm as five hearts. there are five senses: hearing, smelling, taste, touch, sight…five vowels in the English alphabet, five players on the the court in basketball, five olympic rings symbolizing five continents, in the yoga tradition, there are five layers of a human being, which are known has the koshas in sanskrit. there are five toes on each foot and five fingers on each hand, five elements in chinese tradition: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water,  five elements in the hindu tradition: earth, water, fire, air, ether or space, and five primary colors: green/blue, yellow, red, white, black

And there are FIVE photos I’d like to share with you.

These family photos are my treasures.

PHOTO NUMBER ONE:

My Grandmother, Antonia Tirone Licata, and her sisters!

FIVE SISTERS: My Grandmother in the middle, Antonia Tirone Licata, and her sisters, on their family vineyard in Grotte during the grape harvest (la vendemmia).

Who thought to bring a camera out to the vineyards to photograph these five sisters at grape harvest time in Grotte, Sicily?  Back then, the concept of smiling when being photographed was absurd.  Instead, you looked straight into the camera and acted your dignified best.

My grandmother is the petite woman in the middle.  She was the smallest of the five, small but powerful.  She ruled the roost.  I once overheard my mother and one of her sisters describing their parents, “La mamma ficiva lu pappa e lu pappa ficiva la mamma.” Mother wore the pants and Father was the one we went to for coddling and comfort.” (Literally, “Mother played the role of Father and Father played the role of Mother.”)

My grandmother and her sisters enjoyed long lives.  My grandmother birthed and raised ten children. She also worked as both midwife and undertaker in the village of Grotte.  She helped the villagers enter the world and was there to wash and prepare their bodies for their burials.  Death did not frighten her.  Her nickname among the villagers was Sant’ Anto (Saint Antonia).  Even today, when I go to the village, I introduce myself as the daughter of Pina di Sant’Anto and immediately I carve out a place for myself in the village.

Three of the sisters are wearing black, the color of mourning because they are widows.  One of my great auntie’s has her hair covered in a white scarf, typical hair attire at harvest time in Sicily.  The white scarf served as a hat-like covering to keep the scorching sun off her head. She also is wearing a white medallion pinned to her dress.  We can’t see it up close, but it is a photo of her deceased husband.  My grandmother wore a medallion like that, too, pinned to her dress for over 3o years of widowhood. Even today, the widows of Grotte never forget their deceased husbands.  They rarely re-marry, even if widowed young, and they go to the cemetery often to wipe dust from the headstones, to water the flowers around the grave, and to pray.  One of my great aunties in the photo above has removed her white scarf, probably for the photo, and has it slung over her shoulder.  All of these sisters wore their hair long, wrapped in a tight bun.  When I visited my her, I used to love watching my Nonna undo her hair at night.  Her hair was wispy long and steely gray.

The sisters are proudly displaying bunches of picked grapes.  These magnificent women are Earth-Women.  I love how they stand, firmly rooted to the earth!   I love their strong ample bodies.  My grandmother is holding, nearly hugging, a typical woven basket from Sicily.  In the Sicilian dialect the woven basket is called a cartedda, a word derived from the Greek (from kartallos), because Sicily was a Greek colony in ancient times.  I had an uncle who used to make such baskets during the winter months, when he wasn’t busy tending his farm.

PHOTO NUMBER TWO:

Grandmother Antonia Licata (Mamma Anto') with her sisters and two brothers.

Grandmother Antonia Tirone Licata (Mamma Anto’) with her sisters and two brothers.  These are the adult children of my great grandmother, Mamma Rosi (Rosa Zaffuto Tirone).

Another priceless gem!  Again, my grandmother is in the middle with her sisters and her two brothers.  In fact, the sisters have all taken the same standing position as in the grape harvest photo! They are older in this photo.  Now there are four women dressed in black, four widows. Their hair is definitely thinner.  I love how the sisters all carry brand new purses.  What on earth did they carry in their purses?  I never knew my grandmother to carry a purse.  She carried her enormous skeleton key, tied on a long string, tucked and buried deep between her breasts.  The image left an indelible impression on this author’s ten year-old girl’s brain!

The photo was taken inside a house.  It is not my grandmother’s house.  You can see the wooden doors behind the family and the sheer lace curtains that cover the door.  And you can see a fancy doll decorating a sofa.  Maybe it is the village photography studio.

I was lucky enough to meet my grandmother and her siblings!  The five sisters and their two brothers all lived to be in their 80s and 90s.  Mostly I remember “Tsa Ve” (Zia Veva), the woman with the half smile whose hand is on my grandmother’s shoulder, because she immigrated to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada to live with her son and his family.  I met her on several occasions in Canada when I was young.

PHOTO NUMBER THREE:

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This is a great family treasure: a photo of  my grandparents, Antonia Tirone Licata and her husband Vincenzo Licata and their ten children, five girls and five boys.  My mother is one of five daughters. My mother is the one with her hand on her little brother’s shoulder. This photo was probably taken in the same place as the previous photo, which makes me think this is the village photographic studio.  Look at the floors!  But this time, there is a sheet covering the wall behind the family. I love how in the two “studio” photos, almost everyone is given a prop to hold.  I bet the photographer handed out handbags/purses to the ladies, newspapers and scrolls to the men, and toys to the children.

When I go to Grotte, every aunt and uncle present in this photo has a copy of this Licata family portrait.  My aunts and uncles keep a framed copy of this photo at their bedside.  As long as the siblings live, before going to bed, they say goodnight to their beloved mother and father who are long gone.  I have seen them kiss this photo before retiring for the night.  Five of the siblings have died (my mother being one of them) and five are still alive.  Two of the sisters are still alive.  Rosa, the eldest of all ten children, will soon celebrate her 100th birthday.  Maria celebrated 97 years of life just a few days ago! There is a 26-year span between Rosa, the eldest, and Decimo, the youngest, whose name literally means “tenth child”.

PHOTO NUMBER FOUR:

My mom and her sisters and their mother

My mom, her sisters, and their mother

The photo above was taken in 1972 at my grandmother’s house in Grotte.  My mother is wearing white.  Three of the aunties wear their long hair in an old Sicilian traditional style, tightly pulled back and knotted in a bun. This is the only photo I have of all the sisters together in their later years.

PHOTO NUMBER FIVE: My mom and her five girls!  This was taken in Gary, Indiana.  I am the baby. I love my purse!  The tradition of holding a prop in one’s hand while being photographed continues!

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My Aunt Lily (Revised Re-Post)

July 30, 2016

July 30, 2016:  I am reposting this and have added a few more photos.  I wrote this a few years ago in honor of my Aunt Lily.  Today, sadly, she died.  She just turned 89 years old last month.  I am overwhelmed with sadness.  The world today seems to be a very empty place……

I have immense gratitude for my Aunt Lily.  I have wanted to write about her for so long now, but as I write, I am not sure where to start.

I am not even sure how to write about my Aunt Lily..  She is a very special person in my life and even my friends, who have only met her through my stories, are in love with her!  She is my godmother and she has been a part of my life since day one.

When my parents and sisters immigrated to the United States, they first settled in the Boston area to be near Dad’s brother Joe (Giuseppe) Gallo, his wife, and their two children (one of them is East Coast Fran!).  My family was having a great time, settling in Boston.   However, Aunt Lily, Dad’s little sister, was living in Gary, Indiana with her husband and was feeling very lonely.   She got married at age 19 in Grotte, Sicily  to a man much older than herself.  I am not sure of their age difference, but my guess is Uncle Sam (Salvatore) could easily have been 30+ years her senior.  If given a chance to get out of an impoverished situation, who knows, many might have made the marriage choice my auntie made.  Salvatore Cuffaro (Uncle Sam) went back to his hometown, Grotte, in 1946 looking for a wife to bring back with him to America (to Gary, Indiana) where he had been living for many years.  He was well dressed, well fed,  and well filled-out in contrast to the post-war Grottese who were struggling to put food on the table.   My grandmother encouraged Aunt Lily to marry Uncle Sam, knowing she would most certainly have a better life in America.  When we were together last Christmas, I asked Aunt Lily  if she was happy in her first marriage and she said, without any hesitation whatsoever, “Yes!”.  She said Uncle Sam was a good man and he was really kind to her.

Aunt Lily lost one child and was never able to have other children. Childlessness was the absolute heartbreak of her life.  The prospect of having her only brother and his wife and his beautiful 4 little girls live near her made her heart beat once again with the promise of life!  Eventually my parents decided to leave Boston and go live near Aunt Lily in Gary, Indiana.  I can only imagine how excited she was when my mom became pregnant with me.  As I have mentioned in another blog, my mom and Aunt Lily shared the special relationship of what Sicilians call “cuma”, or co-mothers.  Together, they co-mothered me.  How many people do you know raised by two mothers and one father?  One mother disciplined me and the other, Aunt Lily,  coddled me!

Aunt Lily’s life in America was anything but easy. She worked and worked and worked.  She has told me more than once, “I been a work’ real-la hard all-a my life!”  Uncle Sam had a restaurant in Gary, Indiana called Isle of Capri and as soon as Aunt Lily settled in America, she was busy working at the restaurant.   She did everything!  She ran the show!  She was prep chef, sous chef, main chef, shopper, bartender, waitress, bus boy, dishwasher, and cleaning person.  She made everything from bread to tomato sauce to pasta by hand!  The restaurant was hopping!  The verdict was out about Isle of Capri. It was outrageously great!  If, today, you ever meet an old timer from Gary, Indiana, he or she will have a recollection of Isle of Capri!  Uncle Sam welcomed the guests and did the accounts.  Then he started having heart problems.  Aunt Lily continued doing the impossible, now running the entire business by herself and nursing her husband.

Eventually Uncle Sam died.  I was 10 years old and his was the first funeral I ever attended.  It was most disturbing to see Aunt Lily so distressed over his death.  Sicilians WAIL at funerals and that is what she did. I was very frightened and my parents regretting bringing me along to the funeral.  Aunt Lily came to live with us for a while and eventually she remarried an American, my Uncle Gardner Lum.  Her life changed.  They bought a huge Winnebago and traveled the USA.  They became snowbirds and spent winters in Yuma, Arizona! For the first time since leaving Grotte as a 19 year old bride,  Aunt Lily  went back to Sicily with Uncle Gardner to see all of her relatives.  Uncle Gardner charmed the villagers as he looked at Aunt Lily and declared the only words he knew in Sicilian, “Ti vogliu bene, mugliere mia.”  (I love you, my wife.)  Aunt Lily taught him well!

After 20-some years of marriage, Uncle Gardner died and Aunt Lily was widowed a second time. Even though she says, “It’s no good-a be alone, believe-you-me!”, she continues to be the independent awesome woman she is!  She will be celebrating her 85th birthday in June 2012.  She used to drive a truck that she had been spray painted with the words “Lily’s machina”  (Lily’s machine!)  She is adventurous.  She still drives, and travels solo to Canada and Italy to visit her friends and relatives there.  She still makes bread and is one of the best cooks I know.  She said to me at Christmas when I was with her, ” When you gotta good-a man-a, you gotta good-a life-a.”  She always says she was ever so lucky to have had two good husbands.

Aunt Lily is sharp, remembers everything, and is a great listener.  She is worldly and nothing shocks her. Trust me, I have tested the waters and she is solid in her wisdom and worldliness!  She has seen and heard it all. She is very easy to talk to. She has a lot of friends and her friends are of all ages.  Everyone loves Aunt Lily!  She is independent and is impressed by strong men!  If she meets you and you are a strong man, she will surely have a chore or two in mind for you to do. Maybe she will have you move her sofa, or pull out the oven so she can clean behind it!  Or maybe she will have you till the garden soil, so she can plant her zucchini!   Needless to say, she loves Rick.  His muscles get her thinking about all sorts of chores she can get him to do!

I can’t even imagine a world without my Aunt Lily in it!  I love her way of talking, her expressions, her way of laughing, her sense of humor, her gestures, her smile, her stories, her cooking.  She is so much like my dad and it is comforting to be around her.  I love her and I am so lucky to have her in my life.  We talk on the phone often and I am always the one to end the phone calls. It seems we can talk together for hours if only time permitted!  Enjoy these pictures of my dear aunt:

Uncle Sam and Aunt Lily 1955

Aunt Lily

Aunt Lily

Crying me with my godparents 1962 (my first New Year’s Celebration)

Mom, Zina, and Aunt Lily 1963

My all time favorite photo of Aunt Lily with her nieces and my mom!  I wasn't born yet, but you can see how the girls absolutely love her!

Above: My all time favorite photo of Aunt Lily with my sisters and cousins and my mom! I wasn’t born yet, but you can see how the girls absolutely love her!

Another lovely old photo with my sisters.

Above: Another lovely old photo with my sisters. (I wasn’t born yet!)

Aunt Lily in purple

The Matriarch of our family: Aunt Lily in purple

The good old days in Gary, Indiana: family gathered around the table!

The good old days in Gary, Indiana: family gathered around the table laden with food!

With Toni, Nora, and me

With Toni, Nora, and me

She loved children.  Here she is with her great-great niece!

She loved children. Here she is with her great-great niece!

A very svelte Aunt Lily taking a break from the hard work at her restaurant in Gary, Indiana called Isle of Capri.

A very svelte Aunt Lily taking a break from the hard work at her restaurant in Gary, Indiana called Isle of Capri.

Faded photo, but a good one!  She is holding me in the very back!  She loved to hold me.

Faded photo, but a good one! She is holding me in the very back!  I always look like I am whining or crying!! 

Cooking up a storm in her kitchen with Nora

Cooking up a storm in her kitchen with Nora

This is what we call Aunt Lily's "Wedding Soup", at her house.

This is what we call Aunt Lily’s “Wedding Soup”, at her house.

We made pies together

We made pies together

With her close friend Teresa Amore

With her close friend Teresa Amore

Aunt Lily and Uncle Gardner Lum 1983

Aunt Lily at Ocean Shores, Washington (and lentil soup and her homemade olive and onion bread rolls on the left)

I Dream Of Jeanie

July 7, 2016

I Dream of Jeanie

One day after school, not long after immigrating to America, my sister declared to my parents that her new name would be Jeanie. She liked the sound of it. Her full name Giovanna was too hard for her new American friends to pronounce. And her Sicilian nicknames Gianna and Gianina didn’t sound anything like how they were written. With a name like Jeanie, she’d be sure to fit in.

Jeanie was my middle sister. She was six years older than me.  She was the star. I dreamed of being like her: tall, slim, elegant, artistic, funny, popular, fashionable, admired by my parents, especially by my mother. My mother had the patience to sit with Jeanie and teach her how to sew, knit, cook, and bake. Jeanie was a quick study. In no time at all, she was sewing hip outfits for my sisters and me. She designed her own patterns and made coats, jackets, skirts, pantsuits, and gowns for bridesmaids. The Gallo girls strolled into the 70s looking as chic as the Mod-Squad.

Jeanie as a bridesmaid

Jeanie as a bridesmaid

Jeanie branched out and started sewing for neighbors. She did alterations for them. And she started cutting their hair. She was still in high school at this time. The neighborhood ladies lined up in our basement where she had set up a makeshift after-school hair salon. She did up-does and gave perms. She frosted their hair and covered up their gray. She teased and puffed their hair and then shellacked it with layers of spray. The Indiana ladies left our house inches taller, feeling mighty beautiful in a Hoosier kind of way.

Jeanie started painting nature scenes and then, using a hooking technique, started making throw rugs and carpets. She dabbled in weaving. She did quilting and crafts. She made Big Bird and Cookie Monster cakes. She was a success. She was also, like so many girls her age, boy-crazy. I was just a kid and often intrigued by what she had to say about boys, but just when I would tune in, she would send me out of the room. She had a gentle, but commanding way about her.

When my family went to Sicily for the first time in 11 years after their immigration, everyone in the village of Grotte was stunned by Jeanie’s beauty and elegance. A young admirer organized a formal serenade for her. Yes, it was an old-fashioned serenade late at night, guitars and singing under the upstairs balcony at Nonna’s house. During the late night serenade, Nonna rushed into our bedroom to make sure Jeanie did not appear at the balcony because, according to Nonna, that would be the most impossibly improper thing to do! Another young man declared his love to her, but she wasn’t interested.  She already had a boyfriend back home!  Years later, when I went to Sicily as an adult, men, now middle-aged, sitting right next to their wives and grown children, would tell me how they had been in love with her. They would say her name dreamily, “Ah, Gianna.”

Jeanie gave my dad a full-time occupation in Rome! Young men would attempt to follow us back to the hotel. After chasing the young men away from the hotel entrance, my dad would beg Jeanie to please not make eye contact with any passing male creature, and to please not smile!  She did these things because she thought it was funny. She was just a 16 year-old young girl having a good time! The gawky ten year-old little invisible me, with crooked bangs, an overbite and a huge gap between my teeth, found her fascinating.

1972 Passport Photo for our Rome/Sicily trip

1972 Passport Photo for our Rome/Sicily trip

And she was selfless. She lived for others, especially my mom and dad and her two boys.

When she was diagnosed with MS, we were all devastated. We knew so little about it, but what we heard didn’t sound good at all. The cruel disease gradually took away almost every motor skill she had. She became intimate with hospitals and nursing homes. Depending on which medication she was on, she’d puff up and her body would expand or she’d become bone thin. She’d volunteer to take various medications as long as they held a possible promised future for herself and others living with MS. Once she volunteered to take an exploratory non-approved medication that could potentially damage her heart, in the hope of finding a cure. My parents suffered as they watched her deteriorate from their vibrant, fiercely independent, creative, altruistic daughter to a bed-ridden, paraplegic, seizure-and bed-sore-prone disabled young woman. It broke their hearts. And yet, her spirit could not be snuffed!

She definitely had a curious, naughty side to her. When she was just 5, newly arrived in America, she went snooping around in my Aunt Lily and Uncle Sam’s bedroom nightstands. On Uncle Sam’s side, she found a hand gun. It was loaded, safety feature unlocked. All the adults and my sisters were sitting in the living room when little Jeanie came out of the bedroom with a loaded gun in her hand. “Mom, Dad! Look what I found!” The adults blanched. Silence. I’ll bet my dad wanted to kill his sister’s husband for having a loaded gun in the house. The gun, in his child’s hand, was being pointed at everyone in the room. Aunt Lily saved the day by exchanging the gun in Jeanie’s hand with candy. I guess I came close to not being born.

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What I will never forget is visiting Jeanie in various assisted living and nursing homes. Silly me, I’d be caught up in some idiotic life drama and then I’d see my sister lying in bed, with photos all around her of her fabulous boys, smiling at my arrival. Instantly, I’d realize that all my so-called problems were nothing. Her smile was pure radiance!  Whether she was lying there hooked up to oxygen, IVs, or tubing leading to some infusion or another, bruised from a recent surgery, or puffed from a recent medication or infection, she’d smile and say, “Frannie, I’m so happy to see you! How are you, honey?”

The disease took away a lot, but it did not manage to take away her love!  As her illness progressed, her love became concentrated.  It was enormous and powerful.

Christmas with Jeanie.

Christmas with Jeanie.

I don’t know how else to write about her. She could see the glass half full, even when the glass had nothing but a small drop left in it. I don’t know where such courage comes from. We were so lucky to have had her. She has been gone for five years now, but it seems like yesterday when I last held her hand. I write this on the fifth anniversary of her death. Jeanie’s beautiful lively spirit lives on in her sons and her grandchildren.

Dwarfed by Jeanie's sons, Vince and John

Dwarfed by Jeanie’s sons, Vince and John

599 and Counting

November 28, 2015

This is my 599th blog post.  And this is my post-birthday blog.  I was born on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1961.

My mother was very big on telling each of my sisters and me our birth story every time our birthdays rolled around. I think each time she told the story of my birth, it became more colorful.  I am told this skill of increased dramatization is called Literary License. My mother paid a high price for that license and she, the author of both me and my birth story, deserved every embellishment she thought up.

When mom was pregnant with me, she craved watermelon.  She was a newly arrived immigrant in America.  She and the family happened to settle in the Midwest, in Gary, Indiana, to be exact, and she couldn’t get over how delicious and refreshing the watermelon tasted!  In fact, she couldn’t get enough of it.  On some summer days, watermelon was the only thing she wanted to eat.  Watermelon made her happy.  In the days before air conditioning, watermelon from the ice box cooled my pregnant mother on hot humid Indiana summer days.

After work, my dad often stopped by  the numerous farmer roadside stands to buy a great big watermelon to bring home to mom.  This went on regularly during the summer months.  On the days he came home with a big fat watermelon, he was a star, a hero bigger than the mythological heroes we read about.  If he went to enough farmer roadside stands, he could find watermelon throughout the month of September.  But come October, Ma’s cravings could not be met as easily.  This was not good because, according to Sicilian old wives’ tales, pregnant women’s cravings must be met!  It was bad to deny cravings.  In fact, the child whose mother’s cravings are denied will come out always wanting this and that, never satisfied with life because basic cravings during pregnancy were not met!  Ugh.  In 1961, it was rare to have watermelon trucked in from California.  Fruits were eaten in season.  No one would dream of eating a strawberry at Christmas time, let alone a watermelon in late November!   Sadly, my mother went without watermelon in the later stages, the last two months, of her pregnancy with me.

The summer before my birth, Miller Lake, Gary, Indiana.  Mom is holding Zina and my other three sisters stand in the second row.  My Aunt Maria, wearing a white blouse, is next to mom.  Mom is pregnant with me.  I wonder if a watermelon is sitting in an icebox nearby.

The summer before my birth, Miller Lake, Gary, Indiana. Mom is holding Zina and my other three sisters stand in the second row. My Aunt Maria, wearing a white blouse, is next to mom. Mom is pregnant with me. I wonder if a watermelon is sitting in an icebox nearby.

I was my mother’s sixth birth.  Her first child was a boy.  I never met him because he died shortly after birth.  He was named after my paternal grandfather, Giovanni.  After my brother died and before I was born, my mom gave birth to four more children, all girls:  Onofria (Nora), Antonia (Toni), Giovanna (Jeanie), and Vincenza (Zina)  My mother said her pregnancy with me felt different.  She was convinced I would be a little boy, the longed-for replacement for the boy she lost 13 years earlier.

On the day of my birth, mom got up, waited for her sister-in-law, my Aunt Lily, to show up so they could prepare the turkey dinner together.  Aunt Lily had been in the states since 1949, so she taught my mom how to stuff the turkey and do up all the trimmings for the feast.  After putting the turkey in the oven, my mom calmly told my dad she was ready to go to the hospital to have the baby.  Off to St. Mary’s Mercy Hospital they went (which is, coincidentally the same hospital where Michael Jackson was born three years earlier in 1958 and which is sadly an old abandoned building these days, complete with lights that still work).

My four sisters, Aunt Lily, and Uncle Sam were just sitting down to enjoy the Thanksgiving meal when my dad telephoned to announce my birth, the first American born to the family, the fifth daughter, whose mother was denied watermelon for the last two months of her pregnancy with me!  My sisters told me how they danced around the table because they were so excited to have another sister.

I’m sure that if my sisters read this story they will have more embellishments, adding more dimension to my story.

Birthday for Franny...

Birthday for Franny…my cousin Joe stands behind me and my happy dad is to my left.  My sister Zina and cousins John, Charlie, and Sammy can’t wait to have a bite of my cake!  I see TWO candles for me so I must be two years old!

Rick and I were in La Push, Washington, for my birthday and Thanksgiving day this year.  Below are some photos from that lovely place.  I believe it is one of the most beautiful beaches on the continental USA.  Rick’s long-lived eccentric Grandma Glenda loved La Push and made her annual trek there, pulling an 18-foot silver Air Stream Trailer behind a canary-yellow Karmann Ghia.  There she beachcombed and enjoyed talking to members of the Quileute Nation.  She made this trip until she was well into her 90s!   We stayed at the same place she stayed at year after year, the Quileute River Resort, and we love it there.    It is a great place to celebrate one’s birthday!

Rick and me at La Push.  It was a mere 27 degrees out. Cold and crisp, beautifully sunny on the Olympic Peninsula, Big Foot country.

Rick and Fran at La Push.  It was a mere 27 degrees out. Cold and crisp, but beautifully sunny on the Olympic Peninsula, Big Foot country.

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54 Year old Warrior!

Thunderbird Art work.

Thunderbird, Quileute Nation Art.

Early morning frost at La Push

Early morning frost at La Push

So I took off my Icelandic gloves, hat, and scarf...and coat ,sweater, and boots and took a photo of myself using a self timer.  The camera was balanced on this magnificent piece of driftwood!

So I took off my Icelandic gloves, hat, and scarf… coat, sweater, and boots came off, too…and took a photo of myself using a self timer.

Using a self timer, I took this photo. The camera was balanced on this magnificent piece of driftwood! (in the foreground of the photo).

Using a self timer, I took this photo. The camera was balanced on this magnificent piece of driftwood! (in the foreground of the photo).

Beautiful La Push, Washington!

Beautiful La Push, Washington!

Sunset in La Push, Washington on Thanksgiving Day.

Sunset in La Push, Washington on Thanksgiving Day.  End of a wonderful two-night stay!

 


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