Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Summertime in the Midwest

August 13, 2018

It’s been a while since my last blog post! You may be wondering what happened. What happened is that I have a newly designed website and it took many intense hours to pull it together. I’m hoping this blog post will reach my subscribers. (I’m also hoping you will have a look at my website frangallo.com). I was disconnected from my subscribers for a month and so my wish is to be reconnected with all of you! We will soon find out if all is back to normal when I hit the heart-pumping PUBLISH button.

And I just got back from Indiana, where I was born and grew up. Going to Indiana is like going back to the cradle. My sisters, brother-in-law, nieces, nephews, and cousins welcome me back wholeheartedly. Every day with them feels like a celebration.

August in the Midwest seems like the worst time to have competed in a duathlon with my nephew, but there you have it. That’s exactly what I did in Chicago. We cooked up this plan last October and we followed through with it last Sunday! And I got to spend a few days with my nephew, his wife, and his adorable kids at their house.

Jake-the-Bombay-Kitten. Panther-like in so many ways, he playfully stalks the children around the house. I love this cat!

Prairie flowers welcome me at Chuck and Erin’s house!

Summertime in Chicago and NW Indiana is hot and humid. The day of our race was no exception. Having lived in Seattle for the last 27 years, I have lost my tolerance for the humidity of the Midwest.  Even so, taking part in the triathlon was a great experience. I was so thrilled and proud of myself to have done better than I expected. I had imagined the possibility of blacking out in the 96 degree heat, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I finished the race with some new wisdom: never ever doubt what you can do.  The triathlon started at 7am and I finished before 9am. The strong heat of the day had not yet begun. I loved riding and running with my nephew and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Nephew Chuck and me below. We are 14 years apart:

Sweaty and Over-Heated Champs!

After the triathlon, I headed to Valparaiso. There are many strip malls and mega-stores in NW Indiana, but there are also vast acres of cornfields. Valparaiso is a university town. It has a thriving downtown area with some handsome historical buildings, very nice restaurants, wine bars, breweries, and shops. Downtown has an outdoor public area for summer concerts and winter skating. As we drove along country roads in my sister’s convertible, our hair flying wildly in the hot summer wind, we passed old farm houses and new subdivisions, and thin stands of black oaks. Weeping willows dot the landscape and drape across lush green lawns. I notice the lawns are perfect and I think perhaps the lowly dandelion has been eradicated in this part of the world.

I sat in my sister’s screened-in porch late at night and watched the fireflies light up the night sky. Lightning bugs is what I called them growing up. I have always loved them. Late into the night, we talked. It seems there is no end to our family stories, our memories of mom, dad, and Jeanie. Every year adds to the volumes of memories lived and cherished. Together, we pulled up the old Sicilian words and expressions mom and dad used to say. Together, we remembered them. “Cuatolati! Bundle up!”, mom would say to us in the winter as we got ready to confront a blast of cold arctic air.

It is soothing and healing to be with my sisters who have known me since the day I was born and who have always loved me. “I am so lucky” I kept thinking to myself as I sat with my sisters, feeling their love, watching the pink sunsets, listening to the cicadas and crickets singing deeply into the night.

Nora and John’s screened in porch.

Indiana! There are the dunes of Lake Michigan, the bursts of summer rain showers, the lightning and thunder loud enough to shake the house and wake me up from a deep sleep! Cardinals, finches, and swallowtail butterflies flit across my field of vision. Conservative folk, friendly folk, church-going folk, working-class folk, next-door neighbors with a ferocious fenced-in barking dog and plastic flamingos that light up at night, the fabric of this tapestry is colorful. This is the Indiana I know and admire. It has not changed very much since I lived here so long ago. I have changed, but I am still warmly welcomed.

Black-Eyed Susans, Rose of Sharon, hibiscus larger than my head, yellow prairie flowers, and sunflowers dazzle the eye. The farmers’ market is filled with the sweetest watermelon and gorgeous squash. The watermelon makes me think of my mother, who craved it when she was pregnant with me. The squash reminds me of my father, who grew so many in his garden that he had to give most of them away to his lucky neighbors.

I was tightly embraced in Indiana’s arms. The summer heat melted away months of tension in my body. Together with my family, I ate, I drank, I laughed. We reminisced and the memories we drew upon quenched my thirst. We enjoyed each others’ company. And then, I came back to my other home, my home of 27 years, Seattle.

Valparaiso murals. The postman in this mural is my sister’s postman!

Nora’s table laden with desserts, ready for our cousins to come over for a visit.

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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

Storm (Hice Storm)

April 10, 2018

It was a stormy blustery weekend at the coast, tempestuous, complete with sideways ice-cold rain and hailstones. Rick’s impromptu spoonerism created a great new word, a noun, an appropriate description of what was falling from the sky: “hice”, a mixture of hail and ice. And the new word stuck just as the hail stones were sticking to the deck, the cars, and to all exterior surfaces outside our ocean home. The rain continued to come in angles. The rain came in sheets. The angles changed direction and it was all so unpredictable. Looking out the window at the forest surrounding our house, the scene looked slightly unbearable, very exciting, and utterly chaotic as gusts of wind deeply bent the branches of the swaying trees.

If you love storms, there is no better place to be than in Ocean Shores, Washington.

I had my Women’s Spiritual Group out at the coast last weekend.  We did yoga and meditated. We laughed. We stared into each others eyes (yes, really! and it moved me to tears). We drew and read from a deck of Inspiration Cards and talked about our lives and our dreams. Sometimes, we discovered, our lives and our dreams intersect in beautiful ways. We told stories and read tarot cards. We shared books, wonderful meals, conversations.  We munched on popcorn and stayed warm by the wood stove.

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Carpe Diem! Seize the Day! This was one of the message cards that was randomly picked out of the deck of Inspiration Cards.

And we were inspired. We decided to take action.

“Let’s go out!”

Cabin fever is a type of illness and there is only one cure for it. The cure for cabin fever is to go out into the elements. Never mind if the gusts of wind were coming in at 26-36 miles per hour (strongest gust was clocked in at 56mph), never mind that we could hear the roaring surf from inside the house with all windows shut tight.. going out IS the remedy for cabin fever.

Out we went, braving the storm. We bundled up in our rainproof gear and decided to drive out to the jetty. The roads were isolated. Even the deer and the birds were in hiding.

We were surprised to see a line up of cars, engines idling, dotting the parking area near the jetty. People in the cars sat staring at the enormous waves crashing over the jetty. The jetty parking lot had become an impromptu outdoor drive-in theater, the waves the movie, the popcorn missing!

Parkas, anoraks, rainproof jackets zipped up, hats on, hoods pulled up, ears covered, rubber boots on, gloves and mittens on hands, we fought the winds and walked toward the jetty and onto the beach. Was it really April 7th? As we staggered forward, I wondered what the Pacific Ocean has in common with the word “pacific”. We walked, keeping a safe distance from the sneaker-waves and the blasting waves hitting the jetty. We watched the waves as the people in the cars watched us. I felt as if we had walked into their movie. We walked against the wind, holding on to each other. I felt a rare gratitude for every pound of my weight!

On the way back to the car, we were hit by a force of tiny icy crystal-like hail.  Bling Bling Bling on our faces. A Pelting Facial?  So, there was a silver lining! We laughed at the thought of it.

Tiny crystal-like hail stones pelted our faces. It was an exfoliation, pore-tightening, toning, firming, softening, wrinkle reducing, collagen-building, blood circulating, oxygen increasing,  deep cleansing, detoxifying, muscle-relaxing, lymphatic drainage-inducing, puffiness-around-the-eyes-reducing, complexion clearing, a slowing down of the onset of wrinkles, a cure for a sagging face, a skin cell renewal speed-up process, de-stressing, hydrating, moisturizing, absorption-increasing, nourishing, skin-breathing, rejuvenating Pelting Facial!

We came back to the house, placed our rain soaked clothing in the dryer, put on dry clothing, sat by the blazing wood stove, sipped tea, and marveled at each other’s rosy cheeks and bright youthful faces.  We had fun thinking of all the benefits of the Pelting Facial.  There was a steep price to pay for it, but it was quite worth the adventure.

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P.S. I had fun writing this blog entry.  I hope you had fun reading it.  Pelting Facial: highly recommended, at your risk, of course.

P.S.S. No one would dare take out a cell phone or camera in the storm, so no photos were taken of the storm proper and so no photos of it in this blog post. Descriptions will have to do!

Local Bus To Sayulita

December 23, 2017

I exit the Sayulita airport. “Taxi? Muy barado!” I speedwalk past the taxi drivers excitedly touting their cheap taxi services. I have one mission in mind: to walk across the pedestrian overland bridge to catch the local bus.

It is already dark out. The air is warm and heavy with humidity. My hair instantly doubles in volume. The palm trees are more lush than ever. It is rush hour, it’s Friday, and Feliz Navidad is only a few days away.  There is no specific bus schedule. The bus will arrive when it arrives. I need agua so I find a roadside shop selling bottled water. Outside the shop I see a handwritten sign that says, “Relax! You are now on the other side of Trump’s Wall.”  My tense muscles relax and go into vacation mode.

Manana-land, here I am.

And the bus, a worn-but-clean Mercedes bus, arrives. It is overflowing with humanity. I squeeze in with my luggage. There is a festive atmosphere on the bus. Everyone is either wrapping up a long workweek, a long work day, or done with their Christmas shopping.

A kind elderly man taps my arm and offers me his seat. I decline his generosity. After all, he may have worked all day while I sat in flight. He seems embarrassed because I don’t accept his kindness.

The driver is loudly jamming some American tunes, mostly rock. I hang tight as Santana, Rolling Stones, R.E.M., Bowie, Credence Clearwater, and Pink Floyd help me ease on to the other side of the wall. My confused body slowly adjusts from Seattle’s 34 F degrees this morning to Sayulita’s 80F temperature this evening.

The seats are filled with workers, families and people trying to get home or going out for the  evening. A pregnant woman, who looks as if she just might have her baby now, rubs her belly and closes her eyes, the bus her lullaby. Three young beautiful women sport dazzling tight dresses, one in pink, the other in red, and the last of the trio in teal. Another young woman wears a t-shirt that says in English, “One world, my world, your world, our world.”

Some faces on the bus are illuminated by the odd glow of the ubiquitous iPhones.

As we leave the madness of the city and continue North to Sayulita, a seat opens up for me. I sit, cramming my luggage between my knees. A fan cools my face.  People continue to squeeze into the bus. Grocery bags filled with food, Christmas gifts, boxes, and enormous plastic bags filled with who-knows-what accompany them.

Eventually the bus arrives in Sayulita.

Here I am

without my lap top!

Yes, somehow I forgot to pack it!

Blogging for the first time on my iPhone,

no quick tap tap tap of the fingers.

Time to relax.

Feliz Navidad from Sayulita!

 

 

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

October Splendor in the Garden, at the Coast

October 1, 2017

I went out to the garden to cut flowers for a bouquet.  Before stepping outside, I wondered which flowers, if any were to be found, would work for my bouquet because it is so late in the flowering season and most flowers have already done their blooming. It is already the first day of October and the leaves are starting to turn red so you can imagine my delight at finding many blooms for my bouquet!

How can flowers make me so happy?  Flowers and sunshine!  Below are the flowers I cut and you can see the bouquet I created from the autumn blooms.

The hydrangea below is a very special type called Ayesha Hydrangea.  One of my favorite aspects of this hydrangea is the cupped petals.  Each petal looks like a little spoon.  When it rains, each petal holds a drop of water.  The flowers are heavy and precious!  Sadly, I’ve heard another name for this species of hydrangea is called “mop-head”.  I hesitated to include that bit of information.  I don’t like the name.  It takes away from the beauty of this remarkable flower. Everyone who sees my Ayesha instantly falls in love with “her” and wants a cutting or a start of this bush.  I need to buy some rooting hormone and get some promised starts started!

Long ago, I taught a little girl by the name of Sophie.  She was very young and yet her parents insisted she learn Italian from me.  We are talking some 20 years ago.  I believe Sophie was four years old at the time. So I taught Sophie Italian using the TPR technique.  Total Physical Response technique is a method used to teach children language, using physical responses and physical exercise as a means to engage in interactive learning.  It worked well with Sophie! In return, in lieu of payment in cash, her father, a landscape architect, paid me in bushes, rare flowers, and trees!  Talk about a cool barter system!  This rare Ayesha hydrangea is one of the plants I earned in the teaching/plant barter.  After 20 years, Ayesha is still thriving and as beautiful as ever.

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Here are a few other hydrangeas in bloom today, October 1st.

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Other flowers to make it into my vase were fuschias and the fronds of Lucifer Crocosmia.  You can correctly suppose the flowers of Lucifer are a hellish (or heavenly) RED.  I didn’t have the heart to cut the last of the crocosmia flowers, especially the rare yellow ones that seem to bloom only every other year (also part of the teaching/plant barter deal).

Below are the last of Lavatera (Mallow) flowers. They also made it into the vase.

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The rhododendrons have already set their gigantic buds for next year’s spectacular flowering performance!  I am a garden nut for good reason.  Flowers are my garden’s song.  Flowers are life unfolding!

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And the bouquet!  So pretty.  I was surprised to see how well the white single petaled anemones did this year.  They made it into the bouquet, too.

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Sunshine, don’t be fooled!

Big fat billowing clouds give no hint of the sudden squall that will soak me, within seconds, to the bone.

Upon arrival to the beach, a blue kite dances in the sky, a girl with yellow boots frolics in the sand, chasing waves.

Sweet youth mock me not!  Like a child, I search for moonstones and agates and fill my pockets with gems.

The grass seed-heads on the dunes are illuminated by the early October sun.

Today’s clouds, a painting waiting to be painted.

This is your lucky day! This is my lucky day!  Ours to celebrate!

Happy October!

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Sicily 2017 Slideshow

May 13, 2017

Was it one week or two?

It was one hundred lifetimes lived in a single day.

Warm sun on my skin

Within days, my skin goes brown, my eyes grow bright.

A gentle breeze floats in from the sea.

I am surrounded by beauty

and smiles.

How will I ever go back home?

This ancient land clings to my feet, tugs at my heart.

I am trapped by an invisible seaweed netting.

Cherry tomatoes burst with flavor. The local markets display mounds of dried wild herbs and mountains of colorful fruits and vegetables, which will taste as beautiful as they look.

Every morning and evening, we practice yoga to the sound of birdsong

and to soft lapping of waves.

The fragrance of the zagara flower is intoxicating.

Orange blossoms perfume the wall-less outdoor yoga studio.

Mt. Etna lets out a steady stream of smoke, steam, and dreams.

Mongibello stands tall, shrouded in purple at sunset, pink at sunrise.

What do you call the blue of the Sicilian sky and sea?

Flamingos, not yet fully pink, are feeding at the marsh.

Are there words to describe such insane raw beauty?

At night, I wonder how my parents ever left?  I wonder if I  carry the scars of their pain?

Quarry stones, hewn perfectly, stand witness to ancient history and warm today’s cat.

With the click of my camera, I capture the wild red poppies growing in a field of yellow daisies and I offer the poppies’ perfection to my lost friend Adriana.

We do yoga in the ruins of the tuna fisheries.

I feel the solidity of ancient stone under my feet, the mass suffering of the giants of the sea, and the beauty of the moment.

I watch my friends, long-time friends and new ones, do yoga on this ancient island. I lead them in a yoga sequence and I feel  Madre Terra’s energy coursing through us all.

Mother Earth and the Sicilian Sun nourish our spirits.

I breathe and I am renewed.

Fran’s website: http://www.frangallo.com

Turn up your speakers and enjoy the slideshow below (about 8 minutes long):

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

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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