riposa in pace
Posted by bryanz
on Wed Jun 16 2010 14:09 (Link
here's a great description of my stereotypical italian grandma from her eulogy.
"Family was of utmost importance to Aunt Mary. Whenever I spoke with her, whether on the phone or in person, she asked about me, my husband, and each of my children, wanting to know what each of us was doing and how we were faring. However, these were not inquiries reserved just for me. To express concern and caring was her custom with anyone in our extensive family with whom she had occasion to talk. She also never failed to acknowledge birthdays, graduations, and other important occasions in our, her nieces’ and nephews’ lives, and the lives of our children. All of us were deeply touched by her thoughtfulness and generosity.
The dynamics of familial relationships can be quite interesting. One such dynamic became evident to me in a dialog Aunt Mary and my mother had countless times and that I myself witnessed often. The two Marys actually had a bit of a competition going, and it had to do with my cousin Maria and me and who was more virtuous and commendable. Those qualities were apparently determined by how hard each one of us worked and how tired we were. It went something like this: one Mary would say, “My poor daughter. She’s so tired. She works so hard.”The other Mary would counter, “My poor daughter. She’s so tired. She works even harder.” Then that verbal ball of those few declarations with many examples passed back and forth until they themselves became tired, sighed, and let it drop. I’m wondering if they continue to have that discussion in the place they now inhabit together.
Aunt Mary was herself a hard-working woman. She worked fulltime outside her home until retirement, and I will always picture her bustling about in her home, where she labored daily from sunrise to sunset providing for her family’s needs. She took pride in being a wife to Uncle Tony, who lovingly called her Toots, and a mother to John, Anthony, Maria, and Joe. She loved her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and adoringly displayed their photographs throughout her home. She was a loyal daughter who took care of her own mother, my grandmother Josie, from early on in her marriage to Uncle Tony right up until Grandma’s passing. She took her obligations to family in earnest, without complaint, and with boundless devotion.
Aunt Mary had an inner strength that was exemplary and first became evident to me when her grandson Johnnie died at the age of three. I had Leigh then and was pregnant with Laura. I remember learning about Johnnie’s death and calling Aunt Mary intending to console her, but I became so emotionally overwrought that she wound up consoling me and talked to me about the need to remain strong, because other people needed us and relied on us, a conversation and advice I would recall 31 years later when faced with the loss of my Laura.
Aunt Mary had other strengths, too. She was steadfast in her Catholic faith, never missing weekly Mass while she was still in good health; and she took very seriously and literally the Christian injunctions to visit the sick and pay respects to the dead. With Uncle Tony, she would travel sometimes long, inconvenient distances just to visit ailing, convalescing, or dying relatives. During the Easter season, with palm fronds in tow, they made their annual pilgrimage to cemeteries ranging from the Gate of Heaven here in Westchester to others, whether they were in one of the five boroughs of New York, or some location in New Jersey. Wherever a close relative was buried, there they headed regardless of distance and time. Sometimes my parents would go with them on those day-long, winding trips here and there, and return exhausted but in awe of the sense of familial duty and devotion that Aunt Mary and Uncle Tony displayed.
Since our families always lived in close proximity to each other and then spent summers together in Otisville, I have accumulated many memories of Aunt Mary. I remember her wearing little half aprons as she prepared bountiful meals for her family; and, no matter what time you visited, she immediately placed coffee and food before you and insisted you sit down and eat. I especially savored her thick brown roast gravy without a single lump and her potato salad with just the right amount of mayonaise. I learned from her how to prepare kielbasa, a favorite of Uncle Tony’s and my own husband. In recent years, I was quite surprised to learn that she had amassed a vast eclectic collection of recipes, many of which Uncle Tony has given to me. Besides American, Italian, and Polish recipes, there were many, many recipes for French, Chinese, and Mexican dishes. “How about that?!” I marveled to myself. “My seemingly conventional and traditional aunt had an adventurous side, too.” I relish that thought.
Her domestic skills and interests did not pertain to just her cooking and keeping house. She was also adept at sewing and reupholstering. Uncle Tony has also given me her many containers filled with threads, pins, fasteners, buttons, and fabric—all meticulously organized. However, whether she was cleaning house, cooking, sewing, or engaged in some other chore, I remember her, like her cousin Marie, who passed away several months ago, singing as she worked.
I have these many memories of Aunt Mary but, most especially, I remember her cream puffs. She prepared them for each and every special occasion, whether an extended family dinner, a holiday meal, a birthday, Christening, engagement, or anniversary. No one even had to ask for them. Whether we went to her home or she came to ours, there were always mounds of cream puffs sprinkled with powdered sugar and arranged on plates covered with dainty white paper doilies. They became her trademark and a family tradition that each of us, no matter what generation, came to expect, looked forward to, and immensely enjoyed.
We will miss those cream puffs and the woman with an easy smile who made them for us. Unfortunately, for many years prior to her passing this week, Aunt Mary’s health seriously deteriorated. Hopefully, her husband, children, and grandchildren can find comfort in the memories they, too, have accumulated of her and in their certainty that love is unending. Hopefully, too, they can find comfort in the knowledge that her suffering has finally come to an end and she has now found the rest and peace she so well deserves after a long life of selfless service to others."