Friday, June 5, 2009

Memories and anniversaries...

Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of my dad's death. Weeks before I knew it was coming and I couldn't believe that much time had passed. How could it be 15 years? How did my family and I manage to get through all this time without him? "Life goes on." That's how.

My dad was a single child in a pretty big family. His father was one of nine brothers and sisters. And his mother was one of four sisters. Almost every one of his father's side of the family had only one child. And I think my dad was the oldest of the cousins. So they grew up like brothers and sisters, in a way, since they all lived so close to each other. His mother's sisters had one or two children, and they lived fairly close too. But her sisters were somewhat younger than she was, I think, so I don't have the same impression. And there were many, many cousins on both sides.

We grew up about three to four hours away from my grandparents, so when we, or he, would come into town, it was a huge deal. Huge. My grandmother cooked everything under the sun. My memories of those visits are my grandmother in the kitchen just about the entire time. Aunts and uncles and cousins and friends dropped by almost non-stop. It was one constant meal throughout each day. And my grandmother was a stellar cook. Even if a visitor just came from breakfast or lunch, they had to eat something when they visited or my grandmother or my dad would keep pushing food on them until they had a plate with something on it. "Have some pasta." "Have some meatballs." "A little scungili." "Eggplant." Gram's fried eggplant was THE best. The best.

Stories and jokes flew across the kitchen table. I loved sitting at the table with all the adults. And if a joke was too racey or spicy, it was told in Italian and the adults would roar with laughter. Sometimes my dad would laugh so hard he needed to wipe his eyes with his handkerchief. He always had a hanky, so did my grandmother.

Then it would be time for bed for me and my sisters, and we'd try to sleep while the adults hung out in the kitchen. Talk about the kitchen is the heart of the home. My grandmother's kitchen was literally the center of the house. The two bedrooms, the bath and the family room and den were all off the kitchen. When you walked into the house from the driveway, you walked up five stairs and you were in the kitchen. Greeted by the dining table, which always had doilies, flowers and candles on it, unless we were eating. Every room was right there, almost like petals of a flower. Anyway, my sisters and I would eventually fall asleep as the noise died down and the visitors left.

When we woke, my grandmother would be at the stove, again or still, making coffee and fried dough with sugar on them. We called them doughboys. They smelled awesome and we gobbled them down. I can't even imagine how many my grandmother must have made in her life. I remember my mom saying she couldn't eat another bite and having just one last one. They were that good. Then we'd say we were done, don't make any more, but Gram would still put those final four or five on the table and then those would go, too.

Then it would be time to leave and saying goodbye usually took about two hours. Since my dad was an only child, and we were the only grandchildren, it was hard for my grandmother to see us go. Goodbye always included a lot of hugging, hand-holdling and a lot of kissing. My dad seemed like he was in a hurry to get on the road, but I don't remember that my mom ever was. Maybe she was thinking so what if we hit traffic, it's Sunday. We'll get home, unpack and... As kids, we didn't care--we all napped at some point during the trip. We kept ourselves busy. And this was before ANY kind of electronic entertainment device. We had and 8-track in one of our cars. I remember listening to Jim Croce's Greatest Hits for two and a half hours straight one time.

Anway, fast forward to yesterday. Fifteen years. I called my one sister to check in and see how she was doing. I have to admit, when I woke up I didn't think that it was June 4th, fifteen years. I was in the middle of the morning routine when I remembered. We talked about calling my mom. She was driving out of town for the weekend for a high school reunion. After we hung up, I hemmed and hawed over calling my mother. She was driving to have a great weekend and I didn't want to change that. So I decided not to call. I called first thing this morning, though, to check in and let her know I was thinking of her yesterday, all day. She had a really great time yesterday, for which I was so pleased. I told her about my decision not to call just for that reason. And she was fine. Life goes on.

My dad came from a pretty big family and I remember him going back home to attend funerals of cousins and aunts and uncles from a pretty early age. We didn't go with him on those trips--we were too young. I missed him a lot when he went alone, even if it was for one or two days. I remember crying a lot when he would come home, because I missed him so much. I also remember him saying, "Dying is a part of living." Looking back that's a pretty healthy attitude to instill in a young person. Life goes on.