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Tribute


my childhood girlfriend lost her mother this past week. though we correspond periodically and share pictures of facebook, i haven’t seen m since my mother’s funeral, because we live on opposite sides of the country. but the people you reach out to when a nuclear family member dies are those who knew that nuclear family back in the day because there’s a special kind of bond that was forged.

eight years ago at my mother’s funeral, m’s mother was in the beginning stages of alzheimer’s and though she looked the same, it was clear that she was struggling with the disease. i know the disease progressed mightily over the years, and necessitated m’s family placing their mother in a facility where she would be safe and properly cared for. and the facebook pictures of her with her mother and the new grandchild hid the sadness and struggle with an unforgiving disease.

but i only saw a tiny glimpse of her mother’s change as she wondered away from m at the reception after my mother’s funeral and so i’m free to remember her mother as she was a half century ago.

m’s family emigrated here from portugal and lived just a block away from us. she is two years older than me, as were most of my close friends when i was growing up. i can’t remember exactly when we first met, but i know that we were friends when my father died and still friends when her father died just a couple of years later. we navigated our middle and high school years together with our fractured families and each walked down the aisle to get married without a father’s escort.

m’s mom was warm and inviting and i can still hear her hearty laugh. m’s grandmother also lived with them and i remember her mother and grandmother sitting at the dining room table and conversing in portuguese while m and i played with barbies in the living room. the lilting softness of the language drifted in from the next room, punctuated by laughter and just felt so comfortable.

my mother didn’t work and m’s did, so i thought she was just so interesting because she had a job. she was a seamstress in a factory in downtown los angeles, sportswear i think, and i will never forget the day m’s mom took us both to her workplace. i saw the rows of machines and racks of finished clothes, which all seemed like magic to me, but i will never forget the band saw like contraption that was used to cut three foot-thick stacks of fabric. my mom was a home seamstress and all of us girls in the family learned to sew, but to see garments being made on a huge scale was utterly fascinating. i had a flashback to that moment when our daughter took us on a tour of the sewing factory where she now works in production and design.

m’s mom also owned a corvair and we got to ride in it. to me, that car was just about as cool as a mustang, both cars being the pinnacle of auto ownership at the time, except for maybe the corvette. i loved seeing that corvair parked in the driveway as i came up to the front door of their house.

years later, after i had moved away from california and m settled in a town further north of where we grew up, i tried to stop in and say hello to her mother when i was in town (which was unfortunately far less frequently than i would have liked). when i was pregnant with our first child, m’s mom asked my mom to make sure that i stopped by and she surprised me with a beautiful eyelet lace and ribbon comforter and pillow she had made for the baby. i still have them.

i looked for m’s mother’s obituary on line and was a bit taken aback when what popped up was douglass and zook funeral home, the same funeral home in our home town of monrovia that handled my father’s funeral and maybe even her father’s funeral. it’s funny how a moment like that can trigger a long buried memory, but can also serve as some kind of continuum.

though the life arc of our families was different, there is still a bond between us and even moreso now that we both have felt the sadness of losing our mother, but the parts of our lives that we shared will always be fondly remembered.

rest in peace dear mrs. b.

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Filed under family, friends, tradition

sweet and bitter

november is a bittersweet month.  october and november the foliage in eastern pennsylvania puts on a spectacular show of vibrant reds, golden yellows, rusty browns and oranges set against deep, dark green.  the air is crisp and clean, the energy different from the lazy days of summer.  

the route i drive to and from work is a series of windy, hilly tree-lined roads that have me rubber necking throughout the entire drive (well, not just because of the fall colors, but because i never know when assorted wildlife like deer, raccoons, opossums, groundhogs and foxes might take a stroll across the road).  

and then there’s november 14th.  smack in the middle of the month (almost), a day that changes the feeling of the month for at least that day if not longer.  november 14th is the day my dad died after a long battle with cancer.  this year marked 40 years.  i would not have guessed that all these many years later i would still be affected by that date or the memory or the loss.  i’m a year older now than he was when he died, but in my head on november 14th, i’m a scared kid in a tiny family who lost a parent.  

according to a recent study done at john hopkins, 57% of adults who lost a parent before the age of 20 said that they would give up a year of their lives to have one more day with their deceased parent. i’ll take that deal.  (but i’ll take it only if i know that that day i need to find out everything about him so i have decades of memories)  i was too young to get to know my dad much and have spent the great majority of my life without a father.  

my sister tells me she has hand written letters from dad to her while she was away at college.  treasures.  i have a couple of old pictures of him, a gold coin that he collected and some scattered memories.  that’s it.  that used to bother me a lot, now it’s just a fact. 

the holy card from dad’s funeral has lived in every wallet i’ve had since the age of 15.  it was alone for many years but now it’s joined by a crystal my sister c handed out at my sister e’s funeral and the holy card from mom’s funeral.  

dad’s card is frayed around the edges and the back is yellowed, but it’s still in very good shape considering the number of years it’s traveled along with me.  every november i take out the card and just look at it for awhile. there’s no picture of him on the front, instead there’s a kind of colorful stained glass painting.  (the card was considered kind of modern and controversial at the time.  now it looks very tied to the 1970s)  it strikes me every year that he was born in 1917 and died in 1971.  dates that frame his existence.    

when my sister, brother and i are all gone there’ll be no one else left who knew him in person.  our kids will my pictures and a tattered holy card of a grandfather they never knew. 

they have two other grandparents who were a joyous part of their lives and a grandmother who still is.  

forty years is a long time to replace the bitter with the sweet.  it’s been done, but every november there’s still a twinge. 

 

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Filed under age, death, Fall, family