Thursday, April 26, 2012

Eulogy- Elaine Regina Musitano (1934-2011)

Hopefully, the last eulogy I'll have to write and deliver for a long time. This one was for my aunt, who passed in October, 2011.


On behalf of our family, I want to thank you for coming this evening to help us bid farewell to someone who meant so much to us.   The cruelness of Alzheimer’s is such that we actually  lost her years ago.  It seemed slow at first, little blank spaces in memory…in train of thought.  Then all of a sudden she wasn’t there at all; physically, more or less, but nothing of her spirit… her passion for the people and things that she loved.   When you read about the victims of Alzheimer’s, it seems that it’s fate’s cruel joke in that it so often attacks the richest of minds, the ones with so much to give.  This was the case with Elaine.  It’s really kind heartbreaking to think of all that was lost, all that could no longer be shared even though she was physically still right in front of us.

And now we’re here.  Elaine is finally at peace and it’s time for us to try and find some of our own.  We’ll try and forget the past six years of this disease and all the lamentations of what had become of her.  Now we’ll just honor the life that she lived and the person that she was.

I feel a particular responsibility because of how much she meant to me personally. a I wish more people knew her the way only a very few of us did. 

It’s accurate to say that she shares equal credit (or maybe blame) for the development of me as a person.  I’m pretty much 1/3 Linda, 1/3 Bart and 1/3 Elaine.   And if you took away her influence, you’d find someone standing before you that you really wouldn’t recognize at all.

In order to understand Elaine’s impact, it’s necessary to introduce or re-introduce her and dad’s mother, Regina.   I don’t think it’s fair to say that my grandmother put on “airs”, because she didn’t perceive it that way, but there was definitely a sense of regalia about her that I rarely see in other people.

To me, she also never quite seemed to fit in with the modern age.  I always got the impression she’d somehow been time-warped out of an earlier century; perhaps whisked away from her Renaissance Palace  and somehow dropped into 20th century Philadelphia.

 Though my grandparents lived in pretty modest row home, stepping into their living room was like stepping into a European parlor.  A Renaissance chair,  a grand piano, not a sofa, but a setee.  The modern conveniences like televisions and stereos all hidden in the basement.  The living room was for conversation, for afternoon tea in cups and saucers, and for reading.   My grandmother was by no means wealthy, but she was cultured and she was elegant.  She loved art and poetry and she was one hell of a cook.  This was all passed on to Elaine.

From my grandfather, Joseph, Elaine got a love of classical music and opera and also a love of reading.   He read constantly and his shelves were filled with books on all subjects.  He also had one of the largest collections of opera records in the city.  These were their positive influences on her.

Now I don’t think I’m bragging or exaggerating when I say that for my grandmother and my aunt, my birth in October, 1970…on my grandfather’s 65th birthday…was probably the single greatest event in human history.  Since my grandmother was beamed from the Renaissance, the two of them treated me like one of the Medici Princes.  There was a painting of me, prominently displayed in the living room, painted by my aunt, as a baby falling  through the sky, from Heaven, with angels bidding me farewell.  Thank God there were some strategically placed clouds, covering my Princely “package”.

 In those early years they did everything short of chewing up my food  for me.  Scented baths were drawn, a nighttime snack of ovaltine and Lorna Dunes, complete with a formal table setting, and finally….these women were intense….they actually perfumed my pillow before I layed my head down.   They were also constantly  concerned about the healthy state of my bodily functions, ya know, the digestive system.  At least once a day, I’d get the question, in a kind of hushed whisper…”Did you have a b.m. yet?”  Even as a little kid, I knew I did NOT want to discuss this with them.  That would be the 1/3 Linda reeling it’s head right there.   Fortunately some of this of catering to faded as I got older.

In 1976 my aunt moved out of of my grandparents house and moved to Center City, to the VIDA apartment house at 15th and Locust Streets, the place that would become my single favorite place on Earth for the rest of my childhood.

From about 10 years old I began to spend as much time as possible with Elaine (or Zi-Zi) as Gianna and I called her, at her apartment. Gianna came a few times, but she was a homebody, so it became all about it should be.  She doted on me and was eager to share all her interests …and they were numerous.   If you don’t already know this about her, it’s important to understand that when she loved something, it was never just a little bit…she had a passion for certain things and she had the need to share it.  Looking back, the vast majority of the things I love were a result of her influence:  movies, books, different types of food, televison shows, art, music…so much of this is what she shared over the years. 

All I had to do was show the slightest curiosity in something and the floodgates would open; she’d spend hours with me discussing it, showing me examples, playing  records.   When movies like Empire Strikes Back, The Wrath of Khan and Blade Runner hit the theaters, she went crazy over them.  We’d be on the phone every Saturday, long distance, breaking them down scene by scene…the movies, the novels the soundtracks…all the while dad tallying up the long distance charges in his head.  “Is it necessary to talk about movies and tv for an hour,” he’d ask. 

I’d visit her a few times a year, usually a week at Christmas, a week in the summer and a shorter weekend when I could fit in in.   In the 80’s Center City was filled with great book and record stores and we’d hit them all.  We’d also go to movies, sometimes the theater, and frequently try new restaurants.  Other times, she’d try out a new recipe at home; she loved cooking Chinese and Indian food so her kitchen was filled with numerous cookbooks and spices.  I’d read the recipe out and she’d follow step by step.  She made a special “event” out of everything, from going to the bakery for a loaf of bread to watching a movie on the vcr.    In my spare time around the apartment I became familiar with every book on her shelf, every record she owned, every piece of artwork she painted.  I think to this day, I could probably set up her bookshelves exactly the way she had them.

She provided such a complete cultural education for me as a kid, just through her passion for things.  She missed her calling, she should have been a teacher…art or music or Humanities, because she could instill her love of things to others like nobody I’ve ever seen.

She exposed me to my first two operas, taking me to the MET in New York to see Wagner’s Lohengrin and Die Walkure.  We studied each Libretto first and she made sure I knew the stories completely beforehand.  There were many more that we watched on videotape.

And then, in July of 1983, she gave me the greatest gift of all….The gift of David Bowie…

Now I really had no idea of who this guy was.  I knew she liked him and I’d seen some of the paintings on her wall but didn’t know anything about him.  I remember the first weekend John was visiting her with me, and as we were walking out her front door, he caught sight of a Bowie painting she did, and he asked kinda bewildered, “Is THAT David Bowie?”   I answered “Yeah, apparently she likes him.”

So it was July 83, and I was up there for the week and she happened to mention that she and my grandmother had just been to a David Bowie concert.  So I asked her, “Well what kind of music does he play?”

Oh yeah! That’s ALL I needed to ask.  I could almost hear the internal sirens going off in her head.  Within minutes, the records were spread out on the living room floor as she played a selection of songs throughout his career, while I poured over the lyrics.  I also got pretty much the entire David Bowie biography lectured to me over the next two hours.  I was pretty much “Born Again”, by the end of that night..  I remember going home and getting a cassette mix tape to John, telling him, “you REALLY need to listen to this.” 

So now back to John for a bit, he is perhaps the only other person that completely understands the impact that Elaine had on me, because over the course of only a few weekend visits to her apartment, she had the same effect on him.

It all started with a trip to a science fiction convention in November 1982.  She had invited John and me up for the weekend.  We were in 7th grade and I remember we left after school on a Friday.  You can only imagine our total excitement  and arrogance in school that day as WE were spending an exciting weekend in the city and nobody else was.  I don’t think we  mentioned the Star Trek convention part.
Lil drove us into the city and it was about 6:30 or so when she turned onto Locust Street in front of the VIDA to drop us off.  I know neither of us will ever forget those first few minutes…

It was dark and a little cool, and there was a small group of people on the corner, standing out in front of Dewey’s, a small diner on the corner under the VIDA.  Just as we got out of the car a burst of steam came up out of the vent next to us, and it had this orange hue to it from the street lamp.  Visually, it was the perfect start to an amazing weekend. 

In addition to the convention, John got a sample of who she was, and her incredible power to expose you to new things…. 

            (John’s letter)

Her legacy has clearly lived on…

My aunt and my grandmother loved John, from the very first time they met him and they both always remembered to ask about him.   He and Patrice were the first of my friends to have kids.  I remember a party in Brigantine once, Jessica was an infant and John was in the house taking care of her, trying to get her to nap I think.  I remember my grandmother saying to Elaine, “Oh Lana, look what a wonderful father John is.”  To which she responded, ‘Yes, isn’t it darling?”  That was her word. 

My aunt and my grandmother, the two of them together were a trip.  When I would stay for the week my grandmother would come down to the apartment and spend time with us.  We’d take her on our rounds through Center City.  The two of them walked so slowly, constantly stopping to gaze longingly into store windows.  It drove me crazy.  Especially during the frigid winter wind chills, when I just wanted to keep walking.  I’d turn around and find them a half a block behind me.   

We’d get back to the apartment and my grandmother would say, “Lana, it was so cold out there.  I think Bart needs a glass of sherry to warm him up.”  So there I was, a 12 year old Frazier Crane, sipping sherry and listening to opera.

So this has been a sample of some of the defining moments of my childhood, really up through high school.  Memories that are still so totally vivid.  I can never go into Center City without them slamming into me, thinking back on all the miles of walking I did with her downtown.  Arriving on those streets EVERY TIME, brings that same feeling that John and I felt getting out of Lil’s car almost 30 years ago.  I walk past the VIDA or the LENOX (her second apartment building) and it feels like if I just walk in, get on the elevator and take it upstairs, everything will be exactly the same.  And then, when I realize it won’t be, well that royally sucks.

These last six years have been horrible.  So much she should have seen, so much she should have been a part of.  It makes me angry that Nico and Alex never got to really know the person she was.  They never had the chance to experience one of those visits, the things that she could have taught them. I do my best, but it’s not the same, coming from a parent sometimes.  She never got to see them on stage with their band and that’s very sad

She would have loved things like youtube and facebook, and I could see her spending hours sharing videos and interacting with other people that shared her interests.

Every time a movie, album or book that I go crazy about comes out, I think of her because I know it would have led to hours of discussions.  The remake of Star Trek was bittersweet because as a big Trekie, she would have been totally wrapped up in everything surrounding it.  The Harry Potter series she would have been INSANE over.  She had seen the first two movies, but by then the disease had already started to affect her and she didn’t completely understand it.  I remember though that she loved Professor Snape.  I sat in the theater seeing the final movie, maybe one of the most perfect movies ever, and that opening scene, zooming in on Snape in all his  Vader-esque awesomeness, I remember dropping the F-Bomb in my head, thinking “You should be here for this.”

Amy and I were with her last Thursday when she died.  I arrived about 90 minutes before and the great staff at Seashore Gardens had been caring for her all morning.  They knew she loved opera, so they had her CD’s playing.  I sat with her, listening to the songs and arias I’d heard with her dozens of times.  Me, Jose, Placido and Luciano, the way she would have wanted it.  Amy arrived about ten minutes before it happened.  The chaplain came in, said a prayer and then turned her music back up.  She died very peacefully to Pavarotti singing Rondine al Nido, a Neopolitan song from the late Romantic era…her favorite period of music. Odd to say, but as deaths go, for her, I’m not sure it could have been any more perfect…

Eulogy- William High (1951-2006)

Eulogy for Amy's father, William R. High, who passed away on October 25, 2006.

Good morning Father Mike, Family and Friends…

We’re gathering together today to wish Bill a very fond farewell…and this comes after almost a year of absolute torture…both physically and emotionally… for him… for Margie, for Amy and for all of us that loved him.

2006 has been a very sad one for this family.  In early February, Margie lost one of her sisters very suddenly.  Within weeks of returning from Mary’s funeral in Ohio, Bill was diagnosed with cancer…not just any cancer…Sarcoma…one of the rarest forms of cancer.

This has also been a year of anger for us… We’ve been angry at modern medicine for its incompetence, false hopes and callousness;  we’ve been angry at ourselves, thinking that if we’d done things differently, the end result might have changed…we know this is foolish…but this is what humans do.

And there have been times, we’ve probably been angry at God.  There have been more than a few un-answered prayers…or at least they weren’t answered in the way we were hoping.

 As Christians we’re taught that God has a plan for everything, and that things happen for a reason.  When you experience grief and pain to this extent, that is a very hard pill to swallow.

Yet as Christians we continue to believe these things….because to not believe,  would make this unbearable.

 Bill’s pain, sadness and anger are now over and our faith tells us that he’s now completely content.  After nine months of nothing but the horrors of cancer; of not even being able to recall what life was like before it, the family gathered almost immediately after his passing and in our minds, he was restored to the robust, extroverted,  funny and absolutely affectionately disrespectful guy that we all gravitated to whenever he was around.  This is the Bill…or for his casino friends, the “Billy High”, or for Nico and Alex, the “Pap” that we’ll never forget. 

Believe me, this family has been and will continue to properly toast and roast Bill in the gatherings to come.  Those of you who want to know some really good stories will want to sit down with John Ferrelli and Kerry Monahan after Mass today.  For now though, let me give you a brief little bio of the best father-in-law one could possibly ask for.

Bill was born,  raised and lived some of his adult life in almost heaven West Virginia.  This of course gave his Hilton and Bally’s friends an endless supply of “inbred” “redneck” West Virginia jokes to torment him with over the years.

As a young kid, Bill tried for a while to walk “the straight and narrow”, even testing out the waters with the local Boy Scouts, rising through the ranks as the head Bugler for his troop.

All of us know that Bill would go to great lengths to get a good laugh out of people and had absolutely no problem throwing himself under the bus to do it.  That after all, is the key to a great sense of humor.  So there he was…little Billy High….Boy Scout…a position of honor in his troop… and during morning ‘revelry”,  he starts blowing some ridiculous tune through his bugle.

As you can imagine, this did not go over well with the Troop leader.  Bill told me he was “branded” as a result of this.  Now I always thought branding was a hot iron to your ‘bum”, but in this case it was a full blown ceremony, where he was stripped of his bugler’s badge…literally ripped it off his shirt… with all the other scouts looking on.   “I was scarred for life”, he said.

He tried to stick with scouts a while longer, but I think his “branding” took the fire out of it for him…pardon the pun.

So then he turned…to a life of crime. 

One would think with a name like Musitano, I should have some good “connections”.  But actually my only link to organized crime was  Billy High….second in command of the Marland Heights Mafia.  Marland Heights was the mountain that Bill grew up on in Weirton, almost heaven West Virginia.  I know you Ohio Valley folks will argue that it isn’t a mountain, but when you grow up in Brigantine, anything higher than a sand dune is a mountain.

So the Marland Heights Mafia was a group of young teenage  ruffians… kinda like Rumble Fish or the Outsiders and it was during one of their major operations….trying to break into a locked bathroom at a school dance…that Bill would meet his future wife….Margaret Ghenne.

Margie was from nearby Toronto, Ohio….just outside almost heaven.  We’ll just call it Purgatory.  Margie comes from a big family, she has about 206 sisters and one brother, Saint Bub.  Grandma Pat was clearly an exceptional Catholic.

Margie and her friend  were at this same school dance when they wandered onto the crime scene.  Bill looked up to Margie, from the lock he was picking , and his first words to her were...”Hey baby, you got a bobby pin?”

With a pick-up line like that, it must have been love at first sight.  They began dating and were married after high school.  Amy arrived shortly thereafter.

Though Bill and Margie only had one child, Margie’s sisters Karen and Lisa are only a few years older than Amy.  When they were little, they preferred to spend every available minute around Margie, Bill and Amy.  Amy got stand-in older sisters, and Karen and Lisa got to idolize Bill. 

Sister, Betty announced that she would be moving in with Margie and Bill immediately after graduating high school.  Once again, Bill and Margie’s was the place to hang.

Word got back to Bill and Margie that Betty was starting to date a notorious figure in town,  John Ferelli.  The first time she brought him home, I’m told they were wearing matching Fedoras.  John Ferrelli was trouble and Bill knew it. 

“I don’t want you hanging around that Ferrelli,” he told Betty.  One night Bill, Margie and Saint Bub left Betty to baby sit Amy, while they went down to a club called Littleton’s where Ferrelli tended bar.  The plan was to confront him, to tell him to stay away from Betty,  some familial intervention nonsense like that.  Well the three of them arrived home well into the next morning, and Bill announced to a very worried and angry Betty, “That Ferrelli is alright!”  John must have been a very good bartender.  The two of them started a very dangerous and wild brotherhood.

When Bill, Margie and Amy moved to New Jersey they met Sue and Kerry.  For years they were inseparable;  dinners, vacations, margaritas and Jimmy Buffet.  They had a million good times together.  When Bill got sick Sue and Kerry were there right away;  representing the best of what real friendship is all about.

Now let’s talk about Amy…  Amy has always had a very close relationship with her father and he was proud of everything she has done. Why shouldn’t he be?  They have virtually the same personality.  She’s got his very twisted wit and his temperament.  This is not always a good thing, because it can be earth-shattering explosive.  Amy knows how to freak out, as many of you have witnessed.  When she does, I’m the one running around shutting the windows so the neighbors don’t hear her.  After all, you’re only “dysfunctional” if someone hears.  But, just like Bill, after the Tsunami of temper, the waters recede and five minutes later, there’s no grudge held. 

When Amy was little, Bill did have to make due with not having a son.   So he  forced Amy to do some of those father/son things… watch every John Wayne western that was ever made….over and over again. 

When Amy and I got together, about 75 years ago, I was immediately welcomed into the family.  Bill and Margie turned out to be most excellent in-laws.  I’ve heard the horror stories;  I’ve witnessed a few of them, but with them, never experienced one personally…and we’ve spent a lot of time together.

When Nico and Alex were born, they became Bill and Margie’s whole world.  Until he got sick, I don’t think Bill ever missed a soccer or baseball game.  He’d frequently show up,  straight from work, definitely the best dressed guy at the little league field.

Holidays, vacations, Sunday dinners….Nico and Alex have always had it good;  both sets of grandparents always around;  all still young and energetic, and everyone genuinely enjoyed being together. 

One of those grandparents has now been taken away, far too early,  and it’s now up to the rest of us to make sure Pap’s memory is always fresh in their minds.

Even in his last days of life, Bill always found the strength to be upbeat when the kids walked into his room.  In the end, he knew every day he fought was another day he’d hear the familiar words, “Hey Pap”.

If you’ve been around these past months you’ve really watched Amy and Margie suffer through Bill’s illness.  The rest of us felt the grief and did whatever we could, but it was in them that this knife kept twisting.  It was  pure hell for them.

I think all of us are in awe at how they dealt with all this; the strength they found.  Margie has shown us what the marriage vows are really all about, and Amy, you can take comfort in knowing that in the end, as always before, you were everything your dad ever needed you to be. 

There are some other people this family can never thank enough…

Father Mike,  we thank you so much for putting Bill on the “fast track” to Catholicism…

Although Bill was raised Protestant, he married in the Church, and his daughter was raised Catholic.  Assumption is where Amy and I got married, and both of his grandchildren have had their sacraments.  This is the only Church he ever felt attached to.  In June, Bill converted to Catholicism.  He’s wanted to do it for years, for the kids, because it always bugged them that Pap wasn’t Catholic like the rest of us.  When he got sick, he made the decision to do it.

Father Mike came to the house and we had a very nice ceremony with the family.  Bill received all the sacraments that he missed as a Protestant.  Father Mike was on a roll; I didn’t think he would stop.  I thought we were going to have Monsignor Bill before it was all over.  The good news is Bill wasn’t immediately ex-communicated when he confessed his love for the Steelers.
For Bill’s friends at Bally’s and Hilton, who put together the benefit at Diorios in June…  The family was overwhelmed by the generosity you showed us.  I have to tell you, Billy High was left speechless….and you know that didn’t happen often. 

For other friends that have been so supportive to us, some everyday, we are very lucky to have you.
And finally, even though she’s part of the family, I have to give a huge thank you to our very own “Rosario”….Karen,  you were such a huge help to us this whole summer.  You were with Margie caring for Bill all day and night, and you gave Amy just enough spare time so that she could also be a semi-normal mother to the kids while they were home.  You’re the best!  

So now it’s time for us to move on and we have a difficult series of “Firsts” to get through without Bill:  The first Steelers game, the first Christmas, his first birthday, the first vacation, the first Absolut Martini straight up with a twist and the first Chester’s Cake. 

We will get through them together and we’ll know he’ll be right there with us…  with that characteristic smirk of his and that little devil laugh.  And he’ll be wanting to hear our laughter….even if its at his expense.

We Catholics all have this great visual about death.  The famous image of St. Peter waiting at the gates of Heaven for us.  The d├ęcor for each of us is different of course.  On Wednesday afternoon, the pearly gates for Bill were landscaped with palm trees and the angels flying  about were wearing sunglasses just like his, with the little band to hang around their necks.

St. Peter put his arm around Bill’s shoulder to welcome him; probably told him everyone had been waiting for him.  He commended him on fighting the good fight, being brave and dignified through all he’d just faced.  And as he ushered him in, he gestured to a familiar sound just up ahead…the sound of blender and ice crushing…After all, It’s always Happy Hour somewhere.

Thank You.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lil's Eulogy...

I dug up this eulogy  I wrote and delivered for my grandmother, Lillian Strazzeri, back in September, 2005.  I figured "Thoughts By Lamplight" was a good place to post this for posterity.  Most of my old friends have at least one great Lil story that's left with them, so they might appreciate this tribute, which is damned good, if I do say so myself...

Good morning Father Mike, members of the Assumption parish, family and friends. We gather today to say goodbye….or at least a temporary farewell to someone who had such an impact on us all…a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin…mother-in law…that’s who she was to some of us. But all of us here today can boast of  a few memorable moments with Lil.

Mom-mom Lil was a great…and often very difficult lady.  She was loving, caring, interfering, generous, moody, and very funny…usually all at the same time.  If we talk about only one side, we’re not really doing her justice, are we?  We’re here to give Lil the proper send-off that she deserves, but it’s also our duty to prepare those who’ve gone before,  just who it is that’s moving in.  After all, isn’t that what we’ve always done…prepare those who haven’t yet met her, just what to expect.

I have lots of great memories with Lil from very early on. Because my parents are oh so sociable, Gianna and I had many sleepovers with the grandparents…alternating between Chippendale and Adams avenues…great memories on both sides, too many to even count.

With Lil there were little rituals….milkshakes and popcorn after dinner, a visit with Uncle Tony on his way home from work, and then the night-time tv line-up; Lawrence Welk, Sandford & Son, Chico and the Man… Little House on the Prairie was another must watch because she needed her “weekly cry”.

It was actually Lil who gave me my first driving lessons.  Starting at about age four she let me drive the Chevy Chevelle into the Factory Street garage, from my perch on her lap.  Remembering these valuable early learning experiences as an adult, I’ve had Alex drive Nico to the bus stop in the mornings. Yep, Lil and I loved hanging out in the early years….she even sewed us matching outfits.

When we moved to Brigantine, it was dad who suggested that Lil should live with us full time…24 hours a day…seven days a week.

She was actually a huge help in those days because she did all of the grocery shopping and much of the cooking during the busy workweek.  She would spend all day Sunday, with her coupons spread out on the table, developing a very elaborate filing system.  If she had a coupon for it, she bought it….whether we needed it or not.  One day I counted 52 bars of soap in the closet….18 cans of plums (who even needs one can of plums)?  We got to try every new food product, because there would always be a coupon.  Such a pity if you fell in love with it on sale and it went back to full price…because you’d never see it again. 

Grocery shopping was a huge production…so much so that Lil used to pull Gianna out of school so she could go to Shop Rite with her.  Here is this seventh grader being called to the office by Sister , over the loud speaker, “GIANNA MUSITANO, PLEASE REPORT TO THE OFFICE, YOUR GRANDMOTHER NEEDS HELP WITH THE PACKAGES,” sometimes twice in a week.  On days she shopped alone, Lil would pull into the driveway and blow the horn….just lean on it, until you came out to empty the trunk. Other times she’d stand at the window and yell “Yooo hoooo, yoooo hooo…I’ve got packages”.  It was so irritating.  In our rebellious youth, sometimes we would leave her sit out there honking away for ten minutes.  Then we’d end up feeling bad because when we did finally go out she told us she’d stopped at Burger King to buy us lunch.   Actually, it would be nice to hear that annoying “Yooo hoooo” just one more time.

As all of you know, food was a very important to mom-mom Lil…Almost every one of you sitting here has been force-fed by her at least a couple times. You were probably completely stuffed, but just to get her to be quiet, you took another plateful….we’ve all done it.  She would bring us home the left-overs from the Senior Citizen Center lunches….and my God, if you could have seen some of the packaging she brought it home in….the one that I’ll never forget is the turkey and stuffing, one afternoon.  “Bart….are you hungry? I got turkey and stuffing….deeeelicious.”  She held up a plastic glove…the kind that food servers use…and it was full of stuffing…down into the fingers….it was absolutely horrifying.  I drew the line there….NO WAY!

In those days Lil was still quite the traveler and she could be gone for weeks at a time.  She’s been all over America, Europe, the Caribbean and as far away as Australia.  In the early days she was also a bit of a  party girl, and although she chose to deny her vices in later years, we have the pictures to prove she loved to share plenty of drinks and even cigarettes with her friends or her 2.2 million cousins scattered throughout the world. 

Family was incredibly important to her, not only the immediate family, but a huge extended group of Strazzeris, Venturas, Barbieris, and Marinos.  It didn’t matter how distant or how far removed the cousins were, as long as there was one shared blood cell ….somewhere…they were tight.  She loved being surrounded by family, she enjoyed the family events with Uncle Tony  Aunt Ellen, Anthony and Barbara, Barbara and Bob.  She loved it when grandsons Rich and Phil came over.  She especially liked when Rich showed up in his police uniform.  Lil liked a man in uniform…and as fast as she drove…it came in handy to have a cop in the family.

It’s fair to say that Lil had a dominant personality and craved attention.  As I said earlier, she could be difficult and very interfering.  It is a true testament to a very loving family that all of us remained physically and mentally intact for as long as we have.  All of you here have either been a part of or have heard the hundreds of classic  Lil “encounters”.  As mad as we all got at various times, we were usually able to laugh at most of it, not long after.  The interference in my parent’s marriage started almost immediately….at 7am  the morning after their wedding, there was Lil calling on the phone, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”   Dad held his tongue…probably the last time he did.

Oh, the Dad/Lil battles were legendary.  She knew how to play him; she was like a chess master, plotting her moves far in advance…she’d taunt and taunt until he exploded in anger and the screaming began.  As she stormed off to bed cursing in Italian, you could almost see the glint of victory in her eyes…and dad was left kicking himself for letting her get to him.  I’m sure he’s got guilt feelings now for fighting with her…but deep down, he knows she LOVED the fights.

She also loved to be the center of attention.  Everything about her…her loud voice, her loud clothes, her bright red lips and cheeks….even her size…exhibited her larger than life personality.  Look, even in her final resting place, Lil’s outfit is loaded with “bling”.

Sometimes being the center of attention came at highly inappropriate times and sometimes mom mom Lil just did not think before she spoke. I will never forget at the funeral of Janice’s mother, Mary.  Lil came up to her grieving father and very loudly said, “How ya doin’ Pete?”  Through tears, Pete said, “Oh not good, Lil”.  Lil replied, “I know Pete, but we all gotta go sometime.”  Of course, she didn’t mean anything by it, but the rest of us wanted to crawl in a hole and hide.

That particular exchange, while embarrassing for us, did give us a hint as to  how Lil viewed her own mortality.  She knew her life had been very well lived; she’s seen and done things most women of her generation wouldn’t have dreamed of, she raised two loving daughters,  she watched all four of her grandchildren marry, and lived for the birth of eight great-grandchildren. She knew she’d done right by her family…that we’d all be ok.  Mom-mom didn’t strike most people as greatly religious, but she prayed every night, and she knew just where she was going when she was ready…and when God was ready for her.  Over the past few months it was clear to us all… she was ready. 

 On Saturday afternoon, with her two daughters and grand-daughter at her side, mom-mom Lil, the life-long traveler..began her most exciting journey yet…

And the rest of us have the memories and the stories…more than enough to hold us until we see her again.

Thank you.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Everyone Back In Place

We've finally found Web Keogh.

It seems that Mike and Jen may be bickering a bit on who actually found him, but I think it's fair to say that a lot of us can take some credit in the quest; many have been searching.

It also seems fitting that I mark the occasion with a personal note about how much this has all meant to me over the past couple of months that I've been on facebook.

Throughout grade school and high school I made some of the best friends that anyone could ask for. For about eight years, at various points, these people meant everything to me. We were part of eachother's lives on a daily basis and went through all the wonderful drama and melodrama that kids that age are supposed to go through.

As a parent of a son going in to middle school, I'm starting to re-live it some of that through his eyes, and I haven't been able to stress enough to him how he should savor every moment of the years to come. I want my children to have wonderful experiences, shared with friends they love, just as I did.

A few of those friends I stayed very close with these past twenty years; one of them I even married. John and Maria I've never stopped seeing on a regular basis. Others, like Mike and Steve Johnson, who've been separated by long distances, have drifted in and out through visits, lunches or emails over the years. What I always found notable was that no matter the time that had passed, within five minutes of getting together, it was clear the years really hadn't taken there toll at all.

But friends like Jayne and Andrea...the first friends I ever made at St. Philip's and through highschool may be the only people I never had so much as a disagreement with; Jen Gorman who I got very close to at Spirit and who along with Jenny Smith were the only people I knew who understood what a pain in the ass it could be to have your father teaching in the same school you attend. I regret how we let these friendships completely lapse to the point where we didn't even have a clue about eachother's lives. There's really not a rational reason that this would happen, it merely did.

I feel we've really been given a second chance now. Twenty years later, we have shaped what has become of our lives and now we have found our way on to facebook and we've seem to have fallen back into place with incredible is the ease of true friends who know how to be comfortable with one another. All of us seem to carry some of the same regrets and all of us want to see how we can move forward.

We're joined on facebook by a whole group of classmates; some of them were also friends, some were merely acquaintences and some we knew little about other than they were a familiar face in a class or a nearby locker. On facebook though, we're adding eachother as friends simply because we recognize the names and because after 20 years, lines around the eyes, a few extra pounds and some lost hairs, we find ourselves truly nostalgic. This is all good.

With few exceptions, at least for me, everyone is back in place. In additon to those I mentioned above, I'm now talking to: Mick, Tommy (who used to be just Tom),Scott, the Steves (Berenato and Monell), Karen, Julie, Michelle, Eric, Tom, Jen M, Brian, Tom, Stacy and Christina. Shit, I hope I didn't leave anyone out. I'm having a blast on a daily basis, re-living old memories and catching up on eachother's lives.

My little core group of close friends has been very lucky; though 20 years have passed, we're all still here and it appears healthy. We've all found eachother again before it was too late. Now it's time to move forward.....