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.