funeral

ITALIAN HUGS AND KISSES

We didn’t go to Philly often…Once when I was about five, my mother took all of us little girls on the plane to visit Nana and Poppop. The twins were three and the youngest a year old. We were dressed as if to go to church. You had to dress up to fly in the 60’s. My stiff red frock barely covered the frilly slip. My thick hair flipped up from my stylish page cut to peek around the little white hat. I tried to be still and keep my sisters quiet by reading them a book, but excitement got the best of me. So when the plane landed and the stewardess helped Mommy take all four of us down the stairs, finally I could see my grandparents waving at us. Not responsible for either twin, I was free to run into their arms. 

I don’t remember my father on that trip. But I do remember Poppop’s joy at seeing us. The press of his big lips against my cheek.  Enveloping my senses with his Old Spice cologne. Caressing my face with the softest oiled leather hands on any man I’ve ever known. Pop held me as if to never let me go. 

Their row house on Sheridan Street was home. The house I remember from my infancy. The plastic covered furniture. (Nana was obsessively neat!) The smell of sautéed garlic permeating every room. The skinny stairway and the pink bathroom! Sharing a comfy wide bed with the twins, playing in the converted basement filled with toys! More toys than we had at home…most were mine left over from when we lived with Nana and Poppop…including Tony the Pony!—a mechanical horse given to me for Christmas 1962—I was only twenty months old…Mommy was very, very pregnant with the twins and Daddy was taking my picture with a movie camera. I was chasing Nana on my pony and kept going in circles. Poppop would try to help and I would laugh and laugh because now he was chasing me! 

So many wonderful memories of my grandparents. We flew from California to visit them again when I was nine and then about fourteen. After that visit, my father made me promise that when I graduated high school in four years that I would go back East with them. Of course I would! He had more foresight than me. By the time I was 18, I was desperately in love with Steve (we met in high school track in my junior year) and did NOT want to go with THEM and leave HIM! 

A promise is a promise. So in the summer of 1979, we once again flew back to Philadelphia. And there I was in Poppop’s embrace, the smell of his Old Spice cologne filling my senses, the feel of his oiled leather hand against my cheek, and his sad, long face when we had to go. After six weeks away, I couldn’t WAIT to return to Steve’s embrace. But I felt Poppop’s heart break and even now I cannot erase from my mind’s eye his sad face at our parting. 

Nana and Poppop came to visit us every summer. They stayed three months from the end of one school year to the beginning of the next. They took us on wonderful trips—to Disneyland and SeaWorld, San Francisco and Vegas (we stayed in Circus Circus!)—lots of fun and adventure. Poppop paid for everything. And before school began, we went shopping for new school clothes, shoes and accessories. He would wait outside the shops while Nana and Mom helped us in the dressing rooms. He just handed Nana money from a thick roll and waited until we got everything we needed. “Are you happy, Poppy?” He would ask. “Did you get everything you wanted?” Sometimes my little sister would put on her pouty face and get one more blouse or belt and then of course, he insisted the rest of us get more. One year when we were all teenagers, he bought us leather jackets…very stylish. He spoiled us! 

The summer Poppop got to meet Steve, I was so excited. I knew Poppop would love Steve, how could he not…Pop loved me…so of course he would love my boyfriend! Spending nearly every summer with us, my grandparents had met a few boyfriends of ours and Poppop greeted each of them the same way—with a kiss. In the manner of Italian men. All the boys were very uncomfortable with him. Not Steve. Being a good Greek boy, he accepted Pop’s kiss graciously. And Poppop turned to me and said, “You keep this one.” I did. 

Steve adored him. How could he not? Poppop was the most generous loving man you could ever meet. Always happy to help you, delighted to spend time with you, so sad to leave you. He was kind to everyone and everyone loved him. 

But Poppop died eight months before Steve and I got married. I was devastated. They had come to California just before Christmas, finally, to retire. Poppop looked really bad when he got off the plane. Only a student nurse but I knew…he was dying. I tried to do everything I could to save him. Being the only medical one in the family…they all looked to me to explain what was happening.  Although sober for twenty years, he had cirrhosis. His liver no longer able to detoxify his blood and began to poison him. His mind became foggy and he could not do much for himself. But he wanted to look presentable so, he would ask Steve to shave him. And Steve did, tenderly and with tears in his eyes, even the day we had to put him in the hospital just before New Years, Poppop didn’t want to go unshaven. Just 21 days after coming to be with us, Pop died. 

I don’t remember the funeral. I know I went. They say I was there, but I don’t remember. I’ve blocked it and my pain blocked Poppop from coming to me afterwards for over seven years. Not until the fall of 1990 did I dream of my dear Pop. Steve had finished building the kids a jungle gym in the corner of our backyard. In my dream, Pop was playing pinnacle with one of the twins on a wooden front porch where Steve had built the jungle gym. I sat down with them and Poppop motioned for me to pick up the dummy hand and play. I whispered, “Where’s Nana?” She had died just 20 months after Pop in 1984. My sister said, “She’ll come when Steve finishes the kitchen.” Of course, Nana was always in the kitchen. 

Later that year, I was driving the kids to visit my family. Trepidation gripped my heart. I didn’t want to go without Steve. Even on Thanksgiving he had to work. Crime takes no holidays…so neither do policemen. Yet it was more than leaving my beloved…I had visions of crashing the car…and most of my visions came true. I didn’t want to go. 

Yet we were expected, so I packed up the Volvo with all the pies I had made, strapped the kids into their car seats and paused to wrap us in white light. Only two and six, Kyra and Jarys smiled at the white light. Still as I drove down the highway with my precious cargo, I was afraid. And suddenly, I smelled Old Spice and felt an oiled leather hand caress my cheek and heard…”It’s ok, Poppy.” Tears poured down my cheeks. How grateful I was to have this divine connection. Jarys piped up from the back, “It smells like Poppop!” Yes, my precious son, it did. 

Since then, I have experienced hugs and kisses through the ethers whenever I needed them. Love thins the veil between the worlds of this I am sure. 

I love you, Poppop. XOXOXO

CELEBRATING GRAN

Gran’s funeral was a great day of celebrating a life well lived.

And the Italian side of the family cooked for two days before Gran’s Day. Steve squeezed over 100 lemons for lemonade and picked tomatoes and basil for the bruchetta. Everything came from our garden…the garden Gran loved so. While my Mom cooked up sausage and peppers, marinated shrimp and zucchini, and Mediterranean wraps, Kyra and I baked Italian cookies. In the middle of baking, I had to leave her with a particularly difficult cookie—bruttis—meaning ugly little cookie—made of ground toasted hazelnuts and meringue, they were delicious! So handling her baking emergency calls while driving to pick up Jarys at the airport…well, it was a very busy day…yet filled with joy, because we were doing it all for Gran. 

As Jarys got settled, I whipped up lemon icing for the agnolettis. Kyra had just put magic bars into the oven (Gran’s favorite). “Jarys is home and here we are baking,” she said with a bit of powdered sugar dusting her cheek, “it feels like the holidays!” Yes, it did. And Gran was with us enjoying every moment. 

Not that I didn’t cry at her funeral. I tried to hold it together with everyone looking to me for direction—not unusual since I tend to lead—but I didn’t have time to cry while setting up for the reception so I just got frustrated. Mom blamed it on hormones (or lack thereof) but all the cookies got plated and the buffet laid out nicely. Flowers from my garden graced the tables…Gran loved to arrange bouquets and her presence was strong while I placed the roses and hydrangeas in vases. So strange how my roses all perished the day she died…then new buds blossomed in time for her funeral. 

Before entering the chapel, I had to stop and cry under a tree. I know Gran wasn’t in that fancy coffin but with me and each of us…in our hearts…yet the tradition of burying the dead…it’s hard. I do not remember my own grandparents’ funerals. I remember their deaths…too well…but their funerals were not celebrations. I didn’t want that for my children…nor would Gran…so we celebrated! 

The chapel was filled with people dressed in…bright Hawaiian prints. Gran loved color! No somber black to dishonor the brightness of Gran.

During the service, Steve honored Gran first. He spoke of her energy and how attached we all were to her energy of hope and home. How by being loved by her, we would always know her energy; she would be attracted to ours and always be with us. Since her death, Gran has come to Steve. He is amazed but not surprised at the clarity of their connection. I am so grateful that Gran has become his spirit partner through the veil…there is no separation. 

Gran was home for the entire family. She never knew a stranger. She loved freely and as Jarys said “accepted each of us for who we are.” The pastor could barely contain us as we stood to speak our love for Gran. 

Five generations attended her funeral…she left a legacy of hope. The reception afterwards turned out to be the party we wanted for Gran. Sharing our memories, loving each other, enjoying the food…of course we made way too much…so Steve’s family was sent home with leftovers. 

Yet I kept some biscotti…to dip in coffee, a cup for me and a half cup for Gran.

IT’S BECAUSE WE’RE ITALIAN

A few days before Gran died, she was expressing her gratitude: “I’m so fortunate to have my family taking care of me.” My mother-in-law responded, “Of course, Mom, it’s what families do.” Gran smiled, “It’s because we’re Italian.”

My mother-in-law gently explained that they are not Italian. (In fact very Anglo-Saxon. The family name is Jones!) Now I’m from an Italian American family and Gran spent an awful lot of time with us…I do believe Italian rubbed off on her. How could it not? We spent most of the time in the kitchen cooking. The rest of the time in the garden enjoying a cup of coffee. Gran loved her coffee. While she was here, I never drank so much in my life! “Come, Debbie, have a cup of coffee with me.” She would ask late in the afternoon. “Oh, and maybe we can have those cookies we made the other day. Just a couple. We don’t want to spoil our dinner.”  How could I refuse? It was precious time spent with an amazing woman…my only grandma.

Italians pass the time playing cards. Gran never played cards before, but she learned fast. Her youngest daughter was surprised, “Mother doesn’t play cards!” Gran was brought up in the Reformed Church of the Latter Day Saints…no card playing allowed, no dancing, no drinking, no swearing. Well, in our house Gran played Gin-Rummy, enjoyed “just a sip” of Steve’s homemade wine and no, not a virgin margarita, but a real one “you know I love the salted rim!” and once we were having a frank discussion after dinner about the consequences of proposition 8 and Gran got upset, “It’s no one’s damn business who people love!” Oh yes, and she and I would dance. Foregoing the walker, I would hold her tightly in my arms and we’d sway to the music.

When Kyra would come home, we would all be in the kitchen making something delicious. My Mom would join us—she runs my practice which is right here on our property so I could be home for the kids and then for Gran—four generations making fig jam, stuffing zucchinis, preparing yet another meal. Mom would squeeze Gran and give her a kiss. “It’s not a kitchen without a grandma in it!” Just as Gran took me in as her granddaughter, she treated my mother as a daughter.

Gran had enough love for all of us and more. Years ago she “adopted” a young black man who reveres her. And her Hispanic caretaker came to the hospital in February, laid her head next to Gran’s and wept. She stayed hours petting and fussing over Gran.

Gran worked in the Farmers Market for 30 something years making friends with Jewish, Asian, Hispanic and Blacks. She did not see race or color or religion or sexual preference. Gran only saw people. And she was always delighted to meet them, all of them…and perhaps share a cup of coffee?

Steve and I were reminiscing last night. I know you tend to elevate the dead, forgetting their worldly transgressions and focusing on the good. But no need to embellish Gran. Like Steve said, “She was always genuinely glad to be see me, accepted me completely and my presence brought her joy.” Gran treated all of us like this…in her presence our truth shone…because she really “saw” us…she looked past the shadows and embraced the light in each of us…

Steve believes karma is incurred over your lifetime. He’s spent his consciously banking good karma. Gran didn’t know much about karma…but her bank was full. I believe karma can be imprinted. My research shows it begins in the womb…remember the Red Cord…yet I have been branded by Gran. She has imprinted me to the roots of my soul.

Only one day gone, I miss her so.

The family is making plans for the funeral. They want to get a hall for the reception afterwards, get a caterer…you know cold cuts and petit fours. I called my mother-in-law and told her “The Italian side of the family is cooking! Oh and we don’t do petit fours.” She laughed and told her sister. I could hear Auntie in the background. “Thank goodness, I love tomato, mozzarella and basil.”

I’ve started the menu entitled—Gran’s Day—the day we gather to celebrate her life: Bruschetta, melon and prosciutto, marinated grilled vegies, olives, of course lots of bread to dip in Mom’s sauce…she’s doing most of the cooking. I’m the baker in the family… Gran loved my holiday cookies and they go so very well with a cup of coffee. We’ll go to the kitchen to connect— I’m sure Gran will join us—to reminisce and to prepare delicious food, lots of it… It’s what family does…because we’re Italian.