Forgive me, as I write this post from my iPad. It will most likely be riddled with typos as this isn’t the greatest thing to type on.
I would like to talk about my family. I have been thinking about them a lot recently. I tend to get homesick and then all sentimental blah, blah, blah. You don’t want to hear about how sappy I am. You do want to hear about how awesome my family is though.
I was the first born and oldest grand-baby. I therefore had the duty of naming all my elders. My Poppy Cane, so named, because he walked with a cane (I didn’t say I was the most creative toddler). I apparently used to hide it under his favorite armchair he would sit and watch T.V. in. He thought it was hilarious. He would pretend he couldn’t walk at all and play along with my shenanigans. Of course I only know of these stories as they are fondly told during holidays where the family gets together. I don’t remember my Poppy Cane. I was too young when he passed away. I do know that I love him dearly, especially being one of the patrons of my family. Poppy Cane, as a young boy, grew up in a small town of Calabria, Italy. So did my great-grandmother.
The story of how they met and fell in love is probably a bit exaggerated, I mean, we are Italian and all anyone really understands, when we are loudly shouting things, are the flapping hands. But, it goes something like this:
My great-grandma, Ermelinda, was traveling to America with her aunt, I believe, (it could have been an older sister, but the details are fuzzy) and they were in line to board the great sea liner headed towards the amazing New York City, of course passing through Ellis Island. Now, as the story goes, my great-grandfather Mario (Poppy Cane), saw my Old Mema (that’s what I named her) standing in line and thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He was passing by with a couple of his buddies and he swore to them that she was going to be the woman he married. Some family members say that he snuck on board the ship and followed the unsuspecting Ermelinda to America and wooed her until she could no longer deny his love (gag right!) or that he legally boarded the ship and won her heart over after they crossed the pond. I think you know which story I like. My Poppy Cane was a bad ass okay? He could have totally pulled off “stow-away”.
When I got older my Old Mema would babysit me and my new baby brother. We would spend the afternoon in her little one bedroom condo that smelled of household cleaner, “old lady” perfume, and pasta sauce. She constantly had Jeopardy going in the background. One could barely see the television set, as every tabletop surface was covered in lace doilies, glass trinkets, and family pictures. Her house plants even started to grow sentient. Well, most likely. The things were huge okay?! And even though her kitchen was small, the meals that came out of it were always delicious, made with the best ingredient of all. She would always say “love”. I remember her holding my hand as I held a wooden spoon. We would stir pasta sauce together. She would show me the “right” way to stir it so it didn’t burn. We would make bowls and bowls of pastine, little star shaped pasta. She would put a little pad of butter in the warm pasta, shave fresh Pecorino Romano over the top and crack fresh black pepper from the hand mill. I called the cheese “stinky cheese” but it was succulent in that dish. As my brother and I got older, she would serve us stinky cheese, gala apple slices, and fresh crusty Italian bread. We would devour the platter of food given to us on a wooden cutting board while watching Jeopardy.
She got old and my family got worried that she could no longer live in her little condo anymore, alone. She went and lived at an assisted living facility. She still had her faculties about her though. She would even cook for some of the residents. That’s what I remember most about her. She loved her family and friends and her need to fill our bellies with good food and our minds and hearts with love and laughter was all she ever strived to do.
When I moved to Florida, I was leaving my family from the northeast behind but moving closer to the few family members here that called the space coast home. My Mema (Dorothy) and Poppy (James) lived in Florida for as long as I could remember them. They were from the northeast too, but moved to warmer weather and the dream of paradise. Their house was in a quaint, little, sleepy town where every house looked the same and everyone’s lawn was pristine and hedges squarely manicured. My Poppy looked like he jumped straight out of a 1950s black and white film. Well so did my Mema. She always had the latest hairstyles, the latest fashions…my Poppy spoiled her rotten. She always said she played hard to get and that it took her years to cave to the courtship of my great-grandpa. Once she was hooked though, boy, she was hooked. She is from an English background and my Pop, Scottish. That’s where my relatively fair skin comes from, I’m guessing. My dad’s side is German, so maybe there too?
Anyway, it was the Great Depression and my great-grandparents were madly in love and stupid about the ways of the world (aren’t we all?). Poppy decided he wanted to surprise her with something special he saved up for. He bought a coffee maker. Apparently coffee was a novelty item back then since it was so expensive. People decided to go without and purchase more reasonable foodstuffs rather than go hungry but remain alert and energized. He splurged and bought her a coffee maker because she had mentioned offhand that she liked coffee. She got home and noticed it sitting on her counter. My Pop was slyly sitting in a kitchen chair, struggling to keep the grin from spreading ear to ear. My Mema proclaimed that she was going to make coffee immediately. She opened up the lid and gasped. There was a tiny wedding ring sitting in the bottom of the pot. My Pop just proposed to my Mema!! They were inseparable ever since.
They never were incredibly rich but my Pop gave her the moon, the stars, and all the world had to offer. When the time came where they didn’t feel comfortable going out for long periods of time anymore, my Pop would write her birthday cards, Christmas cards, and anniversary cards on a paper plate and sometimes tape money to the back so she could go and buy whatever her heart desired. The notes he would write were sweet nothing’s, he called her “Dear”, and “Love of mine”. She had stacks of them. She saved every single one he gave her.
My Pop passed away on the very date he came into this world, December 24, 96 years later. My Mema passed shortly after. I think that when you are with someone for that long, you just die of heartache. She missed her beloved so much. She was fortunate to know, before she passed, that she had a great-great-grand baby on the way. She was able to recognize the sonograph picture. What a life! To know that you were the founder, the Queen of The Clan, for four generations and to SEE those generations of people, of daughters and sons, and grand babies, grow up! My Pop liked cherry pie and fought fires like his dad and his dad before him. My Mema was a dainty woman who always had her hair just so and liked to dance.
These are the people I aspire to be. I have them in me. There isn’t a time that I walk into a room and smell fresh Italian crusty bread or that stinky cheese and I’m not taken back to my Old Mema’s floral one bedroom condo or when I see an old rickety man hobbling down the sidewalk I think about my Poppy Cane.
There isn’t a time that goes by where I don’t end up making a cherry pie just because I know my Pop would have been grumpy if there wasn’t one on the table at a holiday meal or when I wear my Mema’s belts because they are STILL in fashion some 40 or 50 odd years later.
Hug your family members every chance you get and tell them that you love them. Ask about their love stories and how they came to be. Ask them what they liked to do as a child growing up. When you realize the heroes in your life aren’t as invincible as you once though, you will find comfort in knowing you spent as much time as you could with them while you had the chance. They are the greatest people in the world. No one has a family quite like you. I know this. I have one of the greatest.
P.S. the special “grandparent” edition Family Post will go up too, one of these days. My late Mema Schock has a birthday today (4/6). Love you Mema and miss you dearly.