Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lodi, revisited

A homework assignment.  Tell a story, using all of the senses

An early wake up call, courtesy of the early arrived construction workers beneath my window.  The sun was not up yet.  I glanced at my cellphone, the only time piece I had in the entire apartment, and found it to be a few minutes after six.  A quick list of possibilities passed through my newly awakened consciousness and I sprung out of the comfort of the goose down duvet, my feet hitting the cool marble tiles of the floor, as I accepted the gift that had just been thrust upon me.

Into my clothes, no need for makeup, coat on, keys in hand, down the stairs and out onto the street.  No lights on in the other residences.  Made me wonder if the noise was unheard by anyone other than myself or if the others simply rolled over and returned to sleep, something I am unable to do, anytime, anywhere.
My feet touching the cobblestones were the only other sounds.  They carried me through the Piazza Comune, empty of all but the morning street cleaners.  Lights from the Bar Trovellesi reminded me that soon, the doors would be open, the singular most beautiful aroma of freshly brewed coffee, awaiting the early morning regulars.  On to Via Santa Chiara, shrouded in a thin layer of fog. Clip, clop, clip clop from the feet beneath my now fully awakened body.  Arrival at my final destination, the Basilica di Santa Chiara, fronted by an immense sweep of a terrace-like plaza.  Alone, in the darkness, I took pause to look over onto the valley below.  To listen for the early morning sounds, to smell the remnants of last night’s Umbrian fireplaces, a scent that I totally associate with time and place.

A tiny glimmer of light came from the transept above the door of the Oratori del Crocifisso, the peaceful little chapel adjoining the nave of the Basilica.  It signaled that preparations were under way and that it was okay to enter and ready myself for this morning’s Lodi.  The chapel is small and intimate.  It is not ornate yet it preserves the venerated crucifix that spoke to Saint Francis at San Damiano in the thirteenth century.  Dark wooden pews, with hard seats and un-padded kneelers, respond with squeaky sounds to the movement of my body as I find a prayer book and a place, joining the handful of others who gather to welcome the new day.

At exactly 6:45. A tiny bell rings, and a gate glides quietly as it opens on the side of the altar.  It is the only sound I can hear and it sends a little shiver up my spine.  Very soon after, I hear the voice of one of the sisters, calling her cloistered sisterhood to the start of prayer.  They remain behind the newly opened wall, totally out of view at all times.  And then, my heart stops beating for one moment, the first time I hear the start of morning song.  I am here, in this beautiful setting, my eyes fixed upon the crucifix hanging above the altar, listening to angels singing as they do every morning and have for centuries, welcoming the day, giving thanks for this moment, this perfect start to another perfect day. 

  A day that soon became more perfect when I stop at the Bar Trovellesi for my morning capuche.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rosie and the Two Marie Porcos

Early last summer, I followed up on a phone call that my mother was unable to receive.  It was from her cousin, Rosemarie.  I updated her on the gravity of my mother's illness and promised to keep her posted as events unfolded.  It was within hours of her passing that I called Rosie and gave her the sad news. 

My mother's cousin Marie Rossi, was born Marie Porco and her mother, Aunt Tessie, was not only a cousin of my grandmother's through marriage, but one of her closest friends.  My own childhood was peppered with frequent visits to Zie Zie Tessie's home as it was within walking distance of my grandmother's.  

Cousin Marie Haywood also was born Marie Porco and she, too, was a cousin of my mother.  In fact, while she is my same age, she was a first cousin to Mom, the daughter of one of the youngest of my grandfather Luigi Porco's brothers.  Her father, a favorite uncle, was born Vincenzo but his adorable wife, Aunt Tina, always called him "Jimmy" and so he was Uncle Jimmy for most of our lives.  She had been christened "Sistina" after the Sistine Chapel and it as so many new Americans did at the time, their names became American.  Luigi, Louie.....  Aunt Tina followed Uncle "Vincent" in death several years later, a few short months before my own mother.

It was Rosemarie's phone calls that cast out the nets that have allowed us to capture and recreate our own place in the family history.  We're four women, very different from each other in many ways yet so very much alike in so many.  Rosie is in her early eighties, Marie Rossi, her early seventies, neither look anywhere near their ages. Both, beautiful and sweet. Lovers of all things cultural.  Dynamic, outspoken and correct at all times.

I'm slowly beginning to realize that there is such a thing as one's "tribe".  Something that goes way beyond the relationship shared by friends. Something that has roots that go deep, wind their way around our hearts and come up the other side. I'm proud of the roots from which I sprang and take comfort in knowing that I have a band of women who have come from that same source.  It's a kind of thrill for me, being in their company, one that I intend to repeat over and over as much as I can in the years ahead.  I know they will always be there, a phone call or email away.  I know that they will always be willing to support me as I will them, and that they will always understand.  How happy my mother and her parents would have been in knowing that I was not left alone on this earth, that I am still enjoying the benefits of being one of them.  They can rest in peace.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Porco Women, Chapter One......

My mother was part of an amazing family.  Her maiden name was Porco and her father was born and raised in a very small and, to this day, very untouched town in the southern most province of Italy, Calabria.  He and his brothers and sisters lived and worked hard.  They did not have the benefit of education and they were, as so many others at that same time, living a life of poverty.  One by one, the brothers made their way to America in pursuit of a life better than the one they had known.  With courage and determination, the first two of the brothers left Italy and boarded the ship to the United States.  One of these brave and eager souls was my grandfather, Luigi, and the other, my magnificent uncle Peter, the oldest of the children.  Much in the same way as did thousands of other immigrant families at the time, the "boys" who had already arrived in their new homeland worked, saved every dime, and started the stream of future immigrations that eventually brought all but one brother and a few sisters to America.  Mind you, they arrived as poor, naive, uneducated men.  They left wives and children behind for years until they also could save and relocate their own.  They sheltered each new arrival and helped each other as they forged their way and became members of their adopted society.

Stories similar to that of my own family are in the multitudes.  These are the threads that weave who we are, so beautifully with who we were.  The stories.  The brave people.  The accomplishments.
The contributions to society.  The good, the bad.  Stories of people and what they did with their lives when they left the only lives they had known for what they hoped to become a better life than they otherwise might have had.

My grandfather and his brothers became successful.  They had good lives in their new home.  They married, had children and grandchildren who also grew to be successful.  They made sure that their children were educated.  They taught them values and instilled in them the love of family that would sustain them.From their humble origins, came great gifts. Their children and grandchildren became professionals; teachers, lawyers, business owners, doctors and successful people in all walks of life.

I'm proud of all of them, proud to be one of them but my greatest joy comes in knowing that the women of this family are the most amazing of all.  Yesterday, I had lunch with three of them.  Three beautiful women.  Three accomplished, well read, talented and loving women.  My heart cannot help but burst with joy when we are given the opportunity to spend time with each other.  Tomorrow, I will take some special time to write more about this.......for today, I'm still basking in the glow of a lovely lunch with my cousins, "The Porco Women".  Brava!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

We're Getting Old Too You Know...

We're here in White Plains, New York, visiting my husband's mother who will be 98 in a few weeks.  He makes these trips on a regular basis, to check up on her and on her home.  She made the decision years ago, when his dad passed away, to remain living in this home, for the sake of her family....and she's done nothing but complain about her family ever since.  She told me this morning, for the enth time, that she feels as if she is a "guest" in her home.  She often refers to her house as a "half-way" house.  Eight years ago, when we felt that she should not be living alone, we sold our own home and moved in with her.  The move almost proved fatal for me.  My own parents were becoming more needy as my mother's body became more and more ravaged by her illness and they were on the Cape, alone.  So, the decision was made to return to the Cape after an absence of over twenty years.

Our move to the Cape was not without angst.  It seems that my husband's family had gotten very comfortable with the notion that we would be here for Mom and therefore, they would never, ever, ever have to do anything whatsoever for her.  They could go about their business, free of worry and we would be the caretakers, the home maintenance crew, and the whipping posts.  It simply did not work.  I knew, on the day we moved in to the home, that my life was going to change and the independence that I had valued so much, it was at stake.  So, off we went.  Away from the bright lights of Manhattan, back to the seashore, a move I really don't regret.  We know that, to this day, we are still the "bad guys" but was at the right place at the right time makes me no longer care about that. 

I've managed to pick up the pieces of the independent life that I had enjoyed.  I have struck a balance. My decision to be closer in proximity to my own parents was a wise one and I am happy that my mother had me "back" for the final years of her life.  I felt that I gave her a gift beyond compare in that.  We've traveled, met new friends, reconnected with old ones, and made a very nice new life, all the while keeping parts of our past lives intact.  I still get in to Manhattan as often as I can, trying to hop on the train at least once every time we visit.  We don't feel particularly deprived and we still make plans for the future.  Our return trip to Umbria is already in the works for May.  But......

There is something huge that I discovered a while ago, as we went through all of the paces and as I worked so hard at getting it all right for myself, my husband and our family.  There simply aren't any guidelines for our time of life. In all other stages and life cycles, one can find guidance.  Books, movies, classes and, in the age of technology, countless other ways of communicating "instructions".  How to get pregnant, how to stay pregnant, how to give birth, potty train a baby, raise a toddler, live with a teenager, deal with an empty nest, save for your retirement, cope with an illness.  On and on and on.  We're never alone to figure anything out.  In addition, or perhaps first and foremost, we oftentimes have first hand subject matter experts on whom we can rely.  Mothers teaching daughters, fathers, sons.  "This is how I did it when I was your age".  Like the messenger or not, at least there were real live people in real time who could offer some wisdom and some solace when we thought that times were rough and we would never get through the crisis of the day.  Remember Walton's Mountain?  It worked for them and there wasn't a Smartphone for centuries.  The thing that is missing here and now?  Wisdom of the ages.  To put it bluntly, our parents never had to deal with their old parents because their parents never lived as long as ours are.

In a somewhat typical life cycle, one that includes children, the parents raise the kids, the kids leave the home, the parents say bye bye and, in looking into the mirror, they see people who are still young enough to enjoy a good life span.  Their job is done.  Unscathed, they carry on their duties as happy and refreshed grandparents, cheerleaders to their own children who still are in the trenches, and role models for them as they mature.  Times, they have a'changed.  The new paradigm finds parents just getting out of their role as front line caregivers to their own children when they are thrust, totally unprepared, into the role of caregiver to an elderly parent or set of parents.  As the elders age, so do the caregivers.  The window of "freedom"from care giving never really gets fully opened.  We get cross, we don't always do or say the right thing.  We get into trouble with our siblings.  We run out of time to visit with our grandchildren, our grown children.  We get calls on our cell phones when we are having dinner with our friends.  We make decisions, hard ones that set the course of the rest of our parents' lives.  And all the while, we are shooting in the dark, getting older and hoping that our kids will have some guidance, that we won't deprive them of their years of freedom.

Wouldn't it be nice if each time you renew your driver's license, you are tested on the materials from the guide book to dealing with aging parents as you also age.  You would be required to answer questions such as "name ten ways to keep your ninety-something parent from becoming depressed".....answer on page 13.  Good luck.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What Did I Hear You Say???

Short note here

If you read the previous blog entry, this will grab ya

I had some minor surgery today to repair some scar tissue from a previous surgery, done in May

It was a bit bigger a deal than I had originally thought but no problem.  I did have general anesthesia again which is lovely because now, for the next six months, I can once again, blame everything on that.  "Oh forgive me for that stupid error, I had anesthesia and it's still in my brain"

But, that is not the point of this......

Mrs. Yoo is one sweet nurse.  She's worked at the same hospital for the past forty three years.  She's taken great care of my mother on many of her trips in and out and today, she was my Recovery Room RN.  They were very busy.  All of them.  Still feeling the effects of the blizzard, working hard. But, she wheeled me to a second bay, made me a cup of coffee and gave me some very appreciated Graham Crackers.

But, that is not the point of this.....

Nurse Yoo apologized for the wait for the coffee.  She was not happy to serve me the "dregs" of the coffee that was already brewed and wanted to give me "fresh" coffee, which she did.....

And, as she was dropping the snack off, something way beneath her expertise, I might add....guess what she said?



Thank you Nurse Yoo and Dr. Jones and all of you who did what you do so well, over and over again.
I know most of you spent the weekend without power in your homes, some of you still are without.  Dr. Jones, he's one of the unfortunates, still in a hotel.  I know I sure would not have wanted to come to work at 6AM after what some of you have been through.  I heard some of you answering the "do you have power" question, so I know. Really, that's the only way I would know.  None of you made your problems, mine.

To praise people in the health care profession might not be such a great idea, for I am one of them and it might appear to be self-aggrandizing so please forgive me.  I am in AWE of the people who work at Cape Cod Hospital.  Having worked in similar settings, I can tell you, these people are way above a lot of those who work in big cities.  I've been a patient there four times in the past eight months and have been there countless times during my parents times of care so I know about which I speak.  Wow.


p.s.  And, Dr. Brodsky.  Your anesthesia, it rocks!!!  aNy errrrrors, hErE, RemeMbr, I hAD andestesia thismorning.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Radio People

 I wrote......

We sat here in the dark, freezing.  It is being called the 'Blizzard of 2013" and it was all that the news reporters talked about for the past two days before it arrived. They told us that this was to be a record breaker.  The governor of this state banned all auto traffic from Friday at four in the afternoon.  Forecasts for the amount of snow were made and the Cape had a very questionable set of predictions, most of them for a lot less snow and general misery than was anticipated elsewhere.  The snow started in the early afternoon.  The wind, it started its appearance  later in the day and continued, along with the snow, all night.  Our power was lost at around four on the first morning and the wind and snow just kept coming.  Had we prepared?  Not adequately.  We had enough food but not enough fire wood.  At six in the evening we sat freezing, beside the fire, coats, hats, blankets all being used at the same time.  We had a  battery powered radio and candles and our cell phones, fully charged.  But, we kept looking out the window, hearing the wind, seeing the totally grey sky through the small patches on our windows that were snow coated, and we felt very, very helpless and alone.

We live in an apartment, on the top floor of three.  We were attracted to this home because of the windows that grace two of the rooms.  Our living room has a commanding view of a pond, afforded by an entire wall of almost floor to almost ceiling windows.  The front of our home, the kitchen and bedroom, look out to a parking lot and garage which holds both of our cars. we've been living in this apartment complex that is for the over sixty set, for the past six years and each time it has snowed, full crews of road clearing vehicles and men with shovels, have been outside our doors working, oftentimes before sunrise, even for the smallest amounts of snow.  Many times I have remarked about how foolish it was.  Why are they out here so early, nobody here has to go to work.  But today, not one snow plow or shovel had arrived on the scene and we felt cold and stuck .  We couldn't leave to find some warmer place if we wanted to despite the kind invitations of friends. Our cars are bound by the large snow drifts which are resting against them in front of the garage and the road is impassable.

We will survive this.  It is not the worst thing that could have happened.  I usually like snow storms, or at least I used to.  The fact that I was born in a snowstorm, got married in one, and probably will die in one, aside,  I loved to watch the snow falling and found beauty in it.  I especially enjoyed snow storms when I did not have to go anywhere, no job to get to, no kids or husband on the roads to worry about.   But today, I am feeling very different.  I’m feeling isolated and forgotten.  Our radio tells us that the rest of the state is recovering nicely already, that the sun is shining in the Boston area and that while there is a lot of snow accumulated, people have power, heat and needs met.  We’re told that the power outages are not uniform across the Cape, that we are simply one of the unlucky neighborhoods.I picture those families, warm and having fun in the snow and I'm reminded of a poem by Irving Feldman, called "The Pripet Marshes".  In his poem about the Holocaust, Feldman creates a perfect day, his friends transported in his mind, before the arrival of the Germans who break their fists on hollow doors.
 But, I am having an overwhelming sense of what it is like to feel abandoned and unfortunate and I’m realizing what people who have been victims of disasters, much larger than this, have felt.  Never before have I really understood the cries of the victims of Katrina, the more recent, the unfortunate residents of areas hit hard by Superstorm Sandy.  How scary that must have been and how desperate those people must have felt.

 The feeling of abandonment is one powerful emotion. It’s the stuff that makes babies cry and the elderly in nursing homes weep and disorient.  It’s the kind of thing that nightmares are made of.  Harder to deal with than the fact that the interior temperature of our home must have gone down to the twenties, that the firewood rapidly diminished, that it was pitch dark in here except for a few candles.  Feeling abandoned reminds me of a dream that I had as a child, one of the  few that I can recall all these years later.  It was one in which my older brother and I were walking home from our grandparent’s house in the early evening, at the end of a day.  Suddenly, Paul ran off into the dark, leaving me alone, alone, all by myself, shouting his name to no avail.  He was gone and I was alone and I was terrified.  I still get shivers when I think of how I felt in my dream.  Well, he’s in Mexico now, on a nice vacation in a warm place, totally detached from what is going on here now. We've both grown up and now I have a husband who I know will never leave me alone at the end of the day.
My big brother hasn't exactly abandoned me.  He’s just another of those lucky people who I am so envious of  right now.  He’s one of the people on the radio.

I’m going to bed soon.  I just want to wake up to a day like the radio people are having.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I'm Super Sick and Tired of This Stuff

Now, I am sure that what I am about to write will not make me the most popular girl in the ninth grade but......I can't resist taking advantage of owning a blog, one that allows me to sound off once in a while without having to duck to dodge.

Sunday's Superbowl.  Half Time.  Performance by Beyonce.  Next thing, the inevitable....."Queen of the Universe".  Accolade after accolade.  Sure, her performance was great.  Sure, she works her "boodelicious" rear end off.  Sure, she made a lot of people happy.  But that isn't what this is all about.

If you Google Beyonce, you surely will find that she has made a few very humanitarian gestures.  She and her husband, the brain surgeon also known as Jay-Z, have made millions, I mean MILLIONS and let's face it, every gazillionaire needs a write off or two.  You see what I'm doing here?  I'm acting like I don't believe these people are benevolent benefactors.  Don't really see them as humanitarian one bit.  Might have....were it not for

The two hundred thousand dollar, lavish, princess-themed first birthday party for their blessed little bundle of royal joy named Blue Ivy or Ivy Blue Carter,  the one born at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan.  The little baby and her mother who were SO much more important than any other mother and newborn that the maternity unit was put on lock down and security prevented any other parents from being with their own infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, never mind any other part of the hospital.

The ninety five thousand dollars spent on special pink and white roses

The thirty thousand dollar accessories and goody bags for the guests

The eighty thousand dollar diamond-adorned Barbie doll, first birthday present

Well, what am I thinking anyway?  How could parents do less and take the cheap way out when they have already spent four hundred thousand on a gold crib and God-only-knows how much on that solid gold rocking horse?  How could Daddy back down after plunking down a million on a nursery-toy room for the princess at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn so that she can be properly entertained during those times when he has to be ringside to watch his precious Nets play basketball??  What would a year old think?

Hey, listen, I am being too harsh.  The Carter folk just did what every other parent does for their offspring. They wanted Ivy's first birthday to set the tone for the rest of her life according to Jay-Z.  And this is only the beginning.  What will they do when she becomes aware of her life?  How about when she realizes that life is not always kind, that she has missed out on a real life while she was getting prepared for this life?

By the way, are things in Ethiopia?  You really don't have to go that far to find real lives, the ones that can't relate to your Princess Party.  Just get on the Staten Island Ferry some day soon.

Good luck to you and to all who don't see what I'm saying here.