Posts Tagged ‘Family’

Love, Just Love

Posted: January 5, 2014 in Love
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Love is invisible.  Whenever you think you see it, you don’t.  What you see is the reflection of love.  Did love exist 10,000 years ago?  I don’t think so.  It is a man-made, or should I say human-made idea.  I don’t think cave women loved their offspring the way mothers love their children now.  I don’t think parents loved each other way back then.  They relied upon each other for survival.  I can just picture, in modern terms, an ancient female who has just realized she is carrying a child, thinking to herself while looking at the likely father, “You better bring home the food and water, motherfucker, because thanks to you I won’t be doing a whole lot of hunting for a pretty long time.”  That wasn’t love.  That was instinct.  Her mate’s instinct was to acquiesce because he needed her to continue his line, to carry his genes into the future.

I don’t know when love was invented.  As an emotion, it is one of the strongest I have ever felt.  I love my children.  I love my sisters and my niece and nephew and brother-in-law.  I love my cousins and my friends.  I love my dog.  My parents are gone but I still feel love for them.  I also love pizza and furry animals.  And the New York Yankees and the New York Giants.  And reading and doing crossword puzzles and playing softball.  How can you tell?  You can’t see my love for any of these people or things.  But you can see reflections of it.  You can witness me hugging my girls.  You can compliment me on my choice of baseball hats.  You can see how, after some holiday time with her east coast family members, I watched the Virgin America jet that was carrying my oldest daughter back to her life in California grow smaller and smaller in the wintery sky, I cried like a baby all the way back out to the car.  Because I love her.  And I miss her.

But the love itself is invisible.  It can’t be touched or felt or smelled or tasted, the way lust can be, or a delicious barbequed steak.  Fear is invisible.  Hate is invisible.  Reflections of them are all we see.  Which, in love’s case is probably a good thing.  Because the people in our lives who reflect back to us the truest idea of ourselves are the ones who love us the most, love us the best.  Love is invisible.  Or is it?

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Tradition means a lot to me.  I come from a large Italian-American family and my generation of that family has always been proud to learn about and continue the holiday traditions passed on to us by our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles.  We haphazardly formed a chorus of cousins and sang Christmas carols after dinner on many Thanksgiving nights.  We joyfully sat down to a meal of seven fishes every December 24th.  We played with the big spinning tops Aunt Ida placed under her Christmas tree every holiday season.  There were ancient ornaments and decorations displayed each year and then carefully passed on so they could be enjoyed and appreciated by future generations.  There were foods and desserts that simply had to grace the table, to make any special occasion complete.  We were taught, my siblings, cousins and I, to keep certain routines in our hearts, because, as we now know,  pulling them out every year inspires memories, stories we share with the new generation we have brought forth.  Tradition brings back to life the family members who have gone before us.  We honor them by remembering them, by continuing their ways, by invoking them at our celebrations and thrilling our children with tales of their exploits, their heroics, their laughter and love.

They were the Greatest Generation.  Born in the teens, 20s and 30s of the 20th century, they endured the Great Depression with dignity and faith.  They fought and won World War II with a sense of purpose and determination no subsequent generation would ever dare to claim.  They did whatever they thought they needed to do to make life better for their children and grandchildren, without complaining.  And then they encouraged us to start traditions of our own.

So we did.  We, two of us, would walk on the beach and sing California Dreaming every year on vacation in Florida.  When we were able, we’d play a wild game of charades after dinner on Christmas Eve, a tradition we will try to revive this year when some out-of-town cousins will be near to us, once more.  Three of the cousins found the seven fishes for Christmas Eve tradition a bit too daunting and changed it to a simple meal of linguine with clam sauce.  Some cousins still go every year to midnight mass.

And we invented the Christmas Bowl.  Four of us.  Crazy cousins.  We would eat our amazing Christmas dinner; antipasto, lasagne, meatballs and sausages, wine, braciole, stuffed artichokes, glazed ham and mushrooms, pies and cookies, struffoli and chestnuts, fennel.  Uncle Frankie had served as a cook in the Navy.  Aunt Ida had learned secrets from our grandma.  Their Brooklyn home was filled every Christmas with relatives, music and food and candy canes and silver lanes aglow.  We’d eat and laugh and celebrate the day and then clear the table, digest and rest.  And then my sister, two cousins and I would head outside.

The weather never mattered.  One year it was 45 degrees and foggy.  One year the temperature was a frigid 7, with a wind chill that made it feel much worse.  Some years, East 8th Street was covered in ice.  Some years, it was downright balmy.  We didn’t care.  We dressed accordingly.  And we made up the rules as we went along.  There had to be a new football every year.  The first year, it was an old tennis ball.  Another year, it was a yellow Nerf ball.  We were all on the same team, so we had no real opponent.  We pretended we were the lowliest team in the NFL at the time.  I can remember being the New Orleans Saints or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quite often.  We “played against” the winner of the previous year’s Super Bowl, which meant Pittsburgh, Oakland, Dallas, San Francisco or Washington, since this happened in the late 70s and early 80s.  We could never run with the ball, we could only pass.  We gave ourselves four downs to make it from one manhole cover to the next, a distance of about 100 feet.  If we didn’t score a touchdown, our opponent scored.  Each possession was a quarter of the game.  After two quarters, we’d march back down the street humming a John Philip Sousa tune, to mark halftime.  My cousin John was almost always the quarterback.  My sister Gloria, cousin Judy and I were the receivers.  One year the fog made it almost impossible to see the ball.  We actually “lost” that year and when we went inside, our family members, some of whom had watched, squinting, from the living room window, wondered how we could have lost when there was no opposing team.

The best game happened in the bitter cold, on a Christmas night when the nearest streetlight was out.  Our “field” was very dark.  We joked about how, if one fan in the stands stood up to cheer us on, they all had to stand up because they were all stuck together, like icicles, that’s how cold it was.  At the end of four quarters, the game was tied, 14-14.  We were using a small brown dog-toy football that year which, given the lack of light, was incredibly hard to see, so we had only managed to score two touchdowns.  We decided, despite the cold, to play overtime, since no one was satisfied with a tie as the final score.  We started at the north manhole, as usual, the one closer to Foster Avenue.  Someone caught the first pass for a gain of about 20 feet.  The next pass was dropped, either because of stiff, frozen fingers or impossible darkness.  The next pass gained us another 25 feet or so.  That left us with one more chance, one more pass to win the game.  But the end zone was at least 18 yards away, at the darkest end of the street.  John told us all to just bolt for the far manhole and turn around.  I ran the fastest, buzzed up the left side and crossed to the right once I was in what we considered to be the end zone.  I saw John launch the little brown ball.  It disappeared into the blackness for a second but I could tell it was headed my way.  I turned a pinch to my left to try to see it and suddenly, there it was, headed directly for my right ear.  I caught it, basically, with my head and then quickly covered it up with my hand so it wouldn’t bounce away.  It was the luckiest, craziest, most amazing football catch I had ever made and it saved us the embarrassment of having to tell our warm, relaxing family members that we had lost the Christmas Bowl once again.  A true Christmas miracle.  The final score was 21-14 (OT) in our favor and I don’t think a more fun football game has ever been played.

We keep threatening, the four of us, to get together some Christmas night and go back to East 8th Street in Midwood to play the Christmas Bowl one more time, even though a new family occupies that house we used to visit with such joy and anticipation.  The front door is the same, the nine living room windows are the same, the stoop is still separated into two sections.  Maybe we really will do it someday.  For now, we revel in the memories and photos and we share embellished, exaggerated tales of the glory with the newest members of the clan.

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There’s a history of heart disease in my genes.  On my mother’s side specifically.  My mom was one of ten children in a lively, Brooklyn-based, Italian-American family.  The food was always delicious.  The conversations were always loud.  The gatherings were always special.  Mom lost her mother, a sister and a brother to heart attacks.  And she also lost a nephew the same way.  Joey.  He was way too young to suddenly drop dead on a trip with his parents to the town near Naples where our grandmother was born.  He could not wait to take them there.  As a travel agent he had taken many trips but his workaholic parents had never been much of anywhere, other than yearly Caribbean cruises on their favorite ship, the Oceanic.  How sad it was, almost 30 years ago, during their first and long-anticipated trip to Italy, to have lost their only child.  Joey was the oldest grandchild of the 20 my grandparents had.  He lived to be 41.

As the oldest cousin, he, I suppose, considered himself our ringleader, responsible for our safety and good times when we all got together for holiday meals.  My grandparent’s house was large and creaky, a 3-level, detached frame house on the corner of Ocean Parkway and Parkville Avenue.  728 Ocean Parkway, to be exact.  It was torn down years ago to make room for condos.  There were two kitchens; one in the finished basement and one on the main floor.  When the grown ups were in the basement, we’d go upstairs.  If they were gathered in the living room, we’d head to the basement.  The lower kitchen had a Formica and stainless table with a diner-like bench seat that went 3/4 of the way around.  We’d get in on one end and bounce on our butts all the way around to the other end, get up and out and slide back in to do it all over again.   When I walk into an Italian grocery that smells like that kitchen I want to buy everything in sight.

When we were upstairs, we played in the living room.  Joey had invented a club for us, cousins only, which he called the Bock-A-Boodle Club.  The only requirement, other than being an actual cousin, was to do whatever Joseph said to do.  When he said spin in a circle, we all tossed our heads back and spun in a circle, like tops on a rampage.  When he said to change direction, we all stopped and went the other way.  Finally, he would tell us to drop to the floor and the room would keep spinning around us.  It made us all giddy.  If any of us tried to do this today, it would make every single one of us sick.

Sometimes he would turn off all the lights and tell us scary stories.  The ones that got to us the most were about the fictional Mrs. Cummings.  She was old and her fingers were gnarled like the roots of ancient trees.  She wore all black and drove up to the houses of misbehaving children in a shiny black sedan.  Where she took bad kids we preferred not to be told.  All we younger cousins knew for sure was that if Joey uttered the much-feared line, “Mrs. Cummings is coming,” it was time to sit up straight, be silent and await further instructions.

Quite often, the further instructions would indicate that it was time for my favorite activity, a game I have long thought of in my mind as Piano Jumping.  My grandparents had a baby grand in their living room.  In front of it was the sleek, dark piano bench.  Next to it was the mushy old sofa.  The game was to hop up onto the bench, step from there onto the closed lid of the baby grand and from there jump recklessly down to the soft cushions of the very old couch.  Our actions, much like the seat-pouncing game we played at the downstairs kitchen table, took us all in giant letter “C” formations, from piano bench to piano to couch.  Over and over and over we did this, with Joseph at the open end of the “C” to help us down and back up as we circled.  We got away with this activity for only so long.  Eventually, the stomping we did down onto the floor would become too much for the adults in the basement and my grandmother would amble upstairs to yell at us in her Neapolitan dialect, her false teeth clattering in her mouth.  The ’58ers, my cousins Tom and Philip and I, would never get in trouble because we were all small enough to fit under an end table together and would hide as soon as we heard her on the stairs.  Hiding from her in this way and visiting her at her florist shop, creating the arrangements on a rough wooden table in the back room and then turning to stir soup or gravy at the stove she had at the store are the only memories I have of my amazing grandmother.

We all knew Joey was gay.  Still, he remained in the closet his entire life.  As we got older he would tell us about girls he was “dating.”  He would show up at graduation parties with his boyfriend Al in tow and introduce him as a friend.  I guess, as maturing members of the Bock-A-Boodle Club we still felt a loyalty to our leader and never outed him or told him to just come out already because it would be fine with us.  A bunch of us were gay, too.  And we were a close family.  He may have encountered disdain or disapproval from a few at first but ultimately, no one in the family would have stopped loving him.  When Al died, also of a massive heart attack at the age of 41, I called Joey to tell him how sorry I was and how much I knew Al meant to him.  It was code, still, for “I’m so sorry your lover is gone.  I’m here if you need me.”  Joseph started to cry on the other end of the line.  He thanked me profusely and kept telling me how much it meant to him that I understood.  I was a baby dyke at the time, deep in my own depths of denial, but what I knew for sure about Joey, Joey probably also knew about me.  I officially came out to my family a year after Joey was gone.  I wish I had had the courage and strength to do it while he was still alive.  We could have been gay together!  And I think that would have made him more comfortable with himself.  My theory is that the stress of being in the closet for so long, feeling the responsibility as the oldest cousin to be what his parents and aunts and uncles and cousins would consider a perfect example of Italian-American masculinity and his constant need to make up stories about himself all contributed to his early demise.  I have been “out” for 30 years and I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to try to live a closeted life.  I miss my cousin Joey so much.  He’d be in his early 70s now.  He’d still live in Brooklyn.  He’d be out.  He’d love my girls to the moon and back and maybe he’d even admit them as members of the Bock-A-Boodle Club.

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More On Gratitude

Posted: December 4, 2013 in Gratitude
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I am a keeper of, a maker of lists.  I like to compartmentalize.  As soon as I see that there are two similar things that belong together, be they English words with two letter ‘u’s in a row or now-defunct candies I ate as a child, I try to think of a third so they can all exist together in a nice tidy group.  I have written down the names of all the pets I have ever had.  I’ve listed celebrities who have died in plane crashes.  I’ve cataloged, I think, all the American sit-coms of the 50s, 60s and 70s.  I do not admit this easily.  I’m sure it makes me seem a little off the wall, but when you have a mind that will not turn off or slow down, it helps to have random tasks to keep it occupied when you’re, say, standing in line at the DMV and you forgot to bring along the 700-page book you’re reading or a worried-over crossword puzzle.

My twins and I just spent a long and lovely Thanksgiving weekend with my oldest sister, ensconced warmly and comfortably in the large guest bedroom of her suburban Long Island home.  My middle sister and her family came over twice for big family dinners, on Thursday, of course, for turkey and all the trimmings and then again on Sunday, for a more relaxed day and evening of leftovers and football.  As soon as my brother-in-law and nephew sat down I hit them up for their input on a list I had been formulating in my head:  The best quarterbacks in the NFL to wear every jersey number from 1 to 19, from Warren Moon to Johnny Unitas.  We got through it pretty quickly, hesitating only a couple of times, most notably at number 6, but our choices felt authentic and justified.  And then my sister threw a wrench into the list by reminding us that the great New York Giants QB, Charlie Conerly, wore jersey number 42, so we added him at the end.

List-making can be obsessive and weird but it can also be useful.  Like right now, for instance.  I would very much like to, now that Turkey Day 2013 is a fading, rear-view mirror image and the holiday season is in full swing, publicly recognize and thank all the incredibly kind people who have helped me survive this very strange and trying phase of my otherwise completely happy and satisfying life.  It’s been a rough five years or so, what with my cohabitation with a “partner” who no longer loved me (if she ever did), her insistence that we “stay together for the sake of the children” even though I could tell our staying together was the very worst situation for the children and was making everybody miserable, my job loss and subsequent inability to find a new job, still, 3 1/2 years later, the sale of my house to avoid foreclosure, the sudden absence of my wonderful 14-year-old in my everyday life as she headed west with her other mom to pursue her rock star dream and a host of other trials and tribulations, the likes of which I have never experienced before and by which I was completely blindsided.  This list is in no order.  No one deed is more important or significant than any other.  Every kind person listed has helped me cope, survive, exist and every person is appreciated equally.  I sometimes think that my inability to find a suitable new job is karma being paid from a despicable former life.  My friends, though, remind me that the amazing help I have been receiving is good karma coming back to me for all the times, in this life, I have helped others.  I can’t control what may or may not have happened in prior incarnations.  I can’t even control what has transpired in the past of this life, the past I can actually remember.  It’s history.  It’s done.  But I am trying to be a decent human being and I have been on this journey for many years, so perhaps my friends are correct and my helpfulness has come full circle.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the people who are on this list.  If I have inadvertently left you off, I apologize, but the nice thing about lists is that they are open-ended.  I will add as I go.

First off, I must show gratitude to the amazing family with whom the twins and I live.  We could have easily moved in with my oldest sister once our house was sold and there was no money for a new one.  We could have left the town we love and headed out to a place where the twins would have been the “new kids” in school, but my girls really wanted to stay and go to middle school with their friends.  I was hoping to stay, also, because it’s an easy commute to New York City from here and that’s where I’m (still) hoping to find a good job.  Also, I have incredible friends here and a support network it would take years to replicate elsewhere, were that even possible.  Thank you, Jim and Miriam, for all you do.  I know we’re cramping the style of your teenagers, but we do our best not to get in their way and we will never, if we live to be a thousand, be able to repay your immense kindness and selfless generosity.

There’s Nechama, who treats me like a little sister and, in the name of her parents, whom she knows I admired, makes surprise deposits to my bank account and then reminds me of what really matters.  There’s Jennifer, who houses whatever furniture and “stuff” I was able to keep and not sell or toss.  My boxes, crates and tables have been in her garage loft since June and she has not complained once.  Thank you both so very very much.

There’s sweet Laura, who, in the midst of all my insanity, has reminded me that I deserve to be loved and I deserve to be happy.  She’s bought plenty of meals for me and the girls, kept my DJ equipment safe in her basement and taught me how to work a drill press and cut a dado.  I was an amateur carpenter when we met and now I am… less of an amateur.  She is the true genius behind every Adirondack chair, bench, picnic table and cabinet we made.

There’s Steve, and Mary, Steve’s mom, in her 80s, who I have known all my life.  Last year, when I flew out to Los Angeles to see Bea on The X-Factor, I stayed with Mary and she made sure I ate and had gas money so I wouldn’t run out while navigating the horrible traffic of the So-Cal Freeway system.  Steve and I hadn’t seen each other in perhaps 40 years.  Yet, after we went out to dinner one evening in Orange County and Steve and his wife heard about my struggles he followed me back to his sister Leslie’s house, got out of his car and handed me a huge wad of cash so I could pay some bills when I got back to the east coast.  “You’re family, Kim,” he said as he gave me a hug.  “It doesn’t matter how long it’s been between visits.  You and your sisters will always be family.”  Steve’s dad, Tim, a USMC Major, was a friend of my dad’s back when they were both stationed at the Naval base in Patuxent River, Maryland.  Mary and my mom were friends until my mom passed away in 1998.  Tim would have been an astronaut had he not died tragically, as a test pilot, a few months before I was born.  My father died two years later.  Our families have never lost touch.  That’s the military legacy I was given and of which I am so proud.  Friends like Mary and Steve are once in a lifetime.  Thank you.

Because of facebook, I am close once again with a small group of women I have known since high school, and a few of them since kindergarten.  Last August, during a girl’s weekend where we all ate and drank and yammered about the past just a bit too much, I offered to stay home and make dinner while the rest of them went on a tasting tour of some of Long Island’s North Fork wineries.  It wasn’t in my budget so I elected to stay back and conjure up a big pot of the shrimp creole I learned to make while I was working as a DJ in New Orleans.  I needed to visit the local supermarket for all the ingredients and one by one, before the stretch limo came to spirit them away on their adventure, some of my friends sidled up to me and handed me money for the store.  They all gave me way too much.  One simply handed me $100.00 and firmly squeezed my hand with a “don’t you dare not take this” warning.  Someone else left a 20 on my backpack.  It was all, ha! “for the dinner food.”  Thank you, Mag 9 ladies.  You are all incredible and I am blessed to have you back in my life.  My daughters adore you, as do I.

My middle sister sends me emails, hoping to help me stay positive.  I feel the love and concern from her and her family.  They always go overboard at Christmas, giving my girls such lovely gifts and wrapping them exquisitely, making my kids feel loved and special.  My oldest sister would give me the proverbial shirt off her back if I asked for it.  I can’t imagine where I would be without her financial and spiritual assistance.  She is nine years my senior and has always had my back.  Someday I’d like to take her to a Yankee game, with tickets for seats right behind the home dugout, or to a Giants game with seats at the 50-yard line, 20 rows up from the field.  Someday.

Rene, Joy and Debbie have all blogged about me, trying to help me in my job search.  My cousin Tom likes every single blog post I write.  He urges me to keep at it and even emails old family photos to me, hoping some will match the stories I tell.  When he re-posts a blog entry my numbers go up nicely.  Margaret and Sean offer the twins and me a calm and quiet refuge any time we feel overwhelmed and need some restful peace.  Mark walked on fire to help me sell my house last spring.  Arlene is someone I have known for more than 50 years.  She was my middle sister’s friend all through public school.  When the twins and I were sent for by the producers of the show Bea was on, the second time I went out to LA last November, we were scheduled to be there over Thanksgiving.  The producers didn’t care about where we would eat our Thanksgiving dinner.  Arlene and her family live about 90 minutes south of the actual city.  They sent a car for us early Thanksgiving morning.  The driver picked us up right in front of our hotel, drove us directly to Arlene’s house, where we had a wonderful family-oriented holiday meal instead of being forced to eat by ourselves at a restaurant, and then, when it was time, took us right back so we could freshen up and make it to the show on time.  Because friends don’t let friends eat Thanksgiving dinner alone.  I’m so grateful for all of you.

Here in the sweet and leafy suburb we so proudly call home, I have an incredible network of friends.  Their collective attitude towards me has not shifted, even though I am no longer a tax-paying homeowner.  There’s Amy, who buys me coffee, listens to my theories about my joblessness and makes me laugh and feel appreciated.  There’s Doreen, who is the best hostess I know (she could put Martha to shame), who remembers that I like beer when it’s hot out and wine when it’s cold.  There’s David, whose antics and stories and crazy voices keep me rolling on the floor.  There’s Liz and Lisa, who have offered me constant friendship and understanding and support.  And others, too numerous to name, who stop me at the post office or the pizza place with ideas about jobs and hugs of encouragement.  I love my town.

And I love my neighborhood pharmacy.  I have been a regular customer there since 2003, when we moved here from Brooklyn.  The head pharmacist, Dave, knows I’m out of a job.  He knows I need my low-dose blood pressure medication.  Sometimes, when I go in for a refill of the 30-pill bottle, I get home and open it up to find 60 or 80 pills, all for the price of a month’s worth.  That would never happen at a big-box pharmacy.  Please support small, local businesses.  What they do for me is just one reason why.  There are dozens of small stores here where I am recognized and treated with affection and respect.  It’s a mutual love fest.

There’s my coaching group, of course.  We meet just about weekly to talk about life, the universe and everything.  We are sometimes given journal prompts via email by our fearless leader, which we are supposed to use as springboards to write from the heart and get to the bottom of what scares us, what moves us, what annoys us and brings us true joy, in the hope that we will grow and learn to live more authentic lives.  Thank you Tammy, Claire, Mary, Amy Jo, Michelle and Michelle.  You are the friends who insisted, all through the spring and summer of this year, that I start a blog.  You said it would change my life.  It has.  No, it hasn’t yet helped me find a job or an anxious publisher for my memoir-in-progress, but it has lightened my load considerably and my new-found lightness feels wonderful.

There’s Chip, who brought me back into the fold at CBS.  It’s awesome to feel like a stage manager again, even if it’s just twice a month.  It’s a start and I am thankful.  And Anna, who I’ve known since 1988 and who recently re-entered my life.  She’s trying to get me work at another network across town.  If she is successful I will kiss her!  But even if it doesn’t work out, I am grateful for her efforts.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And of course, there are my lovely daughters.  People keep telling me how unselfish and wonderful I am to have adopted my twins.  But I believe in reincarnation, remember.  They knew what they were getting themselves into before they swam from the spiritual plane to this physical existence.  They chose me.  For that I will be eternally grateful.  And my Bea.  I haven’t seen her since October and won’t see her again until Boxing Day, but she brings me such joy.  What an amazing kid I have!  Really, what an amazing life I have!  I’m anxious to find a job and earn decent money and get an apartment and live an independent life.  I’m looking forward to settling in and buying new beds and towels and utensils.  I’ll be happy to throw a housewarming party and return some of the kindness and generosity that has been shown to me over the last three years.  It’ll be a blast.  Life, right now, is a total blast.  Thank you all.

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