Monday, December 24, 2012

Ambridge man claws his way to video fame - Timesonline.com: Local Entertainment

Ambridge man claws his way to video fame - Timesonline.com: Local Entertainment

     Twenty-five years old.  An amazing young man.  A little timid when he was younger, my son Matt now has a YouTube following with his Journey to the Claw machine series.  Obsessed when he was a small boy playing crane/claw machines, he actually purchased his own in his early twenties.  He taught himself the ins and outs of the workings of the machine, and eventually the tricks of the trade enabling young and old alike to have more "wins" at the game in video arcades.
     He has fun with this, making crazy videos, sharing his enthusiasm, whooping it up for his fans.  But recently he took on a more serious role.  Matt has begun to donate his claw machine wins to some charities that specialize for children in dire situations such as Hurricane Sandy victims and the recent school shooting in Connecticut.  He also met a fan of his who has Asperger's syndrome recently and the two played machines together as if they had known one another their whole lives.
     It makes my heart happy to see how far my son has come in such a short time.  I always knew God had great things in store for him, and now I see the promise being fulfilled.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Day of Changed Lives

     September 11, 2001.  A day that would change history in our country.  As a younger, single mother, I couldn't watch as the events unfolded on the television that night.  I couldn't bear to think about what was going on around me and my young son.  Would we be safe?  Would more devastation happen perhaps even closer to home this time?
     I had been working at a dentist office at the time when the news first hit the airwaves.  I looked up from the patient seated before the dentist and I, eyes wide behind the safety glasses I wore.  Hmmm, just an accident, I thought at first.  Then the report came in of a second incident and later more tragic news.  I wanted to bolt from the office, pick my child up from school and hunker down somewhere safe.  The dentist would not permit me to go.  He told me it was business as usual and nothing further would happen.
     As I walked through the door to my parents home after work that evening, seeing the faces of my loved ones before me, I gave silent thanks to God.  How many others would be crying out to Him that night?  How many others were in the midst of grief and despair?
     I shut down after that.  I would not view television reports, look at newspaper or magazine articles.  It was as if I wanted to live in my own little world.  A world where things like this did not happen.
     It would take me many years to finally watch the events of that fateful day.  My new husband saved newspaper articles, and little by little, I became curious.  We would sit and view poignant programs about the many events of September 11th.
     The day my husband took me to the plane crash site in Somerset, Pennsylvania would change my life.  As we stood on the hillside, the wind whipping about us, I could feel the solemness, the almost spiritual quality in the very air.  I began to appreciate the heroes and the many people who had died that day in a way I never had before.  The small chapel where many had left condolences and tokens of love was an all too vivid reminder of the lives snuffed so briefly out.
     Each year my husband and I make the hour or so trip to this hallowed site.  There have been several changes through the years, improvements as it were.  But the initial feeling of the sacredness, the feeling you perhaps get when you first stand on the Gettysburg battlefield remains. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Humor

     With trepidation, I pulled the portly bird in its wrapped packaging from the refrigerator yesterday morning.  I laid it upon the counter, eyeing up the name Butterball.  "Yes," I thought, "very appropriate."  I set to work, with surgical precision cutting the wrapper from the body.  I was expecting a demon-possessed entity looking back at me.  All I saw was a white, plump body of a turkey.  Nothing to be frightened of.
     I donned thin, latex gloves.  No way I was going to stick my hands up into the cavity of this thing.  I'm supposed to pull out what?  Hmmm, so far, so good.  I found the necessary innards to remove:  turkey neck, very ugly; some package of red, squishy things I didn't even want to know what they were.  Okay, it was going well.  With salt shaker in hand, I began to wash, even scrub the bird inside, outside, under wings and over legs.  When the thing was practically squeaky clean, I began speaking to it.  Now, this is not a normal thing for me.  I talk to my cats on occasion, and they love me for it.  I sing crazy songs to them while they look up at me, love clearly written on their feline faces.  But I felt it necessary to address the bird.  Tell it some stories about what a pretty thing it was, how good it was going to look after it was baked, and just some all around general chit chat.  Hubby didn't even glance up from some work he was doing at our kitchen table.  I asked him about that today.  His answer:  "I didn't even notice."
     Does this mean it's normal then for me to speak out to inanimate objects?  Has he become so immune to this type of behavior from me he barely notices?  Perhaps.
     This was only the third turkey I've prepared in my lifetime, you see.  The thing just intimidates me.  I worry it won't be cooked thoroughly.  I worry on how to get it out of the oven when it's done.  I worry over gravy-making, carving, the list goes on and on.
     Let me tell you, though.  When all was said and done yesterday, the meal was great.  Turkey was handled with care, gravy came out fine, even hubby got into the act and did the carving.  My eight guests were pleased and even went so far as to congratulate me on one of the most moist turkeys they had eaten.
     Phew, glad it's all over for now.  Until next year, or next holiday.....Perhaps the ham at Christmastime will hear some entertaining story from me as I prepare it.  At least the cats will be sitting at my feet, waiting for scraps to fall.  Waiting for me to sing some crazy song lovingly to them.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Christmas visitor

     My mother told a story once about a Christmas Eve when she was a young girl.  It was the 1940's when money was tight due to the war.  In those times, children didn't receive the amazing bounty of gifts we do today.  They were lucky to have an old stocking filled with some hard candy, nuts, maybe even an orange or other piece of fruit.  But they were special times, warm and cozy.  Families gathered for their meager meals. Prayers were said around tables thanking God for his goodness.  Stories, laughter and songs were shared.
     It was on such a Christmas Eve night that while cleaning up after a family meal, a knock sounded at the front door of my mother's aunt's house.  My mother and a  young cousin went to see who it was. A strange, disheveled fellow stood upon the porch, barely dressed in enough warm clothing for the snowy night.  He asked if perhaps their family would be able to spare some food for him.  The children ran to their mothers who were washing dishes from the evening meal, explaining about the man and his odd request.
     My aunt packed a bag of food for him, knowing she was perhaps giving away some of the meal they could have had themselves in the upcoming days.  But they had big hearts, these poor Italian people and would give the last of what they had to help another.
     The stranger left after he took the package of food from my great-aunt, and the women folk went back to the kitchen to finish washing dishes.
     My mother and her young cousin were very curious where such a person would go on such a cold, snowy night.  But as they went out onto the front porch and looked in every direction, the man was nowhere to be seen.  The strangest part was, there wasn't one footprint in the snow which had fallen earlier, not one.
     They talked about this for years in our family of the strange Christmas Eve visitor.  This story has been handed down several generations now with always the same outcome.  None of us have ever questioned that it really happened.  And we all are pretty sure who the visitor might have been...
     Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.  Hebrews 13:2



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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A gracious lady

     She's in her mid eighties now, skin still smooth and lovely, a warm smile on the pretty face I know and love so well.  She taught me so much in my twenties, those formative years where you teeter on the brink of becoming a woman, while holding fast to your rebellious, teenage ways.
     When I first met Rose, we immediately clicked.  I had been brought up in an old-fashioned Italian home much as she'd been and we bonded over stories of our upbringing and similar family backgrounds.
     She was elegant in a Jaclyn Kennedy sort-of-way to me.  Soft spoken and kind.  Yet this woman could out work any man as she went about daily chores.  I marveled at her strength physically and emotionally.  She was small, yet with unshakeable courage and a poise which made me want to emulate her.
     She taught me graciousness, she taught me patience and forbearance.   I learned how to become a gentle woman of God with her as my guide.  Even though our ages were almost thirty years apart, I felt a kinship with this woman, a friendship.
     To this day, when we speak on the phone, or on the occasion where I am fortunate enough to visit with her, I still feel the calming presence, the warmth and familiarity of a woman who I will always consider like a second mother to me.
     Thank you, Rose.  All my love.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ellis Island

Posted: 05 Oct 2012 08:35 PM PDT
Karen Malena is today’s Adventurista 
What was it like for newcomers passing through Ellis Island?
I wondered this, and more, about the brave souls who left the old world to pass through ports of entry like Ellis to begin a new life for themselves.
Did you know you can find the names of the actual ship that carried your loved ones to Ellis Island? I found my great-grandfather’s ship, the Verona, and a sketch of what it had looked like back in the day, along with the names of other passengers who travelled with him.

Ellis Island, circa 1918 (photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)
In the early 1900’s, European immigrants travelled to America seeking new and better opportunities for their families. They would board a huge ship, and those who couldn’t afford to pay the fare for the upper decks were relegated to an area just below the main deck called “steerage,” an area originally designed to be a cargo hold.The conditions were crowded, with hundreds of people crammed into cramped quarters.  Nighttime was especially uncomfortable with tiny, closely-packed palettes for beds.
When they arrived at Ellis Island, New York, the poor immigrants were ushered into a processing center which daily herded thousands through for screening. Inspectors questioned them first, and then they were poked and prodded by doctors and nurses looking for diseases or handicaps.  This process took about four hours, and then they were free to leave.  If they didn’t receive approval, they were sent back to their place of origin.
In the thirty five years of operation, 1892-1954, Ellis processed eight million immigrants. In 1897, a fire destroyed many of the records. 1907 saw the most, when 1,004,756 people passed through the portal. Estimates are that over a hundred million Americans can trace their ancestry through Ellis.
Italian immigrants settled in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas. They worked as  carpenters, brick-layers, shoe makers and clothiers.  Many found jobs in the newly fabricated steel mills.  As soon as they saved enough money for passage, and could arrange for accommodations, their families left behind in the old country joined them, processing through the same ports of entry.
Besides searching the records from Ellis Island, you can type a loved one’s name into the Google search engine. I recently searched for my grandfather’s history and found lots of details our family had forgotten.
Ancestry.com often has free trials so you can get a taste of how easy it is to search.  The more information you have, such as spouse’s and children’s names, and where they were born, the more information you’ll turn up.

My grandfather Pietro Biancuci, who emigrated from Italy through Ellis Island
While I searched, I noticed that someone had corrected some misspelling of our family’s last name, and had left their email address.  I wrote her, and a new friendship was forged. We laughed and cried together over dear loved ones, long gone.
My long lost, now found, relative gave me the name of another site.  Family Search lets you search for free.
One of the search engines, Find a Grave, revealed the  final resting place of my great-grandfather, Pietro. I found it, and as I stood there, tears coursing down my face over the end of my quest, I gave thanks for being born into a family who had such a strong patriarch, brave enough to leave the old world, pass through Ellis Island, and begin a new life in America.

My grandmother’s wedding party, with her father, my great grandfather, Pietro, standing directly behind her. (photograph property of the author)
With the power of the internet, and because of the meticulous records, your search for your ancestors might turn up even more than mine did, and I promise you’ll enjoy the adventure. I’d love to hear about what you turn up.
Ancestry.com
Find a Grave
Norway-Heritage Across the Sea
Family Search

Karen Malena
Karen Malena has several compelling stories about the search for her ancestors available on Amazon and Goodreads. A devoted mother, daughter and wife, she hopes to convey the ups and downs of true-to-life situations in her writing. Coming from an Italian family has given her passion, and a love of reading has given her the desire for creativity. Karen is a member of Ligonier Valley Writers, and Pittsburgh East Scribes.When she’s not tracking down distant relatives, she works in the dental field, where she developed a compassion  for people of all walks and ages.
Contact her at scoutfinch15003@yahoo.com. Visit Karen’s Facebook page, and learn more about her books.
 This post is a Coffee Break Escape – 7 Minute Adventures Exploring the World Together To contribu

Monday, September 17, 2012

A post for a friend

This is an excerpt from a blog which a friend writes.  Very powerful.  Very true.


“I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, my tongue rejoices, my body will rest secure. Psalm 16:8-9
David’s life is filled with conflict, tragedy, and disappointment. Yet, His hope remained steadfast in God. Within these verses we find the Psalmist’s secret behind is positive attitude. Even in those scriptures where David’s heart wearied of Saul’s pursuit, when his heart ached because his children rebelled, David worked through his grief and doubt because his hope rested in the Lord.
To move from the prison of negativity, the Christian must first be cognizant of the Lord. We can only do that through diligent prayer and Bible reading. To know someone we must spend time with them. As we grow to know God more, we realize he cares for every aspect of our lives. When we remember His great love for us, we then are able to surrender to His sovereignty and to be grateful for His many blessings.
When the Lord encompasses everything we say, do, and think, we are bolstered. He is above, below, behind, forward and on both sides of us. He shelters us and protects us from Satan’s attempts to discourage us.
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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A figure larger than life

      One faded black and white photo and my life would change.......
   
     Sifting through old photographs one day with my mom, I felt drawn to one of a young man in dirty overalls, haunting eyes, and beautiful hands.  When she told me this was her grandfather, Pietro, and she never knew him, I hungered to know more about him.
      He came to this country in the early 1900's looking for work and a new way of life for his wife and four children.  My great-grandfather, Pietro paved the way for us, and brought a legacy to me that I will never forget.
     A quiet, gentle man, he was a carpenter by trade.  He was born in Patrica, Italy in the late 1800's.  He came to this country when he was twenty years old, seeking a good life for his family.
     I think back to being twenty years old.  Thoughts of fun, dating, parties, selfish ambitions.  Yet this simple man, at the same age already had so many responsibilities.  Poverty beckoned at the door in his hometown. Who knows how tough it had been trying to feed a wife and four children?
   Many already had made the decision to strike out to America for a new life and new opportunities.  It couldn't have been easy leaving behind loved ones, not knowing if you would ever see them again, yet hopeful that you would.
     What was the boat journey like?  An unending, long, nauseating trip with at least nine hundred others.  Was he fearful, hopeful?
     And when he first got to Ellis Island, what thoughts were on his mind? Did he kiss the ground, so grateful to see land again?  Was there anyone waiting for him, a brother perhaps?
     Again, I think of myself.  I was lucky to be able to drive to another town when I was the same age.  For I was a fearful, scared rabbit back in the day.  Afraid to venture outside of the confines of my comfortable, small world.
      Yet this man, who couldn't read, write, or speak the strange language of English, risked it all for a chance, a dream, a hope.
     I sit here now, thinking back on my own life.  I have come so far in such a short time.  Once afraid of my own shadow, I now venture into strange, new places.  Once so timid I could barely speak to others, I am meeting new, exciting people and sharing stories of my own with them.
     Could it be perhaps this patriarch, my great-grandfather, Pietro, this figure larger than life, has inspired me to be courageous, to seek so much more in this beautiful world?  I believe so.  And I am grateful to him for paving the way for my family and I as we travel this wonderful journey together.
     Thank you, Pietro.  Grazie.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Insecurity

Who begins this vicious ride of insecurity?  Is it our parents, our grandparents?  Is it inborn, or does it develop little by little in our childhood.

It is an unwelcome companion in my life.  Long have I fought to rid myself of the torturous road of insecurity.  Long have I failed, only to let it hold me down, keep me down. 

What advice would I give my son, my beloved family members, my dear friends?  What can I tell you that will perhaps keep away, the unwanted companion which pokes its ugly head up on a daily basis?

Think back to a really good day.  A day when the evils of self-loathing didn't appear at all.  Rest in that day, letting good thoughts bathe you in their splendour.  I think our evil companion never showed up on a day like that.  I think thoughts of light, love, God perhaps, are what holds the enemy at bay.

What is your enemy?  What is the anchor which weighs you down?  For me, it has always been the stigma of my scoliosis, the fact I was different in so many ways from others.   A time in my young adulthood when I should have been thinking thoughts of boys, makeup, fun.   The bullies in school who preyed upon a young girl's worst nightmare. 

I have talked before about these ghosts, I have exorcised some of these demons.  Yet it is only in reading God's word, His holy bible, where I can truly find the rest and peace which I yearn for.  He tells me I am beloved, beautiful, blessed.  He tells me I can call upon Him any hour of the day or night.  How can I fear anything then, even something as strong as my insecurity, past voices, bad memories.

If it has been a long time since you opened the Good Book, don't wait another moment.  Browse through the Psalms and their words of comfort.  Check out the gospels and Jesus' words to all of us.  Read an inspirational book, listen to a grand song.  Watch a movie which makes you think and makes you cry.

Bask in the healing light of God.  Let us rid ourselves of anything which threatens our peace.  Let us encourage one another in this journey of life.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Quiet Man

Lately I have been thinking about my Dad's father.   He passed away when I was seventeen, and although I had known him all that time, I haven't appreciated something wonderful about this quiet man.

I called him Nono, the Italian word for grandfather.  I remember him as someone who sang Italian songs softly, and told the story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff.  I would beg for this story until he would acquiesce, telling it the same way over and over, making his voice sound mean when it came to the part about the troll under the bridge.  I would giggle with delight, only to ask for it one more time.

He was soft spoken, and like most Italian men in those days, drank wine.  He would disappear into his basement and wine cellar, emerging a little worse for wear much later.  I never saw him truly mean, just a bit indifferent.

 Sunday mealtime at my grandparent's house, Nono would be the last one sitting there eating.  He sat at the head of the table, glass of wine before him, telling everyone to eat slowly, slowly.  My cousins and I would race for first place to see who finished their meals the quickest, hoping to get the coveted role of dish washer instead of the lesser role of dish dryer. 

But Nono would still be sitting there, long after the others had cleared the table and gone on to other things people do on a lazy Sunday afternoon, still chewing slowly until he finished every last bite.

Later, he would be sitting in his living room, eyes closed, and lips moving silently.  My mother asked him one time what he was doing.  His answer: "Praying for our family and future generations."

I never realized just how powerful that statement really is.  Praying for future generations.  When I was little, in my own world, there were no thoughts of who would come after me.  Now, with my son twenty- five years old, and my new little niece, four months old, I see just what Nono was doing.  Praying for them.  Praying for their future families as well.

How truly awesome that type of prayer is.  We each have our daily prayers, intercessory, thanksgiving, praise, guidance, help.  But think about it.  We have the power to pray for great- grandchildren we may never know and subsequently, their families, etc.  We have the freedom to ask of our Heavenly Father to touch the lives of those who come after us with His favor and goodness.  The chance for us to pray that they all come to know Him and accept His son as savior.

Next time you are praying, think about those you may not know yet.  Think about your sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and cousins.  Say a little prayer for them and their future generations.  It will bless you in a way which can only be how God truly wanted it to be.  Totally selfless and honoring Him.

Thank you Nono for teaching me in your quiet way.  Until we meet again someday.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Love to Last a Lifetime

Nothing has touched me recently more than watching my husband's elderly aunt and uncle in the care facility which they call home these days.  They did not share a room, but got together every day through the kindness of nurses and aides in the dining area or hallway in their wheelchairs.

Aunt Louise had a stroke over four years ago and was placed into the care facility soon after.  Unable to speak more than just a few garbled phrases, and paralyzed on one side of her body, the once active Italian lady began to go downhill. 

In her day, I am told, Louise was quite the character.  When I first met her seven years ago, I was completely unprepared for the little, Italian lady who greeted me when my husband first brought me out to the town he lived in. 

A tiny, thin woman dressed in gaudy clothing, sparkles adorning her sweater, tight-fitted pants and spiky heels which I had never been able to wear in my youth, got out of a car and approached me.  Bangles glittered on her arms, earrings as long as chandeliers adorned her lobes.

Even though this wasn't the type of little, old Italian aunt I was used to, Louise and I instantly bonded.  Over the next few years, she and her husband, Hubert became more like in-laws to me, as I had never met my husband's parents since they had passed away years ago.

The night before she had the stroke, Louise was out dancing the night away.   Her husband, Hubert had found her the next morning slumped over the table where she had been putting on her make-up for the day ahead.

For the next several years I would bond even more with these two people as Uncle Hubert's own health began to deteriorate.  He visited her daily while he was capable, driving himself to the nursing home.  Then when driving proved too much for him, he would ride a small, local bus to see his sweetheart.  Then as walking became the biggest issue, I would pick him up to visit his darling for a few hours.

Over the last two years, his own health worsened, and Uncle Hubert was admitted to the same facility which housed his wife of almost fifty years. 

The care and concern even with his own health failing, never ceased to amaze me.  The love and tenderness with which he spoke to his frail wife, looking upon her like a young lover.  When he would take his leave of her for the day, he would glide his wheelchair as close to hers as possible, to kiss her tenderly.

They celebrated their fifty year anniversary in the nursing home surrounded by loved ones.  Last week, we said our goodbyes to Louise, as she passed from this life into the next.  As Hubert was wheeled into the funeral home to see his wife for the final time, the nurse helped him to his feet to give his beloved one more kiss before he will join her someday, in the eternal hereafter.


Monday, April 30, 2012

Childhood bullies

Recently I have been speaking to some people about their past.

This has got me thinking more than ever about my own childhood, especially the early teenage years.  I did an interview recently where I bared some of the feelings of insecurity I had while being "bullied" or made fun of.

What gives other children the right?  I ask myself this question now in my adult years.  I can still conjure up images and feelings of the pain I felt during those times.  The laughter, snickering, belittling.  The name-calling.  I was a victim.  A helpless victim of stupid children who may have not known any better.  Right?  For if they knew better, perhaps they would have stopped, put themselves in my shoes if even for a moment......

Each day, as I walked to school, I would hope: "Maybe today will be different.  Maybe today will be the day they realize I am just like them.  I am not some verbal punching bag."  But as the day began, the assaults would start, my stomach would clench and I would shut down.  Retreat into silence and humiliation.  I even remember one particularly bad day, I just left school, walking home without telling a soul.

I live my life with the adage "Everyone has a story."  I try to think about the young people who hurt me so badly, wondering if they truly did have a story.  Was there something going on in their own world, some reason they had to lash out at another?  Were they being victimized by a parent perhaps, or other children themselves? 

My brother, who had also been taunted in school, told me once of a fellow who had approached him a few years ago and had actually apologized for how he treated him back then.  I commend this young man.  It must not have been easy for him to admit.  But I think of countless others of us who may never hear an apology or reason for being the one singled out in such a cold, heartless way.

I can tell you this.  It is time to forgive them.  These stupid ghosts from our pasts.  We may never know why we became the victim of such heartless regard.  If we give it to Christ, knowing He is the true healer, the true vindicator of all our hurts, past and present, we can find healing.  Let's do it.  Lets together give it up, give it to the One who truly loves us unconditionally. 


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Monday, April 2, 2012

Times like these

     We live our lives in a hurry.  Our childhood rushes by in a blur of smudged sidewalk chalk, scabby knees and sleepovers.  The teen years flow into adulthood through acne covered angst and countless nights of wondering if the phone will ring.
     So when did I get to this age?  This so-called mid life age?  Wasn't my mother always supposed to be the protector, the grown up?  When did she become so fragile, so broken, salt and pepper hair thinning, skin beginning to crinkle?  Wasn't she always going to be there for me?  I need you now mom.  I am baking Easter Bread.  Don't you remember how many eggs go into the recipe?
     But she doesn't remember.  She is beginning to forget.  She needs her family, her children around her more than ever.  Now I am the parent, the comforter.  I am the grown up.  I didn't ask for this, but here it is in plain sight.   No escaping the inevitable.
     One thought rises above the confusion, the fear during times such as this.  My Lord God will provide.  He will be there to carry us through this dark, confused time.  He will never leave us nor forsake us.  I can rest in these promises.
     Allow me to slow down, Lord.  Allow me to enjoy every moment with Mom.  Allow me to be thankful for all the wonderful years with her. 
     The phone rings.  It is her!  And I can still make her laugh!  Yes, I am very, very thankful.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Little Italian lady

     It's been a long time since I thought of her.  The little, chubby Italian woman I proudly called Nonna.  Her head of white hair, curly from the permanent wave she always had done at the beauty parlor.  When I was younger, she flipped her hair tightly into a bun.  As she got older, she wanted  a more modern look.  She gave up the old house dresses and we saw her wear pants for the first time.
     She loved being photographed.  She would wear her full set of dentures for the camera, slipping the lower one out soon afterward.  She usually stood near one of her amazing rose bushes or some type of flowering plant.  All the memories I have of her in print have some sort of  colorful flower next to her.
     When I see pictures of her from Italy, when she was only eighteen years old, I see a dark beauty with haunting eyes.  A knowing smirk on her face, as if she had a secret which she wouldn't share.  Several small children surrounding her, my father, aunt and uncle.  Her whole life before her.
     She was a rock when I was younger.  When things were unstable in my own life.  She was always there, getting me ready for school when I had to stay with her for a while.  She didn't understand everything, and one day in school I opened my lunch to the strangest concoction.   On huge, fat, Italian bread, she had spread peanut butter, and folded chipped ham into it as well.  Arrrgh.  What on earth?  My little stomach was growling with hunger, so I dug into a sandwich that I would begin to eat daily.
     She baked orange box cakes and glazed them with a thin powder sugar glaze.  We would wonder where she hid them, when I spied her opening up a drawer in the kitchen one day and saw the cake in there.  Never again would she be able to hide them from me.
     You would not want to eat her steak.  The term shoe leather has new meaning.  But the meals of homemade pasta....now that was something we all looked forward to.
     I can still smell her Sunday dinners as if it was yesterday.  I can see her digging in her garden out back never tiring.  Canning countless jars of tomatoes in the cellar.
     Nonna, you were the best.  I still miss you and think of you.
   

Monday, January 23, 2012

Everyone has a story

     My mother has always said:  Everyone has a story.  Man, have I found that to be true!  Do you watch people around you, really watch them?  Do you listen though, as they speak?  This perhaps is  most difficult to do.  For I think when we pause, letting another person tell you their story, then we can truly walk a bit in their shoes, seeing where they come from.
     He was the strange man in the neighborhood.  People referred to him as "mildly retarded" in those days.  It was back in the late sixties.  I was eight years old.
     My girlfriend and I would be playing outside.  Whether it was bike riding, hopscotch, countless games of pretend, we would see him walking toward us in the distance.
     "Run," we would say in unison, "Hide."  For we knew to be cornered by Terry would mean at least an hour of his tragic, neighborhood stories.  He had no friends, nobody to talk with. 
     I asked my mother about him.  She was living in her own world of depression in those days.  Yet she said something which surprised me.  She asked if I would try being kind to him.  Let him talk instead of running away when he appeared.
     "Easy for you to say," I thought.  She wasn't the one who had to stand there and listen as he droned on and on about the sadness going on behind our neighbors closed doors.
     No matter what Mom was going through in her life, she never failed to be compassionate.  It was something she instilled in me at a very early age.  She was trying to turn me into a listener.  An observer of the world.  In doing so, I would learn so much more than what outward appearances showed.
     The next time Terry appeared, I let him talk.  He hardly made eye contact as he told us about an old lady down the block, and the ambulance which whisked her away.  He seemed to only speak of the bad things going on around us.  But he seemed grateful to have a listening ear.
     The more I thought about it, Mom was right.  My young heart broke for this man, this tragic soul who had nobody except his family to care what he talked about.
     I stopped running, and started listening.  Daily he would rattle on and on with his stories of sorrow.   I saw the world as Terry was seeing it, through a heart and soul of a man who would never really be a man.
     Years later, I would think of him, wondering what had happened to him.  I know he changed me in many ways as a person.   He taught me compassion.  He taught me patience.   It was this compassion and patience which would stick with me all my life.  Truly listening when people tell their own stories. 
     I hope Terry had a good life.