Never The Same Day Twice

Monday, May 22, 2006

.................................Monday 5/22/06

HELLO AUNT NETTIE!!! Happy Birthday Uncle Pete! ..And Jacquie at work!

Today I was supposed to go in to the office. But I had already tossed around an idea with my mom to work from home and then, in the middle of the day, drive down with her and the little man, and go see Uncle Pete for his birthday. Then I thought better of the idea, because I'm lazy. But when I said I was going to go into the office, she said "Oh! I thought we were going to see Uncle Pete", and looked disappointed... so I changed my mind again.

Uncle Pete is my great-uncle. He is her mother's older brother. Or no, wait, younger brother.

There were six children: Nellie (Carmella), Joseph, Lucy, Peter, Angelina and the baby, Nettie.
Nettie the baby is now 83 years old. She and Uncle Pete are the last of the siblings... Lucy was my grandmother, who died in 1965.

So Uncle Pete and Aunt Angie and Aunt Nettie and Uncle Joe are the aunts and uncles of my youth. Aunt Angie lived in Virginia with her family, but she traveled up to see the family maybe every year... She was a sweet novelty to all of us, with her little southern accent, her homemade (it appeared) cotton shifts... She was tiny. And she loved her mother---even though she had moved away so far that she didn't see her everyday like Joe (who lived with Grandma), Pete (who lived upstairs) and Nettie (who lived on the next block) did...

Uncle Joe was my favorite. He was my godfather. I was very close to Grandma, and thus I think became very close to Uncle Joe. I was eight years old the first time I slept overnight at Grandma's. Uncle Joe had to work overtime on a Saturday and I was recruited to spend the Friday night there so that Grandma would have company the next morning... Uncle Joe gave me 2 quarters in a teeny-tiny manila envelope as my 'pay'.

Oh Grandma... She would have been about 88 then. She was always old to me. Always white-haired, shuffling walk, toothless grin... But in my younger days, she did more. She would braid my hair. She would bake cakes (or bread!) with me. She would walk around the yard. She would crochet doilies..

But eventually her eyesight failed more, she started using a cane, and she spent more time lying on the couch or sitting in the window than anything. She stopped coming down into the yard when I was in high school. And we lost her, finally, at the ripe old age of 97, on a Sunday with many of her family around her at home. She didn't get sick, she never had to go to the hospital, she just died in her own house... (I was not at home---I wasn't even in town. But that's a story for another day).

I was 18 when she died. I mourned her... I still mourn her. But there was a time when I thought I would die of the grief. I had never lost someone I loved, she was the first. I always knew she would be. But I didn't know how to handle it and I was far from home so missing her for death was coupled with missing her for distance, and sometimes it didn't seem real that she was really gone...

I was 24 when Uncle Joe died. He and I had gotten closer again after I came back home 3 years before that. I was working at a distance from home and commuted every day with my Mom, Dad, and sister. But on Saturdays, I was usually on my own. Somehow, it was suggested I kick back in town on Fridays, to avoid the traffic, save time/gas, all that jazz. So on Friday afternoons after work, I'd hit the library (or not) and then head to Uncle Joe's where he'd be waiting with a simple dinner and conversation... There were many weeks when it seemed to me that he looked forward to my visits. He told me stories about growing up and it sometimes felt like he was holding his breath all day til I showed up and then he could spill the story out. I was company for him. And someone who didn't already know the stories.

After dinner, we would watch TV. He usually fell asleep on the couch. We watched re-runs... In the morning, I'd get ready for work and smell the scent of breakfast cooking. He always made me eggs sunny-side-up... not sure why! In the winter, he'd have already gone outside to scrape the ice off my windows.

He was a dear dear man. He died like Grandma did, in the house... only no one was around. Aunt Nettie and Aunt Theresa found him lying on his bed, in the morning, getting dressed for Mass.

This death now, this one I thought I would really never recover from. Grandma had been our china doll, but Uncle Joe, he was like a rock. A solid force, someone to depend on. And when he was gone, I had lost that time with him and I felt cheated, because I had only started spending so much time with him and I wanted that to last. He was 76 when he died. That seemed wrong. I wanted him to live a long life like Grandma had. I wanted him to be with us forever.

I was angry with God for a long time for taking Uncle Joe away from me. I was very lonely in those days, and I took the loss hard. I used to visit the cemetery all the time...

Aunt Nettie took Uncle Joe's death hard as well. Even though she had already faced the death of her father (when she was only in her early 20's), three of her older sisters, and her mother, it was Uncle Joe, I think, that did her in for a time. She had been very close to him, as he lived with Grandma and she cared for Grandma during the day. The two of them spent a lot of time together, and after Grandma died, Aunt Nettie still went over there every day, now to keep company with Uncle Joe.

Uncle Pete's health seemed to mock (in my mind) the loss of his siblings. Even though I knew Uncle Joe was older, I couldn't reconcile the fact that we had lost him first... And that Uncle Pete, though grey-haired and in his 70's too, seemed so robust and unchangeable...

Uncle Pete lived upstairs from Grandma and Uncle Joe, in his apartment with Aunt Theresa. They had two sons---one, Frankie, who married and moved away, and the other, Peter, who was the oldest, but who had been born disabled and blind and who lived in a home for many years. He died sometime in the early 70's, which means I was alive, but I don't have any recollection of him at all save from pictures and home movies.

Uncle Pete and Uncle Joe had both fought in World War II. Uncle Pete was in the army and Uncle Joe in the Navy. Uncle Pete had been a prisoner of war in Germany. I had heard stories of how the family didn't know he was dead or alive for the longest time, how Grandma had cried and banged her head on the wall. I can imagine her surrounded my her daughters, all worrying... Of course, in my head, this is all in black-and-white, like the pictures from that time are, the ones that were in the cardboard box in the closet that Grandma used to let me pore over on quiet afternoons.

Uncle Pete was fine up until the Spring of 2004. I have pictures of him from President's Day that year, the last time I saw him before it all happened---he looks like he always did, big toothy grin, laughing eyes, white hair... A few months later, he went in for cardiac surgery and suffered a stroke. He has had set-backs ever since, and has never come home for more than an overnight. He now lives in a nursing home up the road from Grandma's house, and Aunt Theresa goes there every day. Every day for 2 years.

As time passes, he starts to look frailer, more like an aged person to me. His skin has lost its eleasticity, he's gained some weight, he's in a wheelchair, he doesn't really smile much and barely talks. But his eyes still shine sometimes.

He seems to enjoy when I bring the little man with me.

Aunt Nettie is in her early 80's. She has been battling a form of leukemia for the last 2 years or so. The treatment has made her lose weight. It also made her lose her hair for a while. She is now about 90 lbs...! And her trademark red hair (dyed) has lost some of its vibrancy. But she shuffles on! When I see her now, I see Grandma... in her face. It's uncanny really because Aunt Nettie never resembled Grandma in my mind in her younger days. But now, that she is aging, if you look hard enough, you see Grandma's eyes.

Aunt Nettie lives in Uncle Joe's old apartment, with Uncle Mike. She has a room full of angels. Her refrigerator was epic in its covering of magnets and photos but when she got a new one recently, she didn't put anything back. When I am over there and I catch the refrigerator doors out the corner of my eye, it shocks me, the blankness of them...

Aunt Nettie is like a grandmother to us. Like a mother to my Mom, who lost her mother so many years ago. And like the grandmother we never had to my sisters and me. We don't see her as often as we should---and although some of us call her regularly, it is hard to hold a conversation because she can barely hear us and has never gotten a hearing aid to fix that. But she is THERE. In that house. In Grandma's house. She is Aunt Nettie.

I don't know how any of us will recover when she goes.

I only see Aunt Nettie about once a month. I like to bring the little man with me when I can because I know that she will not be here forever and I want him to remember her a little. I want to know that when he sees a picture of her, he will be able to say "That's Aunt Nettie" and will have some inkling, some recollection, of her, of who she was and how she loved him.

I have too many memories of people who I never knew except for those pictures in that cardboard box in the closet. I hope that Aunt Nettie and Uncle Pete will be with us a few more years. Maybe that is selfish---I don't want those years to be painful for them! But I don't want to let them go yet...

When Grandma died, she was our matriarch and it changed things. And then Uncle Joe---things were never the same. But we swirled around and reconfigured and it was okay, as okay as it could have been. But I know things will really change when we lose Uncle Pete and Aunt Nettie.

The house will go---be sold for sure. Aunt Theresa and Uncle Mike will move away, probably closer to their children.

And the family, that family, those six children, will all be in our memories.

I don't want to think about it too hard because it scares me to imagine...


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