Sunday, March 30, 2014

Home-word Bound: Memories

March 29 – Today our drive is full of dark clouds, pouring rain, and stop-and-go traffic. It’s long and tiring, so we spend time talking about our experiences.

What a strange feeling, looking back over the two months we’ve stayed here.  We feel as though we’ve been away much longer, because of all that we did, because of all that happened.

Our house was constantly filled with visitors, which is what we wanted and planned for when we found a rental. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a nice open kitchen and dining area, our own small pool and lanai. This house is lovely, with a great open plan and a bigger-than-average seating area around the pool. 

It’s lived-in, needs some deep cleaning and carpets replaced, but we felt comfortable. We didn’t have to worry about cats and kids, with their exuberance and freestyle ways.

 In the beginning, I didn’t want to bother the property manager, Vera Gualano, but I learned later on that I should have. Clearly, it means a lot to her to ensure the house is being maintained properly. I would rent through her again with no hesitation.

Each visitor brings their own gifts of conversation, excitement, love, and interests. Mike and Rita were in this area of Kissimmee only last year, so they take us exploring. They fit us perfectly, like brothers and sisters often do. Easy, comfortable, fun, generous and in our loss of Sahara, so very consoling. 

We're together when Mike and Rita's daughter, Laura, calls from Ontario. She's engaged to be married to a wonderful young man and we toast their love and happiness.

 Kristen, John, Ben and Cate bring high spirits, energy, laughter and fun. We play in the pool for hours, visit Universal Studios and play cards at night. They spend fourteen hours at Disney one day! It’s pure joy for me, every minute I can wake up and see their amazing faces. 

I haven’t spent this much time with my daughter’s partner. Now I appreciate and love him even more.  I cannot describe the feelings I have for this daughter of mine, this strong beautiful talented amazing woman whom I still remember as a little hand in mine. 

It’s during my daughter and her family’s visit that we hear about Rose. For a couple of years now, we must admit, we have grieved for her loss. 

At ninety-five, Rose was no longer able to do all the things she loved such as cook and garden. She was very often unable to communicate and this was a woman who loved to tell stories, ask questions, give fiercely held opinions, offer unsolicited advice. 

Rosie was a huge presence. She ran her household with gusto, was the original reduce, reuse, recycler. Her sauce and pasta were unparalleled, along with her pizza, melting moments cookies, biscotti, apple or lemon meringue pies, butter tarts, scrippelle…

When she had leftover pizza dough, she’d roll it up, fry them and salt them, and presto! Long Johns to munch! At special times of the year, such as Christmas, she made her own Christmas cake, and at Easter, she made sweet, fruity bread. I remember her salads were always delicious because most of the vegetables came from their garden, and the dressing she made was perfect. Rose, along with assistance from her husbands and sons and later, daughters-in-law and grandkids, was the consummate hostess, and she loved having family around. 

Although she was a woman of deep faith, Rose didn’t take too long to accept me, even though I was half responsible for her son’s marriage break up. Because he loved me, and she loved her son, she eventually enfolded me in her circle. Nowadays, she sat mostly sleeping in her chair, often unable to recognize people. She never forgot her sons, though, even if she couldn’t retrieve their names. When Vince and I would visit, her eyes were often vacant when she looked at me, but as she gazed upon him, a light would appear. She’d rest her head on his shoulder and pat his belly, as though soothing her baby boy. 

Very often, we’d shed lots of tears when we left her, for the loss of her quality of life. When she falls that day in February and breaks her hip, we fervently pray that she'll go to sleep, go to where she can play cards again, tend a garden, give a family dinner, run around on two strong legs. On March 1, she does just that.

Vince books a flight home for Saturday afternoon, so I drive him to the airport. It’s a hasty decision, one we somewhat regret later. When he’s home in Canada, alone, feeling the effects of losing his mother, in a house that’s torn apart for painting, his voice is tearful and sad. I wish then that we had waited until Sunday, when I could have gone with him. My sister Chris and her husband Dave arrive tonight and I have booked a flight and back again for the funeral only. I feel as though I am in a bubble. Here I am, enjoying the company of my beloved sister and brother-in-law, while Vince grapples with grief. The first night, Dave and I drink a couple of bottles of wine (okay, each), make a few drunk calls, sleep late the next day. Their friend Grant’s son, Adam, comes to visit and we have a ball. 

On Tuesday, I take a cab at 3 a.m. and get on a plane, wearing a sundress and my sister’s boots. Our friends Mary Jo and Peter meet me at the airport. It’s surreal, getting to hug and kiss them unexpectedly, and stepping over ice and snow. When Vince sees my face in the doorway of the funeral home, he begins to cry. I wrap him in my arms and kiss him, and he lets his sorrow flow. The day is a whirlwind of family, friends, tears, laughter, funeral egg salad sandwiches, and memories. Our nephews and Vince’s sons are pallbearers; our nieces do readings at the Mass. We are so proud of our children. The grandkids add zest and innocence. Dylan speaks for all of us as the casket is raised and inserted into the crypt: “Wow, that was awesome,” he says and we all smile. Because it was awesome—the celebration of a life well lived, Rosie’s long, loving legacy, the memories, the joys and sorrows. 

Suddenly we are back in Florida. We visit my cousin Wendy and Dennis the next day, revel in their company, in the sunshine, marvel at the dolphins, and of course eat and drink well. For the rest of Chris and Dave’s stay, we laugh and swim and sun and talk. We talk about loss, we talk about life and love. 

After we reluctantly allow Chris and Dave to leave early Saturday morning, we get ready for David, Rebecca, Sydney and Evan. Once again, the house is filled with high spirits, laughter, playfulness, romps in the pool for hours. They spend a whole day at Disney and excitedly describe every moment when they get back. 

I am so grateful for their presence in my life, never ever take for granted the fact that they have embraced me and treat me as mother-in-law, friend, grandmother.

When they leave, we are glad that our friends Helen and Sandy and Maire and John are arriving, the Duplassies on Saturday and the Kearns’s on Monday. Since we’ve been friends for over forty years, there is complete and utter comfort and ease in their presence. We can be ourselves. We enjoy the warm air, the pool, shouting at each other over cards, and going out for dinner. We visit Winter Garden and Bok Tower Gardens. The four of them spend three days in Bonita Springs, while we stay home with Monkey. 

Then suddenly there we were, on our last day, crying over Sahara, our faces looking toward home and certain realities. 

But the lilacs in Georgia are in full purple bloom and the radio is playing our favorite songs. We start to sing. We feel very lucky, very blessed, very grateful. Monkey meows in her pet carrier.

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