Less than two hours into 2006, my Great-Aunt Lil died at the age of 92. She was suffering from senile dementia for a few years, and with her passing, the last of her generation is gone.
A few years back when we first suspected her mind was slipping, I spent the day interviewing her in front of a tape recorder. She was our last insight into that era, and it was too precious to let her memories and perspective slip into the ether unrecorded. I have almost three hours of her life stories, embarassing family anecdotes, love advice for the youngsters and proud moments which just made her beam. Right now the sound files are raw 74-minute .wavs, but I'd like to edit them This American Life-style, or at the very least put some timestamps around salient points for easy access.
I went down the shore to Aunt Lil's wake yesterday, and it was a traditional Italian thing. Viewing from 2-4, a nice dinner out for the folks who spent the day, and another viewing from 7-9pm. At the viewing was a bevy of cousins on the Italian side of the family (mom's side) that I haven't seen since my grandfather's passing in 1991. I can't tell you how awesome it was to see them.
At one point I was talking to someone and this guy walks up behind me and picked a piece of lint off my pant leg. I had no idea who he was, but some sensor in my invisible antennae told me that we shared DNA, you know? I knew he was family (as opposed to an unknown family friend or former caretaker) just by how he felt near me. That might sound new-agey and flaky, but it's true. (It had nothing to do with the fact he was picking lint off my pant-leg. Nope.)
It's amazing to see yourself in people you hardly know. My cousin Ron Jr. resembles my grandfather, but he also looks a bit like my brother. As we all looked through old photos, you could see even more resemblances. Family is a beautiful thing, and I am so frikkin' blessed to have a really awesome, educated, snarky, funny, snappy, affectionate one. (Yay! I even have gay cousins with exceptional taste and sassy panache!)
At Aunt Lil's 80th birthday party back in '93, we all signed a guestbook and wrote down our favorite Aunt Lil stories. My brother wrote this hilarious made-up thing about how when we were small, my mom, my cousin Bev and Aunt Lil were taking me, my brother and my cousin Rich to see the Rockettes at Radio City. While en route, our cabbie had a heart attack and my cousin Bev (a nurse) gave him CPR while Aunt Lil leaped over the seat and took a hold of the wheel and drove 100MPH through the streets of NYC as if she'd been a cabbie all her life. When we got to Radio City we bumped into Frank Sinatra who lamented not trying hard enough to win Aunt Lil's heart and losing her to her husband Uncle Paul. Frank Sinatra got us into Radio City and got us the best seats in the house. The story continued. As my mom read this entry in this book she said aloud, "Hmmm, I don't remember this happening..." and we all fell apart. My brother rules. :-) We passed the book around and were all giggling at how well-written and silly the story was.
Anyhoo, the cousins all made a date for Presidents Day Weekend where we will spend the weekend down the shore and teach each other how to cook all the stuff our respective grandparents taught us to make. Mom will show us how to make Pop Joe's meatballs and the Feniello strufola, Bev will show us how to make Easter Sweet Bread and Irish soda bread, Doris will show us how to make chocolate ricotta pie, and I will show everyone how to unbutton their pants button all stealthy-like. We're also going to go through the giant boxes of pictures left to us by the last generation and put names and dates on things, since many of my generation don't know who the older folks are. My cousin-in-law Sue is really terrific at making scrapbooks and pictureboards and such, so I'm sure her rockin' skillz will be put to use. I'm really looking forward to it!
It is a little scary to know that my parents are now officially the old generation now. I almost fell apart sitting in front of Aunt Lil's casket with my parents as the priest said his schpiel. Some part of my brain finally acknowledged that someday I will be looking at my folks laying there, and dude, I simply cannot cannot CANNOT CANNOT
Anyway, I got home late last night and took a half-day today, waking up around 9:30 and dozing until almost noon in the World's Comfiest Bed.
Life is warm and good.