Showing posts with label Maria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Maria. Show all posts

Friday, June 13, 2014

An Enduring Friendship

It is one of those times of the year that a sense of sadness sets in.  Ann has been away, visiting her good friend, Maria, who she considers the sister she never had, in Palermo Sicily, staying with her and husband Beny. 

It’s a long story, one best told by Ann.  Maybe I’ll ask her to write something in more detail when she returns, but here’s a summary.  Ann and I met in 1965 when she was hired by the publishing firm I was working for.  She was soon promoted to manage Customer Service and she needed a secretary / administrative assistant.  Publishing companies are notorious about their low pay and the salary she was permitted to offer was really for an entry level – even a less than a full time – employee.  A then 17 year old Maria applied for the job and Ann and she (seven years her “senior”) hit it off.  Ann recognized an inherent intelligence in Maria and vulnerability as well.  Maria’s family originally was from Sicily.  After immigrating, her father worked as a house painter on Long Island.  She had two younger brothers.  No one spoke English in the family, except Maria.  So Maria became the spokesperson for the family, and the family depended on her, to such an extent that it was overshadowing her maturation as a young woman.

Ann became not only became her boss but her mentor as well.  Maria tried to get her own place in New York, to break from the family, but her parents would not approve.  However, they would approve of her finding a job and moving back to Sicily, on her own!  (A place they knew and considered safer, especially with relatives there.)  And that was what Ann encouraged Maria to do, at least temporarily, so should could claim her own life.  I could go into detail as to what happened (Maria’s excellent command of both Italian and English made her exceptionally well qualified for employment there), but I’ll leave that up to Ann if she is so inclined to write.  Maria’s “temporary” relocation to Palermo Sicily became a life, marrying Beny 40 years ago, raising a son, David.  Of course Maria and Beny frequently visited the US to see her parents while they were still alive and to see us, but Ann has made it almost a yearly pilgrimage to be with Maria, her family and friends. 

I went with Ann a few years ago to attend their son’s wedding, but hers is basically a bonding trip for them, no place really for me during three long weeks, so I attend to the “home fires.”  That now means preparing the house for the onslaught of a Florida summer and possible hurricanes, playing lots of piano and reading and some writing, and getting ready for our trip north to live on our boat in Connecticut.   

Although apart, there are now emails and Skype although I prefer the former.  Ann has had good Wi-Fi connections and she has her iPod with her so although apart, we can share our experiences, such as some photos while she’s visited. 

In the “old days,” we wrote letters and post cards, with a rare overseas call (very expensive then).  I remember when we were first married, living on Rabbit Hill in Westport, our first house.

Ann made her first trip to Palermo in 1972.  We had our “first child” a frisky Miniature Schnauzer puppy, Muffin.  We loved her dearly.  I was eagerly looking forward to receiving Ann’s next letter (she had promised a lengthy one in her prior one) so that night I drove home from my office in Westport and opened the door (in which there was a slot for mail), and found the mail, as well as her letter, mostly eaten by our pup.  Especially her letter – Muffin must have identified the scent.  I pieced together what I could. 

While she has been gone the last few weeks, I read a collection of Updike short stories, The Afterlife, and I’m just finishing Julian Barnes’ Nothing to Be Frightened Of which is part memoir, part philosophical treatise on mortality.  In fact, the confluence of reading these two titles during the past few weeks strikes me as being somewhat eerie.  I’ll probably have something to say about them when I’m finished with the Barnes’ book. 

I welcome back Ann on Father’s Day and will await her tales, especially as this year she and Maria made several side trips, one in particular that took her to Milan where they stayed and toured for a few days.  Maria and Beny have bought an apartment there, a home away from their home in Sicily, and the city in which their son and his wife live. In fact, Ann can describe this better than I – this from an email I just received.  It has a surprisingly bitter-sweet ending, one I suspect is unlikely, but?….

We are going today into the center of Milan.  We'll visit the famous Duomo walk around in the more fashionable part of the city with the beautiful designer shops, you know the Worth Ave/via Veneto of Milan.  I love this city & especially the fantastic neighborhood where their apt is located.  Think trees everywhere, outdoor cafes, little boutique filled charming streets, crammed with great restaurants one after the other with food markets, fresh fruit & veg & flower markets on every corner practically!  The upper west side of NY vibe, with a touch more sophistication.  And young people everywhere.  At night, they fill the caf├ęs & restaurants to overflow….They will be living in a real city with every amenity at their fingertips including an extremely efficient subway system right at their doorstep.  They do not need a car to live very comfortably here.  In fact, I may have seen my beloved Sicily for the last time.  Now it will be Milan if I come again!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Anniversary, Time and Again

I started to write this entry, one which was to mark the second anniversary of my open heart surgery. It was to be an upbeat commentary, following upon a wonderful week we had just spent with our very good friends Beny and Maria visiting us from Palermo. But when I sat down to write a draft, heartbreak intruded, perversely imitating the ethos of Exit the King which we saw only a few days earlier.

Last Monday morning we received a call from Suzanne, the daughter of Ann's cousins, Sherman and Mimi, who had suddenly arrived in Florida where her parents now live. We immediately thought of her father, Ann's first cousin, Sherman, who had just been released from a prolonged hospital stay and ninety days of rehab, who can no longer walk without assistance, and has advanced dementia.  His wife of 56 years, Mimi, had been by his side every day and was now caring for him at home with the help of round-the-clock nursing aids.

But exactly on the second anniversary of my being put into a four day induced coma after open heart surgery, Ann and I rushed to the ER of a Broward hospital that Monday night, as it was not Sherman, but his caregiver, his wife Mimi, who had collapsed and was in a coma. Mimi had been like a big sister to Ann, particularly during Ann's first years in New York City when she arrived as an eighteen year old, fresh from high school graduation in her hometown, Atlanta.

They became close companions in spite of the 11 year age difference and loved living in the Big City which was Mimi's adopted town as well. They biked down to hootenannies in Washington Square park in the early 1960s, went to jazz concerts and Operas in the Village, dancing at the Latin Quarter and Roseland, enjoyed folk singing concerts, Shakespearean plays in Central Park, and took trips to Philadelphia and The Cape and Newport, RI together.  Mimi was her mentor to NY life and they became best friends.

Fast forward, closer to the present. Mimi and Sherman had moved to FL part time when Sherman retired from his long tenure (1960 - 1992) as a Physics professor at FDU.  They were happy in the community they chose in Coconut Creek, but rather recently, Sherman was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.  Rather than commit him to a home, Mimi was determined to stay in their complex, selling their upstairs apartment and buying one on the ground floor for easy egress, and hiring competent home healthcare aids for her husband.  In spite of their age (83 and 85 respectively), she was determined to shelter her husband in familiar surroundings rather than consigning themselves to an independent / assisted living facility.  
Mimi was like a force of nature, self actualizing and one always thought indestructible until we got that call last Monday from her daughter, recounting the sketchy facts as she knew them at that point:  her mother had had a very severe headache, and soon thereafter passed out.  It was a severe brain hemorrhage and she was rushed to ER and when we saw her, unconscious, on a ventilator and life support systems, those memories of my own medically induced comma came flooding back.  But this was very different.

We returned to see her on Wednesday. and Friday and during that time, testing for brain activity was negative.  She was moved to ICU and she lay there looking peaceful, even healthy except for the tubing and the wiring that was basically breathing for her and keeping her hydrated.  Their son, Michael and his wife Miriam, had arrived as well and the decision was finally made to transfer Mimi to the Hospice unit of the same hospital and to disconnect her from life support.  Friday was a day of misery for all.  Suzanne and Michael, of course, carrying the brunt of the grief, we and others there trying to support them. but being deeply distraught as well.

Mimi was a special person.  Her home was open to all.  If a foreign exchange student needed room and board for a school semester or even a school year, Mimi would provide it. If there was a foster child that needed looking after, she stepped up.  She sat with friends who needed care, wrote long letters to each and every one of the hundreds of friends she made along the way, her giving knew no bounds; she was larger than life, the last person one would imagine dying so suddenly.  But she lived life with zest and a song, particularly folksongs and Broadway melodies.  Her children set up a CD player at her bedside and we listened to all her favorites while waiting, waiting, for any sign of life.  When I first entered the room, I heard "Don't Fence Me In" being sung.  When she was taken off of life support she died with the refrains of a Pete Seeger folksong in her ear.

Our hearts go out to Suzanne and Michael, such difficult decisions, but the right ones.  We all recognize that Mimi really died the moment of the massive brain hemorrhage and she only medically survived as the 911 EMT was so swift and efficient.

My own memories of Mimi go back now about 44 years, one of my favorite was a vacation the four of us took up to Lake George, enjoying Oktoberfest at a resort and even managing to get them both out on the Lake itself for a boat ride.  And how do we count all the many family gatherings as well, Mimi and Sherman and Suzanne and Michael were always there, at our home in Weston, CT or we at theirs in New City, NY. So many years, so many wonderful memories. 

As King Berenger says in Exit the King, "Why was I born if it was not forever?" Thanks to that play, I've become pretty hung up over how I "spend" my time.  (what an expression -- time as some sort of a currency, only one that you can't make any more of.  We're all born with a certain quantity in the bank, unequal ones thanks to genetics, environment, accidents, and the twists and turns of life, and choices we make.  I guess we "buy time" with medical advances -- I certainly have.)

I suppose that is one of the main reasons I write this blog.It is not only a record of where my time goes, but it also forces me to think about it.  I could more easily just go see a play or read a book, but I would surely forget about much of it and perhaps understand less of it without delving into the details with an essay.  It is of course merely my take on those matters and, to a degree, I probably remember the past here as I want to and record the present as I would like to remember it in the future. It matters little to the world, but as I've said frequently, I write this mostly for myself. 

Others live those moments on line differently.  I don't Twitter, those ephemeral little birds of thought that go out there and then get lost (or is there a database of Tweets?).  Then there is the ubiquitous Facebook which could be easily renamed "Hey, look at me!"  I guess we're all trying to be the stars of our own reality shows.  One could accuse my blog as being just one big self indulgent look-at-me exercise, but I would like to think that the differences (between this, Twitter, and Facebook) are obvious. This endeavor really does involve a lot of thought, albeit perhaps time not wisely spent, so I return basically to the beginning of this entry, anniversaries.

Given my medical history, every day since my heart surgery and comma of four days has been a "bonus" day.  Even before Mimi's ordeal, I was fully aware of the approach of this anniversary during the last few weeks. It hit home as our friends, Maria and Beny arrived for a brief stay with us from Sicily. Only two months after my operation two years ago I had flown to Sicily (where Ann already was visiting her best friend, Maria), to join everyone in the celebration of Maria's son's wedding to Mariana, and meeting Mariana's parents who were so thrilled to have their daughter marry David.  It was undeniable that the two sets of parents had become best friends and loved being together. The year following their wedding was hell as within months, Mariana's mother was diagnosed with cancer and sadly she is also now gone, a relatively young and vibrant woman just turning 60.  All of that just during the last 24 months.  

With Maria and Beny here, we were able to "spend" some quality time with them, including a day on our new boat, the 'Reprise'. Coincidentally, we planned a small trip up the Intracoastal to  Guanabanas Restaurant in Jupiter, one that we had last been to by boat with our friends Cathy and John only a week before I entered the hospital for that surgery which turned out to be much more serious than anyone could have imagined.  (In fact, as we gaily ate lunch with Cathy and John, my "widow maker" artery was already 99% blocked, of course unknown to me, and I was a candidate for a massive heart attack as I munched on my grouper.)

Arriving at Guanabanas with Maria and Beny I could not help think of the irony of being there again, precisely two years later.  How strange it all seemed, but our visit with them was wonderful, the weather finally cooperating for boating, the clear blue water near the Jupiter Lighthouse reminding us of the waters of the Bahamas.

Meanwhile, I conclude this sad anniversary entry with other photographs of Mimi and Sherman, and Ann and I, taken during that Lake George vacation more than thirty years ago.  Although scanned from faded black and white prints (I used to do my own developing in those days), they capture the essence of her personality (she's in the foreground on the right in each).  This is the way I would like to remember her.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Special Day, A Special Woman

Ann, my wife and best friend, is turning 70. Incredible. When we met in our late 20's, I remember listening to the words of the Paul Simon song of our youth, Old Friends, "Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly? / How terribly strange to be 70." Indeed, how terribly strange it seemed to us then, really unthinkable, but that is the curse of youth, a presumed eternity of life.

We were both working then for the same publishing company in New York City, but at the end of the 1960's I accepted a career opportunity in Westport, CT, and worked at that same job until retirement. Meanwhile, we raised a family: our son, and my son from a prior marriage.

Before taking on the responsibility of child-rearing, Ann continued to work in NYC even after we relocated to Westport, my dropping her off at the Westport train station early in the morning on my way to the office and picking her up on the way home. When Ann was pregnant she stopped working and we did what countless couples did, worked on the house, moved to a larger house, raised our family, worked and played hard (particularly on our boat) and, suddenly, the kids were gone and my working days were concluding. The 70's, 80's 90's, and, now, the first decade of 21st century flew by almost stealthily, but with gathering speed.

How does a marriage survive such a long period of time? By being best friends I think. Simply put, we're simpatico. I've watched the birthday milestones, now, of most of Ann's life and in fact had large surprise parties for her 40th and 50th.
The 50th was particularly special as I wrote a speech which, I thought, really explains her character, and giving a sense of how special she is, and it can be read at the concluding part of this link.

So, another twenty years has gone by and she is now 70 (and I am approaching the same, health willing). Why does it feel like (to us both) we are still kids? Of course our bodies deny that fact as does the mirror, but the mind seems to rule. I still think of her as that youthful, beautiful woman I married, someone who was so very different than I on the one hand, but seemed to share many of my interests.

I've told a lot about those interests since writing this blog, so no need to detail them in this entry. But, over the years, I've scanned many of our photos, and in celebration of Ann's birthday, and her life, I include some here. Happy 70th, Annie!

Might as well start near the beginning, actually the earliest picture I have of her at about one year old. That impish glint is already in her eye

We progress to about 1948. Ann loves dancing and in fact studied Flamenco in her early 20s with one of her employees who later relocated to Spain and became (and still is) a renowned expert on the topic, Estela Zatania. Here Ann is being escorted by her friend, Teddy, at her first Georgia Military Academy Ball. There are a number of photos of Ann as a teenager at various military bases in 1958 and 1959 . She helped organize those dances for servicemen during their basic training out of college.

Ann at fourteen, more recognizable as the women she became.

At her "Sweet Sixteen Birthday Party" which she co-hosted with her best friend Judy, and all their friends. Ann's mother, Rose, is sitting behind her alongside Aunt Emma in the white hat.

Finally, 1959, graduation from Henry Grady High School. Ann's friends got married or went off to college to get married. Ann packed her bags and moved to NYC within months and never looked back.

What does one do in NYC other than work during the day and go to school at nights? Naturally, Ann gravitated towards the performing arts, did one off-off Broadway production, Ann taking a bow as the leading lady in "The Moon is Blue," and she played a mean pair of maracas.

And, if one is going to do theatre, why not mix in a little modeling on the side? Here is a real ham at work.

She also hammed it up on a boat somewhere in New England, little knowing that boating was going to figure prominently in her life.

Finally, the big time. Meeting me and getting married! In my speech at her 50th birthday, linked above, I adlibbed that she had "married well" which brought everyone to uproarious laughter as we all know she could have done a lot better.

One of the responsibilities Ann took on was to become a step-mother to Chris. I am proud that they have a great relationship to this day and consider themselves spiritual mother and son.

And, then there is our son, Jonathan, who inherited his wanderlust from his mother. Here we are at the Montauk Inlet, probably around 1984, on our way to Block Island.

For several years I had a non-commercial lobster license and we would tend to several lobster pots off of the Norwalk Islands. Ann was a good sport about this and would often remark to people," look at these hands and manicured nails -- they've been in lobster pots!"

As I said earlier, I was able to pull off big surprise birthday parties for Ann, for her 40th and her 50th, those ten years between being some of the best of our lives. Friends and relatives from far joined in these celebrations.

We've done a lot of travel while married, mine mostly for business, Ann sometimes accompanying me and trying to squeeze in some personal time. Now that I am retired, it is all for pleasure, mostly hers. She is an inveterate traveler, always ready to pack her bag to visit her best friend, Maria, in Sicily or other parts of the world, too numerous to list here.

Finally, the most recent picture of us together, on our little boat in Lake Worth at sunset.