November 22, 2016
Saying Goodbye to Maureen
For the last week or so I have been spending time with my cousin Maureen and her family. Maureen is actually my mother’s cousin. But in Italian families that does not matter. We are all cugine, cousins. Maureen was at the beginning of the generation post World War II and is 5 years older than I am. That didn’t stop us, however, from becoming fast friends.
Maureen lived in the old Italian neighborhood where my nonni e bisnonna, my grandparents and great grandmother, lived. She attended the Italian Catholic Church, went to school with mostly Italians through 8th grade and lived more of the Italian-American life than I did.
For me it was always a treat to spend time at Maureen’s house. Her mamma, Auntie Emma, was always so good to me and her father, Uncle Dick was a musician and a politician among other things. He wasn’t home much but there were instruments everywhere! And when we did see him it was time for music and laughter.
It was also quiet at Maureen’s house unless her brother Richard instigated something. I loved the solitude at her home. Ours was always full of noise, both the good kind and the not so good. At Maureen’s house, I could refresh my soul with silence, walk the neighborhood and smell the sauce cooking from all the open windows, and see Italian people who looked like me.
Maureen preferred to visit our rambunctious home. When she slept at my house we slept together in a tiny single bed. We giggled and laughed until we fell asleep. In the morning, the chaos was hard for me. Yet Maureen reveled in the cacophony of sounds and smells coming from the kitchen outside my bedroom door. Mom was always frying up Italian doughnuts on the weekends or making pancakes and eggs. There were several quarts of TANG or orange juice available for all. We had about 10 different cereal boxes and sometimes hot chocolate. My brothers would be fighting over the cereals and teasing us. My sister was a baby and mom needed to attend to her, or I did. Maureen loved it and we loved her for it too.
Richard and Maureen were like siblings to us. We spent holidays together every year. Christmas was the biggest party of all. With at least 7 kids opening presents it was crazy. (The photo below shows my big brother Jim, me, Maureen next to me and her brother Richard.)
Auntie Emma was a very strong woman who wanted her daughter to have a great life. Because of that, Maureen often did not have a say in what she wanted to do. Her mother put her into the best dance school in St. Paul when she was about 3 years old. She also enrolled her in piano lessons by about age 6. Even though she didn’t want to do these things at first, music and dance became the core of her being.
Today she is still dancing. She achieved one of her goals by dancing in two venues at Disneyland in 2014. She was the eldest dancer in the troop and did just fine. Now she dances with a group of seniors. As she said to me, “As long as I can wear my tap shoes at least once a week, I am doing fine.”
All was not jolly for Maureen growing up. Her father worked day and night. Her mother died of Cancer when Maureen was 21. Her first marriage ended when her first son Jim (my god-son) was 3 weeks old and only a few years after her mother’s passing.
What came out of that divorce was a sense of freedom. My cousin Maureen has always HATED winters in Minnesota. So she packed up her bags, and with the help of my Nonna and Zia Fran, she drove to Los Angeles and started her new life with her baby boy. Jim celebrated his first birthday in L.A.
After some modeling work and various jobs, Maureen became one of the first female police officers on the UCLA campus. Not only that, she graduated from training at the top of her class. They were not even sure how to dress her. She was forced to wear skirts for quite a while and had to carry her gun in her purse. Can you imagine that today?
Soon Maureen met another officer and married once again. Eventually she had 3 sons, Jim, Steven and Rick.
I visited them every year and they always came back to Minnesota to see us. When Maureen brought Steven home it was obvious to my mother that there was something not quite right. Maureen’s first heartbreak in this second marriage was the discovery that Steven would always be mentally challenged. He was and is a beautiful boy who most likely will not ever develop emotionally beyond about age 1 ½. Maureen’s husband was not much help but she did have Jim to help her.
That is, until Jim became ill. Jim celebrated his 9th birthday in the hospital after surgery for cancer. He was not expected to live very long. I was there with them all. And we had prayer circles going around the world for this child. Above all, Jim wanted to live more than anyone I have ever seen. Somehow, he survived and, touch wood, it is completely gone. He is now in his 40s.
Soon after Jim’s torment with cancer, along came his baby brother Rick. What a sweet and healthy boy. Last week he ran the 26.2 mile Rock and Roll Marathon in Las Vegas. He is a police officer and a great person. See Jim on top and Rick on the bottom with their mom.
Maureen’s mother and father are gone. Her brother also passed suddenly in September, 2012. Another loss that is so difficult for her and for us all. He, too, was like our brother. We visited his grave again on her last visit to Minnesota. All her family is gone now except ours and her kids, their spouses and one grandson.
Maureen is also, like me, a traveler and a person hungry for knowledge. She loves art, music, theatre and so many other things that I enjoy. One thing she loves that I do not particularly need is THE CAMARO. Maureen bought her first Camaro in 1968. It was a red/orange color with black stripes. She is now on her 8th Camaro, a sharp looking red number. Too bad she drives the speed limit here in L.A. She wouldn’t let me drive it either. She knows me too well.
My cousin Maureen and I have shared secrets since I began to talk. We even worked together when I was younger. We joined the St. Paul Clowns Club and entertained at the prisons together. She would dance and I would sing. That didn’t last long. I am not sure who was more difficult to handle, the prisoners or the Clowns.
She has always been close by. I am really going to miss her and her entire family when I live in Italy. Maureen, with all that has happened to her, has developed claustrophobia. This is a woman who traveled Europe 4 times and yet, now, cannot fly for that long without panic. I hope that someday she will visit Italy again. It was she who first introduced me to my mother’s family in 1971. I hope her clipped wings will heal soon.
Maureen, my cousin, my soul sister, I will miss you.
Ciao for now!
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Ciao for Now!
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