Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I talked with my cousin Roseanne the other day. She had a wonderful birthday...she told me that she turned 70. I can't believe it - in my mind, when I think of her, I see her as a young woman in her mid-20s, when I was a child. When I look at her photo, as I am right now, I see that she's aged some, but she looks pretty damn good for someone who is 70 years old, and she is still just as beautiful as she was when I was little.

Roseanne was 19 years old when I was born, and in many respects, I'm more her child than her cousin. She and I have always, always had a very special relationship, a closer relationship than is usual, even for our family with its intergenerational tangled web of love.

When my mother and I came home from the hospital on September 23, 1955, my parent's 10th wedding anniversary, we didnt' go home to our apartment on Marie Ave, but instead, came home to my grandmother's house - the Catalano family headquarters, as it were - on B Street, and from that day onward, there I was mothered and petted and cheered and spanked and hugged and fed in every possible way by the women of the family: Grammie, my nanas - Auntie Anna and Auntie Nettie, Roseanne, Terry and Ethel.

But Roseanne was special. She and I just loved each other so much - that's all there is to it. We are both pretty emotional people and we always have to cry for the first few minutes of every phone call.

Let me list some memories of Roseanne: She was so very beautiful, stunningly beautiful. She looked a lot like Natalie Wood, and cars would slow down to look at her on the street. She was lots of fun and laughed a lot. She and her girlfriends were kind of mischievous and skipped a lot of school, but now, at 70, they are still tight. I wish I had friends like that. But Roseanne does, and thats because she knows how to love people. Its just a gift - some people have it. Our grandmother had it, and Roseanne does too.

Ro is also endlessly supportive, no matter what it is that you are involved in. Even when she disagrees with me (and that has happened a lot in my life), she still loves me and cares for my wellbeing. Even when she is wrong, and that has happened as well, the love and care is still there.

Ro is a funny person in some ways - she is intensely private and also very open, at the same time. It took until I was more than 40 years old for her to talk to me about her childhood, when her father died, and her feelings of abandonment. On the other hand,I know that she feels things deeply and speaking is difficult when your throat is closed from the tears.

I remember Ro ironing my taffeta dresses so I'd look nice in the school photos. She used to give me Little Miss Tonette perms when I was kid, and sometimes she'd cut my hair. Blood and guts don't faze her - and she's removed countless splinters, and patched me up a million times. She and Terry taught me to fight so that I could defend myself in the schoolyard. She helped me practice my lines for plays and assemblies when I was in school.

Roseanne always had very elegant taste and wore beautiful and expensive clothing. I remember sitting on the bed and watching her get ready to go out. I used to think of her as a princess... as soon as she was gone, I used to try her clothes on, put her lipstick (always a shade of peach) on, and wear her shoes. She had beautiful, high heeled shoes. Unfortunately, I wore orthopedic shoes, and they were knotted on so I'd put her shoes on right over mine.... and once they got stuck - I couldn't get her shoes off my feet and those gorgeous spike heels had to be cut off.... Man, was she mad! But not for long - that's one thing about Roseanne. If she has something to tell you, she will, and she won't beat around the bush. She can be very direct, and she does have a temper. But then, its over. She doesn't hold grudges, and she doesn't stay mad for long.

Sometimes we'd go in Jerry's convertible to the beach to get clams or ice cream, just her and me. She had a few miscarriages after they married, so I didn't have to share my place in her heart with anyone for a while, and sometimes we'd go places. I used to like to go shopping with her, just to see the beautiful clothing and to spray the fine perfumes all over my plump 10 year old body.

She was also pretty unshakeable as a mother. When Joseph Michael would stop breathing, she'd just move him around and pat his back and talk nice to him: "Now Joseph, breathe for mama now. Come on and breathe for mama." And he always did - who could resist her? There isn't a male alive who could resist her. Another mother would have freaked out, but Roseanne just dealt with the situation.

Ro is also a great cook. I had dreams that I was eating her steak pizzaiola this past winter and had to call her up for the recipe. Man, was it good.

I just love her so much. No matter what was going on her life, she made time for me and made me feel smart and special. And I was special to her. Some kids never get that from anyone.... I'm very lucky to have her. My life would be so much poorer without her.

I can't believe that she is 70. I'm looking at the picture of her, me and Ethel, and I can't believe that she is 70. And I can't believe that just the three of us are left to remember what it was like when Grammie and Grampie were alive... the garden in Miss Boutelier's yard, the old cottage, the summer kitchen in the cellar, the concord grape vine growing up the tree, the peach tree in the front yard where the door to the cellar apartment is now, the roses on the front stoop... The old green kitchen, the garland stove, the smell of the Easter baking, the pasta drying on floured sheets on every flat surface of the house... Just the three of us to remember.

I love my cousin Roseanne so very, very much - I don't have words to express it. I hope she knows.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

50 Things I'm Grateful For

1. My daughter is healthy and her cancer has been in remission since 1992.

2. My father still recognizes me.

3. A long life with my most beloved mother from whom I learned so much and who I miss so much.

4. Ethel and Roseanne

5. The B St. kids who are kids no longer

6. That time and space and even death do not change love.

7. The smell of my Grammie's gravy cooking, and all the wonderful memories it evokes... what a wonderful life I've had!

8. An adventurous and well rounded childhood, full of exciting experiences, lots of travel, and meeting many different kinds of people

9. That my daughter has grown into a kind, loving, sentimental, but still strong and don't take no shit young woman.

10. Fr. James. The one man I've met who is not overpowered by me and always, always has the guts to tell me the truth. And I can be pretty scary to men.... Yes, I am VERY thankful for Fr. James.

11. for having found Orthodoxy at a relatively young age, because it takes so long for it to really penetrate and I'm kind of dense about some things....

12. "Beautiful" perfume and "Noa" perfume

13. That crayola still makes boxes of 64 crayons.

14. Puppies, especially my current canine, Puccini

15. The ability to learn how to do stuff from research. The love of research. This has served me very well in my various careers and avocations. And I LOVE learning new things.

16. Learning to swim when I was a baby.

17. That God made lobsters

18. That I know from experience that every cloud truly does have a silver lining.

19. For my ex-husband, who not only gave me the most wonderful daughter, but who has resisted becoming adversarial for her sake, and now is a very good friend. Who would ever have thought it could happen like that?

20. For a loving family, though I miss them so much: Gram and Grampie, Auntie Anna, Auntie Nettie, Uncle Tony, Uncle Joey, Uncle Nicky, George, Jerry, Memiere and Pepiere. Especially Grammie. I'm grateful for Grammie from whom I learned so very much... She was a real character. A real woman. I should be so strong. No matter what life threw her way, she survived with her humor intact. When I grow up, I want to be just like her.

21. Lake Sunapee, NH. San Francisco, CA. Boston, MA. Quebec City.

22. That I'm liberal in the truest meaning of the word.

23. For music and art and all the things that make life beautiful

24. The special quality of sunlight in the early morning

25. Mountains and lakes and rivers

26. Babies after a bath. I love to nibble them!

27. Fishing.... nothing like doing nothing on the water all day....

28. My Vita Mix and my french press coffee pot. Yes, and coffee too!

29. Long drives all by myself

30. Silence - its a good thing!

31. Birch trees. Gardenias. Jonquils. Irises.

32. Tomatoes right off the plant.

33. My pillow. I love my pillow.

34. Guadalupe.

35. My dearest friends: Ellen, Cindy and Joan. They are my family as much as my real family.

36. Freshly laundered sheets

37. Having had the opportunity to love a man deeply

38. That there is always tomorrow. Which is when Scarlett and I will think about it.

39. Internet and email. I am DEEPLY, DEEPLY thankful for internet and email. Deeply.

40. That I still have a couple more careers left in me.

41. That my family lives long, because I am just not taking care of myself the way I should. I'm relying on good genes to carry me through right now...

42. That I never got into drugs or alcohol much when I was younger

43. Jussi Bjorling; Placido Domingo; Chrissie Hynde; Eric Clapton, guitars, harps, flutes, french horns, pianos.... and my most favorite instrument - the human voice

44. I am thankful that I was exposed to opera and classical music as a young child, because I really love them both.

45. I am grateful that when I was 12 years old, on the very last day, my mother finally signed the permission slip so that I could learn the baritone, which allowed me to learn to read music, and as they say, the rest is history

46. Palm Sunday, 1976, St. George Antiochian church choir under the direction of Dean Limberakis, singing a capella (meaning, "of the church") in the gymnasium at Holy Cross Seminary, Boston MA. I fell in love that day, and I have never fallen out of it.

47. That Jarrett Higgins gave me real artists oil paints and took my artistic leanings seriously when I was 10 years old.

48. That Miss Evelyn Murphy, my shorthand teacher in high school, told me that she thought I could do ANYTHING. No one before or since has ever said that to me, and I treasure it in my heart.

49. My new little house - it is so cheerful.... it makes me happy. It doesn't drag me down. Surrounding truly do count.

50. and my number one, most important thing that I am most grateful for: That God has given a wonderful daughter to love. The experience of mothering this particular child has been the most awesome (and I do truly mean, full of awe) experience.... far more than I could ever, ever imagine.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Missing Bea Cieri

I can't even begin to express how much I miss my mother right now. Mothers have an almost mystical quality of safety and love... my mother did, anyway. I talked with Fr. James and he is soooo understanding and honest with me. I value that so much and I don't think I've ever told him how much he has helped me. I don't think I could have gotten through the last year of my mother's life without knowing that I could count on him to tell me truth and to understand.

But he's not my mother. Right now, I just want to lay my head on my mother's shoulder and have her put her arms around me and tell me that everything will be ok. That is not to be. That can never happen again.

Sometimes I think the aloneness and the forever of it all is just too much to bear. And I think it adds to the emotional twisting and turning that I do. Fr. James said that emotions don't mean shit and I know he's right. Its what you DO that matters. But emotions are powerful and you have to allow them to run their course without keeping them going. If you don't allow yourself to FEEL what you are feeling, then you are not living.

And the desire to be known by another is so strong that it surprises me. I didn't feel that way with my husband... but I feel that way now. Why is that? There is no one person that I want to know me, and there certainly is no romantic interest in my life...its not a romantic thing at all.

I think part of why I miss my mother so much is that she is the other. She is the one who knows me, good and bad, and accepted both. Without her, I'm just fluttering in the breeze, hanging on by a thread. Without her to reflect me to me, I don't know what I am. I am lost.

I know intellectually that God knows me and loves me. I know that he has counted the hairs on my head. I know and believe that if he can care for a sparrow, he will care for me. I know that my pastor knows much about me. I know that he accepts me as I am and wants me to grow and mature. I know that he speaks truth to me. I know that I have a wonderful daughter who is far more mature about human frailty that most adults I know. She loves me and emulates me, even in my weaknessess. She knows me intimately because I have allowed her to see into my heart a few times this past year.

But I still miss my mother and that she knew me best. And I knew her best as well. The give and take of knowing and being known is gone now. Its such a loss. Such a loss. And when things happen between myself and others, like with some people I know at church, now I have no anchor to keep me stable, so I'm just fluttering around, a big gaping wound. This can't be healthy.

But I really don't know how to sooth myself... I don't really don't know how to provide that safe haven for myself that my mother was. I pray, not the way I should, but I do pray. And I really trust that God is true and that He is intimately involved in my life. But he's not my mother.

Times like this is when the loss is so fresh. I guess as time goes on, these moments will become fewer, with longer periods in between... at least that's what others have told me. I just have to wait it out. And trusts that God's plan is a good plan and that he is burning off that which is not needed. Just have to wait it out. That's all.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Two Quotes and a Recipe

We must always have old memories and young hopes.

~ Arsen Houssay ~

"The fidelity of a dog is a precious gift demanding no less binding moral responsibilities than the friendship of a human being."

~ Anonymous ~

Tangy Olive Dressing

1 cup ripe green olives, drained and packed

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup water

1 tsp salt

2 cloves fresh garlic

Liquefy all ingredients. Add herbs of your choice for taste. Ripe green olives are best.

Yield: 1 3/4 cup