Never Ready

I saw the note on Facebook. She'd lost her dad which meant he'd lost his dad.  Then a few months later, they lost their mom. I loved him once- a long time ago. I was swallowed up in his family for a long while.  A big, boisterous, proud family.

I never had a meal last as long as I did in his parents' home or a Christmas Eve like I spent with him at his brother's home.  Food.  The food.  Oh my God, the food.

His parents were older than most parents our age.  They lived through the depression and his father fought in World War II.  They wasted nothing and saved everything. They were DIYers before the catch phrase DIY was coined. They budgeted.  They had coffee and cake at the ready always. They were both open and closed, formal and casual.

When I moseyed into their lives, I was 22 or 23 and they were in their 60s somewhere.  Still vibrant. His father the more reserved of the two. His mother was more opinionated, more demonstrative, and I slightly feared her.

He and I lived in NYC for awhile as we tried to decide what to do with ourselves and whether we would do it together. The ultimate answer was decided close to Thanksgiving one year and I spent the Wednesday prior crying in a diner with my own dad. We weren't meant for each other- we knew that but it didn't make it any less miserable.

His parents didn't approve of our living arrangement and only visited once.  I understood and while she didn't give me a seal of approval, she did tell me the bathroom was clean. I held on to that.

We visited them often spending weekends in their home (in separate quarters, of course).  Typical for me was going to bed early and getting up early.  I liked that arrangement.  I'd creep down to the kitchen to find his father already there enjoying a cup of coffee at a small table. He'd offer to make me an egg and then he'd tell me a story.  He stole bananas for his younger siblings when food was scarce in New York City in the 1930's.  He shared some of the less harrowing stories from the war.   He was a firefighter in the Bronx but got hurt and retired early.

Eventually, everyone else would wake up and it would get loud again.

His mother had so many names I couldn't keep them all straight. But I loved getting her to recite them. It was fun to listen to her roll the long sequence of  first and middle names off her tongue.
She wasn't soft and cuddly but she was strong and brave and the best cook you ever met.

I convinced her that a set of her recipes would be a nice thing for a future daughter-in-law to have. So, she wrote her most frequently used recipes in longhand and made multiple copies.  I was not the future daughter-in-law but I still have my copies and every time I go buy tomatoes to make sauce, she's there. "Buy the best you can afford, Jen."

I don't make a lot of sauce, I barely cook.  But I know that her cooking was how she said, "I love you." She loved to feed people. It was a cycle. She fed them, they came back. They brought friends. They brought lovers and then brought spouses. And eventually grandchildren.  Seems like she knew what she was doing.

He died first- the seemingly healthier, though older, of the two.  She followed within a few months. Fiercely independent to the end. Though no longer strong and suffering from dementia, she got out of bed and fell.  A few days later she died.

I pass their house frequently.  While it's not directly in my travels to the grocery store or town, it's only a small detour to drive by. When they bought the house, they didn't move in immediately but he was given a key.  We snuck in one weekend and spent the night in sleeping bags on the floor. But once again, there's no one there. Our secret will stay in that house.

"I wasn't ready to lose them." he said.

I think he already knew everything they had to teach.  Love your family.  Hold it close. Be fierce. Be brave.

He was as ready as he ever could have been. Much as I can hear his mother's voice in my head, I hope he can hear his father's reassuring him that perhaps they aren't so far away after all.

His father is there in the quiet moments he shares with his own kids. They are there at every family gathering.  Paul, I can hear your mother laughing, can you?


  1. Amazing piece and a lovely tribute to these people who played an important role in your life. Keep writing!!


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