She was tiny. Like a hobbit. In 1967, I remember visiting her when I was eighteen and she danced the tarentellla for me in her Arcadia, California kitchen. Sunlight streamed through the windows and bounced off the white porcelain sink as she twirled with a sharp tomato-cutting knife in her hands. Her husband, Frank, made fresh pasta. He loved to drive his car on the wide streets. His belly rubbed behind the steering wheel as he chauffered me to see Blue Boy at the Huntington Library and Museum. My cousins, Chuckie and Frankie, took me to my first trip to Disneyland. I don't remember any details from that drive or visit, except the speed of the freeway with convertibles flying past us like noisy blue jays. Jeannie was married and out of the house then with her own growing family of three, but we have bonded since she became Aunt Mollie's companion and caregiver.
Many visits to California to see my auntie since then. First in Hemet where Aunt Mollie had Christmas cactus on each windowsill in their sun room. For twenty years the one she gave me flourished in my bathroom, but this Spring, as her 102 year old body finally began failing, the cactus also began to shrink. Still struggling to survive, it's on my shaded patio, returning full circle to its place in the sun. Later, my husband and I visited her in Fountain Valley where she was the little queen in Jeannie's home, celebrating her 100th birthday under the magnolia tree with friends and family.
After my dad died in 2014, Aunt Mollie was my last link to him and to the childhood stories about Dad that gave me insight into his adult behaviors. Her stories, no doubt embellished with the love of a big sister and adjusted memory of an old woman, helped me forgive him for his many faults and helped me appreciate the deprivation that drove his demons. My dad always saw the cup as "half empty" or nearly so. Aunt Mollie always saw the cup as "half full" or full to overflowing.
She's gone now, too. Buried today in Calfornia...where the dreamin' for some, still goes on.
photo of Aunt Mollie at the Ted DeGrazia Chapel altar
My tiny tribute poem reads:
she lived for ten+ decades with
an orange tree's deep roots.