Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Remembering Aunt Mollie

Today is the funeral for my Aunt Mollie, formally named Mollie P. Ianno. Her maiden name was Fonte and she was my dad's eldest sister. Actually, her name was Mary Pauline Fonte, but her mother was also named Mary so, she became "Mollie." Mollie took care of my dad and her other seven siblings as well as she could in a large and poor Italian home. She spoke often about how my dad was a "good boy" and had a tough tone to her description of three other siblings.

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:
Becoming Mollie
she lived for ten+ decades with
an orange tree's deep roots.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

My favorite TV Dad (response to Poets & Writers non-fiction Time is Now: Week 25)

I had a challenging relationship with my dad while I was growing up and even into my early adulthood.  Two strong personalities, Italian-heritage, and I understand now, he struggled with PTSD from World War II and growing up in an alcoholic Italian home.

So television in our household became a refuge from reality and, as I respond to this prompt, Danny Thomas from the Danny Thomas show popped into my mind as my favorite TV dad.  As I remember Danny he was funny and urban (they lived in an upscale yet still modest apartment) in NYC.  He had funny friends such as Hans Conrad and a wife who wore dresses with a white ruffled slip.  She always wore high heels, too.  Was she called Margorie or Margaret?  That I don't remember.

But I clearly remember Rusty and Linda and the fondness Danny would show for them even amidst their escapades and mild misbehaviors.  I couldn't imagine Danny taking a wooden painting stick and spank Linda or shake Rusty's shoulders until Rusty's head hurt.  No, Danny wouldn't do that.

My least favorite--although the prompt doesn't ask me to name one--was Ozzie Nelson.  I thought he was boring and stupid.  He wasn't funny and I couldn't understand how he could have two cool sons, especially Ricky. And tho David was less cute he was smart--smarter than his dad.  Maybe that was the point: two boys, and often the mom, Harriet, could always outsmart Ozzie.

Interesting times to grow up in and reflect upon as Father's Day approaches.

And I will not end on a sour note about my dad. He did the best he could under the circumstances of the 1950s.  He worked hard all his life, often in two jobs, with an education six weeks short of high school thanks to his dad who yanked him into the landscaping business rather than let him graduate. If he had that high school diploma, even after the war, I can imagine him using the GI Bill to better his life and the life of his family.

But even without that diploma, dad (and mom who also worked--a rarity for her generation) left his life with more than a wheelbarrow (the sole legacy of his father).  After a near death experience two months before his actual death in August 2014, his first questions to Mark and me were:  Did the mail come? Did I get my Social Security check?

I can't imagine Danny Thomas or Ozzie Nelson asking that question. Sometimes reality outplays fiction.