(The Finale) SCENE THIRTY
Whenever my Grandmother heard people say “Why me?” she used to always come back with the response “Why not me?” When I questioned her about it, she said “Why am I so special that nothing bad can happen to me? We all have our cross to bear.”
I never forgot those words throughout my entire life. My Grandmother was a brilliant woman full of intuition and style. (My Mother nicknamed her “Granny Good Witch,” and I pictured her as Glinda, the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz.) She never completed school because she had to take care of family, and home responsibilities came first, but she was educated well beyond her time. If she had received a formal education, I believe she could have been another RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) in today’s world. She definitely would have been a precedent-setting woman that others would have looked up to.
I share this with you for two reasons. First; every child needs an adult figure to look up to, admire, and respect (like a grandparent.) Second; every child needs to experience traditions to realize how they add meaning to your life while growing up. Without these two important ingredient’s in your childhood, disasters will be harder to handle when they come along. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when bad things will happen to us. I believe the very reason I am still here today enjoying what life has to offer is because of how my Grandma and my Parents raised me.
When everything seemed to fail me, or I felt victimized and helpless, I remembered those words my Grandma spoke “Why not me?” None of us are getting out of here alive, so you have to face facts. Everyone will suffer at some point in time from loss or devastation. When these hard times come along, it is tradition that will give you moments of happiness and strength. At least it did for me.
Let me share a short story about one Christmas long ago during the period of time that I was losing everything in the recession.
My Sisters made sure I would have gas money to get home, so I planned on being at Jolie’s house that Christmas Eve and Christmas day. I knew I would have my family around me, great meals, awesome cookies, festive cocktails, and plenty of Holiday cheer with our children. But what I didn’t have, was the ability to contribute monetarily and to buy gifts, as we had always done in the past. It would be difficult to put on a happy face when I was in the middle of the worst life crisis anyone could face and try to feel festive. It was a severe blow to my ego not to be able to shower everyone with luxury gifts of jewelry, watches, Montblanc writing instruments, or Gucci accessories, like I had been able to do in years past.
So I made a promise to myself to enjoy the Holiday season in a way that I had not been able to during my career. I had the gift of time. I would listen to Christmas music, and I could muster up enough change to bake some traditional cookies. I would not be a Grinch for Christmas because I would think happily of my childhood days, my Parents, and my Grandma (my Grandpa was deceased before I was born, in case I forgot to tell you.) There was such deep traditions instilled in me over the years, but still, how could I enjoy the most festive time of the year with no money? Well, to people who think you can’t enjoy the Holiday without lots of presents, I say, “oh yes, you can!” What I had was plenty of time to actually enjoy all the traditions without the stress or the headache of working. It was truly my best gift ever!
Giving is the best part of the gathering together on Christmas Eve, so I came up with a plan. I just had to talk my sisters into it in order for it to work. If I couldn’t spend money purchasing things, than I would just have to make things. After all, I did’t suffer from lack of creativity, so I would find a way to make homemade gifts for everyone, if they agreed to no store bought gifts in return. We all agreed it would be fun and we got our creative juices flowing. It became one of the most memorable Christmases ever! An old fashioned Family Christmas. It doesn’t get any better than that! (The only thing missing was Cousin Eddie!!)
We crocheted, we knitted, we glued, and we painted. There was scarves, and hats, headbands, and picture frames! Everyone got something special, and all the wrapping paper, tags, ribbons, and bows I had saved in my closet from years past, were finally used up! We laughed till we cried, and we ate and we drank, and we were most definitely merry! It was the best we could have with fine table linens, china, and crystal. The only thing missing was the ones we held most dear that were no longer here with us. It was all three of them that shone deep in our hearts that wonderful year.
My Grandmother’s traditions lived on in each of us. When she had no money to buy us fine gifts, she crocheted little stockings and filled them with dollar bills! (We all still have those stockings to hang on our trees.) She would spend her last buck to make us cookies and her wonderful Italian wedding soup. Her love still lives on in our hearts and souls. She passed it on to my Mother, who continued with her famous wedding soup, decorating the house, baking cookies with us, and stockings stuffed with whatever she could afford (God knows, we loved our stocking stuffers, and we all continue that tradition today!) I remember one of the best stocking stuffers we ever had when Jayla and I were very young. It was the famous mouse “Topo Gigio” (debuted on the Ed Sullivan show in the 60’s) and the head and ears were sticking out of our stockings. That was really all I needed that Christmas.
My father was famous for taking Jayla and me to get the biggest tree that he could possibly fit into the house, and filled the air with the aroma of fresh pine. To this day, I burn pine scented candles every Christmas since I put up an artificial tree. My Mother used to warn him every year before we left the house NOT to get another monstrosity of a tree! And of course, that’s exactly what we did almost every time! Dad was also the homemade cavatelli maker in the house which was served up with Mom’s homemade sauce on Christmas Eve many times! (He passed that tradition on to his Grandchildren before he died.) And don’t forget about the music that filled our home with joy no matter how few gifts were under our tree. My Mother would play the piano and sing, I would play guitar, Jayla would play clarinet, and years later, Jolie would play flute, and Jozeffy loved to sing. My Mother continued the tradition to play piano with her Grandchildren singing along for many years.
I’m not sure I could have gotten thru all the extreme difficulties in my life without the admiration, love, and respect I had for all three of these wonderful mentors who raised me. Those family traditions lifted my heart during the worst of times. They instilled family values in all of us that would keep each other going during the most difficult of our days.
My Grandmother was also extremely creative and must have passed that gene on to me. She used to do the flower arrangements for a green house called J&J Gardens when we were young. She also loved planting flowers and having her hands in the dirt (she passed that gene on to Jayla, as she also worked at the greenhouse when she was young!) All three of us girls are also great in the kitchen because of Mom and Grandma! (But no one has mastered my Mother’s apple pie like I have, and that is why I’ll never be skinny again!)
My parents were so proud of all of us no matter what we did, no matter how big or small. As they grew older, they lived vicariously through all of us, as their health and financial strains never improved. When Jayla and I were traveling all over the country for our jobs, they loved to hear our stories and see our pictures. Jolie went back to College and graduated with honors after raising her children. Jozef could sing pretty well and very active in his church. We all gave our Mom and Dad many joys in their later years and helped them out financially to give them a better quality of life during their golden years. (Mom and I never could figure out who the hell came up with “the golden years” because they certainly were not golden for her!) Before my Mother passed away, she did get to go to the Outer Banks to enjoy the ocean, and also to Florida to visit with her Brother. It made her so happy! My Dad was happier to stay at home after a bout with cancer and radiation, but gave Mom the freedom to have these last memories before she died. Oh how I miss these two wonderful human beings! The deepest love I’ve ever known is buried with them…
I often look at my pictures of my artwork and think to myself how my Mom and Grandma would have loved it! The one I think both of them would have enjoyed the most, is one of the latest I created by request for my Sister-in-Law; a Snowman. I created a second one for my Sister Jayla, and Jolie got a print of it for her Daughter. They all love Snowmen and I loved creating them. I think when I put the smiles on these snowmen artworks, I actually smiled because I thought of my Mom and my Grandma.
I just know they would have loved these artworks and it would have made them smile too. (God, how I miss their smiles and their embrace!) That is one of the very reasons I create my shell artworks. The feeling it gives to me and the joy it brings to others.
It is JOY that makes a life worth living. Remember; it is the secret of life. Desire it enough and you will find the JOY in everything…
(left) My Son with the two circled stockings on our tree from my Grandmother and I still have them! (right) My Mom playing piano with my Bother Jozef and two Grandchildren singing Christmas songs.
* Some key notes of interest:
Jayla is retired and still works at my favorite Boutique to stay active. She has shown us great strength as a cancer survivor, as well as her oldest child. She has 3 children and 5 grandchildren. Two have graduated college, and her youngest is currently a JROTC in High School with hopes of joining the Air Force Reserves upon graduation or majoring in college.
Jolie had to undergo hip replacement at a young age due to her birth defect (twice.) She currently works for Hospice and provides services to families with patients near end-of-life. She has 2 children that have graduated from college and 2 grandchildren that she is very active with. We are excited for her youngest child’s wedding coming in 2022.
Jozef is living dependently but on his own and still loves music, reading, and church activities. He actively gives guidance to others with Bipolar. I believe he can recite chapter and verses from the Bible better than anyone I know and I am very proud of him.
My Father died 10 years after my Mother from complications with dementia. The saddest thing we ever had to do was move him out of our childhood home into a care facility. I said goodbye to him before I left for the winter with the gut feeling that I might never get one of his hugs again. He died with my sisters at his side. The saddest flight home of my life was from Key West to bury my Daddy that winter.
As for me, I am retired, and after 10 years of RV life (7 yrs part time and 3 yrs full time) I now live with my Air Force retired husband in our little cottage home in Florida. I have 1 child and 2 grandchildren. Roger has 2 children and 3 grandchildren.
For privacy, I have changed the names of family members and I have never revealed the names of many other family and friends.
My Son is doing ok as a recovered addict, but faces constant struggles and roadblocks. He attended college and took additional college courses from home. He was very successful in the Hardware industry and in retail management. I am proud of him for facing his addiction and constantly dealing with the aftermath of its destruction. His father is the only one of my ex husbands that is still living and my Son now resides with him after going thru a divorce. It is very unfortunate that we are no longer very close and I have no real relationship with my 2 grandchildren. I call it the “casualties of war” with addiction.
It took most of my adult life to finally accept my relationship with my Son for what it is. I have learned that a Mother can only accept so many heartbreaks and disappointments before she is broken. I had to put the oxygen mask on me first or I would die trying to save everyone else. If someone constantly steals the joy from your life, it will become completely empty and you will die inside.
I am still active with my shell art and, of course, still love to write. I am also on the Board of Moderators with a Private Group of 10,000 people and enjoy my volunteer duties of writing and editing for the group.
If you have enjoyed reading my book, please let me know. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for following my stories with my Blog at Six Wheels Down, and also this true story.
The Painter of Shells
And I Have a Story to Tell
Me and my Sisters the last day I spent with my Dad. We put up a Fall decorated tree so he could enjoy the lights, just like we all did as children with him.
(top two left) My Dad with his upright base (top right) My Grandma wearing the gown I made for her (bottom left) My Mother’s engagement picture (bottom right) My Mom and Dad