The night before the burial of my mother’s ashes, I slept very badly. My dog and cat were restive also. I woke up depressed. I was sure that I would lose control of my emotions at Tecla’s grave.
I reached into my drawer for pantyhose and picked a pair that did not look familiar to me. They went on easily, too easily.
The plan was to meet my cousin Linda at her office on Market and Van Ness, at the Bank of America where she works. My dog Lola and I found Linda waiting for us outside 1455 Market.
By the time we got to the garage of her building the pantyhose were sliding down to my buttocks. I had to hitch them up several times before we reached her car in the garage. As we got to the car door I actually had to pull up my skirt and rearrange them over my nether parts.
I realize that they must have been mamma’s pantyhose that I took when I cleaned out her nightstand the day she died. We drove to the office of the Italian Cemetery in Colma and found cousins Stanley and Bob waiting for us. Before we walked out to the cemetery itself I had to duck into the ladies room so I could pull the hose back over my behind.
Italian Cemetery is a lovely place with broad paths, expressive statuary and dignified mausoleums. The sun was shining, a welcome event after several days of cold weather. The trees that line the path are sculpted into halos so the sun casts intriguing shadows of the branches onto the ground below.
Linda, Stanley, Bob, the dog and I walked towards the lot where my grandparents’ crypt is. I was extremely uncomfortable with these damned hose wiggling and slipping. I told Bob and Stanley what I was dealing with and they roared. Linda said, “Why don’t you just take them off?”
“I don’t wear panties underneath,” I said. One of them yelled out: “Too much information!”
What could’ve been and perhaps should have been a solemn occasion was instead slapstick. Every few steps I gripped my skirt and hoisted my hose up under them, staggering all the while like Quasimodo or Frankenstein’s Igor.
When we arrived at my grandparents’ grave it was open. Joanne, the admin at the cemetery, explained the crypt’s interior to us. We looked down a shaft, perhaps 6 to 8 feet down to see a flat surface. Under that were the caskets of my grandparents and their two infant children, Albertina and Albertino. Which you would never know it because their remains were completely sealed by a false surface.
Mamma’s ashes had been placed in a white plastic container about the size of a microwave oven. Andy Canepa at the cemetery office had explained to me that the container of ashes was really quite small but he had packed it in bubble wrap so that it wouldn’t wobble in the white plastic box. Her name “Tecla Brevetti” was emblazoned on the top.
A worker standing by at the grave descended the ladder and took mamma’s remains down to the floor of the crypt. Stanley and Bob had brought a bouquet of flowers — something I hadn’t thought of — and Stanley extracted the one red rose — he remembered that Tecla’s favorite color was red. He threw it down into the crypt and without human intervention it landed right on mother’s box of ashes.
“Tecla is running the show today,” Stanley said.
Later I wondered if Tecla had guided my hands to those pantyhose so that we could have a rollicking rather than a sobbing experience at her grave.
We all looked at each other and wondered what we should be saying or doing because I had decided to prepare no ritual.
Linda said, “Should we sing something?”
So I sang two lines of the Italian song “Mamma”.
And we returned to the cemetery office with me staggering still.
After that I had Andy identify for me the address of my aunt and uncle’s grave. It was just a couple of rows away from the Puccetti site. A very modest affair which kind of surprised me.
And that was the end of our day at the cemetery on January 20, 2011.
Picture a large hall with a dozen or so round tables grouped around a piano pianist, an elderly woman in a red hat, played old favorites.
Each of the tables seated about six or eight people, mostly elderly women. My audience was busy eating the lunches they had brought.
I had already addressed several years previously Calvary Presbyterian Church’s senior’s group.
After the publication of “The Fabulous Fior — Over 100 Years in an Italian Kitchen”, the group’s coordinator invited me to speak about the book.
And I had another connection with the church. One of its clergy people, Marion Oliver was the wife of an editor of mine at the Oakland Tribune.
So when it came to looking for us to speak about my writing and workshop services, I felt comfortable calling them. Rev. Oliver was no longer there, but the coordinator remembered me.
As I had done before at the Italian Cemetery on January 8, I first engaged them by getting their names on the cards for a raffle at the end of the session.
But unlike many at the cemetery, these people on average were considerably older.
A friend of mine was in the audience, Chester Zaneski and he introduced me to the woman next to him, Nienke. “People always tell me I should write my life story because it’s been so interesting,” she said in her charming Netherlands accent.
This woman became ultimately one of the participants in my workshop in February 19.
Who would deliver a lecture at a cemetery?
I would and did.
I decided to give my first public address on how to write one’s memoir/family history at the Italian Cemetery in Colma, California.
It wasn’t a random choice. One of the directors of the cemetery, Andy Canepa, a scholar on the local Italian-American community. was very helpful way back when when I was doing research for the book on the Fior d’Italia.
So I reached out to him and asked if they had a public venue where I could give my talk. He passed me to the cemetery set of communications Nickolas Marinelli who publicized my event in the cemetery’s newsletter and helped me send postcards to the cemetery’s mailing list.
I was very keyed up for this day. I had practiced and practiced. I had plenty of moral support from my friend Sandie Wernick who did the design work and publicity and from my business coach Nina Price.
The point of the lecture was to go on audience useful pointers on how to write a memoir. It was also intended to attract participants to my upcoming workshop and possibly private clients.
The day of the event January 8 was a typical wintry day. Sandie and her sister Karen picked me up and wondered if the weather would keep people away. Actually there was a healthy group of about 30 people. Many friends attended which warmed my heart.
But I wasn’t prepared for, or was my audience, the icy chill that permeated the lovely marble mausoleum where I spoke to. None of us, not even I, removed our heavy coats. Truly we were among the dead.
I mentioned that my mother had died two days before and would soon be interred in the fields beyond this mausoleum.
I gave my talk with enthusiasm mixed with anxiety. And while no one signed up for my workshop or other services at the end, I was smothered in embraces from my dear friends who were there to cheer me on.
I visited my mother on January 2, 2011. She was in the hospice ward of The Heritage, eyes closed, not responding to my voice or my touch. Totally out of it. Was this what it is to be comatose?
She looked like a shriveled little mushroom, pathetic. I sat next to her and touched her arm. Then I leaned forward and I said at normal volume, “Mamma, I forgive you.”
At once she sat up, apparently amazed, and stared at me with a piercing laser glare. After two or three seconds, she closed her eyes and fell back on her pillow.
Four days later, she died.
I don’t know what to make of this.
I will be speaking on January 18, 2011 at 11 am.
Calvary Presbyterian Church, corner Filmore and Pacific Streets
with the Calvary Presbyterian Church’s senior’s group about: How to write your life story or your family’s history.
Please join me on January 8, 2011 at 2 pm.
at the Italian Cemetery 504 F Street Colma, Ca
for a talk about Writing your life story or your family’s history.