How the Sound Soothed my Soul
The moment she sprang from her vanity stool, the group of nine year olds turned and stared. Then there was a burst of laughter from all but me. The right side of her face meticulously made up with thick eye liner heated with a match to apply, one beautifully shaped penciled in eyebrow, a fake beauty mark dotted next to her lip and half of her lips shaded with copper colored gloss and carefully outlined. The right side of her hair had been blown straight. The left side of her face was completely bare with a burst of wild curly, frizzy unkempt hair flaring out from the centered part. My friends roared with laughter. Then, I thought my carefree mother bantered too much but now, I have learned from her light heartedness and would give anything to see one of her blunders again.
Francie, my mother, the baby of five siblings, loved to be doted upon by her brothers, sister and parents. She loved to be center of good wholesome fun. She had hardships, extreme paralyzing headaches, she lost a substantial sum of money during construction on a new home the builder fled, divorce, surgeries, at the age of 21 her mom passed on and at that time she had been married for one year and pregnant. Somehow she still smiled, entertained, vacationed and enjoyed life.
Twenty short years after I was born, Francie wanted me to follow in her footsteps and marry. Being a bit rebellious, I fled. Just to college. Without cell phones and computers, it was difficult for my mother to reach me. So she moved down the road from the dormitory. She expressed her disappointment frequently; she wanted grandchildren not a graduate. She waited and waited through an Associate’s Degree, a Bachelor’s Degree, Photography Certificate, Real Estate License, Approved Travel Agent, Certified School Teacher, Master’s Degree and a second Master’s Degree, when finally she heard the ringing of the phone call that would put the twinkle back in that one made up eye. Knowing that my mother brought life to the Florida complex, it was equally as difficult for me to reach her. She was never in her gaudy decorated condo but her same old vanity stool was there tucked under the tri-fold mirror station with make-up scattered about and a book of matches.
This phone call to her was better than receiving a call from Publisher’s Clearing House, “Hi Mom ! “, “Rosemarie”, she exclaimed. “Mom, remember when I was nine and during a sleepover you put make-up on half of your face and made my friends laugh?” “Remember when I was 20 and you asked for grandchildren, you asked again when I was 21, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, 30 at my birthday bash, 32, 34, and last week, Well mom… I’m pregnant. Can you still make children laugh?” Without hesitation, she replied, “ I’m moving back to New York, wait until your aunts and uncles hear this.” When she hung up, I could picture her sprinting from door to door notifying the whole clan. I am quite sure she was glowing as she spread the news in the clubhouse that evening pretending that she had BINGO and laughing as everyone cleared their cards.
What an amazing tireless mother and grandmother, in a short time she sold her condo, risked another down payment to a builder, was at the construction site daily, attended doctor appointments with me, planned and executed a baby shower, put baby furniture together, and purchased over 100 infant dresses including a christening gown.
Finally on May 2, 1999 Francie held her first granddaughter with streams of tears rolling down her face washing away that fake sexy beauty mark next to her lip. If I knew that day that my mom would only enjoy her granddaughter for 6 years the tears would have washed away the maternity ward, the hospital and the entire community of Port Jefferson.
In September, I went back to teaching and my mom would come to my house every morning. My ideal arrangements were, Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 3:30pm. My mother’s arrangements were Sunday through Saturday from 4:00am to Midnight. Eleven months later I was pregnant again, Francie had the glow while I was too sick to eliminate a flicker.
On February 1, 2001 at 3:12am, Francie proudly held her grandson. Water proof make-up would not have lasted during this joyous moment. If I knew that day that my mom would only enjoy her grandchildren for 4 more years our tears would have washed away Long Island.
Francie cared for the children without quam. She bathe them, sang to them, read to them, cooked, cleaned and did laundry. As time went they did crafts and played games, they made snow globes, mud pies, Clementine’s with cloves, blanket and pillow forts, entire den ball pit, bed trampoline, paintings, Lincoln logs, legos, puzzles, battle ship, monopoly and Wizard of Oz trivia. They cooked together; they made meatballs, struffoli, pasta, cakes, cupcakes, pasta, bread, muffins, pasta, fruit salad, pizza, pasta and ice cream. My mother had a professional sign made that hung from her covered porch. It said, Welcome to Camp Nana. Under the sign and strewn about the veranda were party hats, horn blowers and pounds of confetti for their everyday celebration of life.
Eight months after the sign was installed, I kissed the children and walked them into Camp Nana. She had been awake for hours; the smell of roasted garlic chicken baking and the sweet scent of candied yams with toasted marshmallow filled the air. At 8:00am, she also had a pot of sausage and peppers simmering, a huge bowl of steaming hot white rice, and was rolling Italian seasoned meatballs the mixture yield 13 meatballs. I scampered off to work, little did I know that in an instant all our lives would profoundly change forever. The children called to make sure I made it to work. They laughingly told me that they didn’t like anything that Nana had cooked thus far and that she was now frying bacon and scrambling eggs. Seconds later my phone rang again, this time it was my mother. She hit any button on the receiver luckily it was redial, she only had enough strength and minimal brain power to hit one button and one button only. When I answered, I heard my mother’s words so frail and meek not jokingly and jovial as usual. She mustered, “Help, I’m having a stroke.” Next I heard my children scream, I heard my mother fall and I heard the phone slide across her custom tile floor. Horrified, I turned to a co-worker, “My mother – the kids.” I scribble her address, tossed it then ran to my car and fled again, this time instead of away from her it is to her.
When I arrived the police officers were in the den ball pit playing with my children and the paramedics couldn’t believe the amount of food for just an every day celebration of four. My mother was sitting on the kitchen floor receiving oxygen and she said to me, “I didn’t die because the kids were here.” They hoisted her on to the stretcher and into the ambulance. She was diagnosed with brain cancer and what she thought was a stroke was actually a seizure. When my cousin entered the hospital suite, he said, “Didi Fran, what happened?” She replied, “Robert, it all when wrong when I made 13 meatballs.” The visitors erupted in laughter.
During her 9 month battle she still ironed her outfits, applied make-up and had a blast trying on and buying wigs. During her journey, I had one too that of divorce and losing our marital home. One night while sitting with my mom, I found a house for rent. The description read: 3 bedrooms move right in and pets welcomed. I went to see the house in a different town, different stores, different schools, different neighbors but a new surrounding is what we need. Turning onto the block before the house I had to stop for deer crossing. Tears streaming as I am now washing away the State of New York, I turned onto the street and glance back at the address that I scribbled. It is correct but this wasn’t included in the description. In front of me was a serene view of the Long Island Sound. Parking in front of our new home I could see a door way, I wiped my tears away to read the sign. It said Private Beach Members Only. We are on different paths to a heavenly place. My mother passed away on Christmas morning. A special force draws us to immerse ourselves in the miles of beauty along the Long Island Sound, each day the sky, sand, rocks, sea glass and the rolling waves soothes our souls. The Camp Nana sign is tousled above the beach doorway always welcoming us.