Posts tagged Aunt Flo

The Meatball Experience

…or more aptly titled, “The Day of 1,000 Meatballs”!

The best day ever!

Home cooked meatballs with family!


Those of you that follow this blog know that my Aunt Flo passed away in May 2013. We celebrated my Aunt’s life, remembering her with stories and jokes and reminiscing of all of our collective memories of and with her. A lit of wine and tears but it was a true celebration.

At that time, my cousin Colleen asked my mother if she would teach her how to make her mother’s meatballs – my Aunt Flo and my mom had a few recipes in their repertoires – their meatballs being a shared one. My mom agreed and we planned to schedule the “Meatball Fest”.

This past Saturday, we drove to my cousins’ home down the Jersey shore with all the Brooklyn fixings for a pasta and meatball (sauce included) feast; picked my mom up on the way.

It was one of the best days ever!

My mom was throwing her “weight” around, telling my cousins and me what to do.  Jokes flying back and forth – “You haven’t cooked in fifteen years, how are you going to tell us how to make meatballs?”  John made sure my mom had a “cold beer” at her fingertips, staying cold in a wine chiller as she gave us direction and sampled the fixings.  “Not enough of this…”, “Too much garlic”, “Cook them longer” – she was full of them!  We stood around mixing the ingredients, rolling the meatballs they way our mothers and grandmother had, the “men folk” hung around, waiting for something to eat.  “I knew I needed something… oh yeah, more wine” was heard throughout the day.

The neat thing was this…

We spent time as we had when things were simpler, less busy and more fun.  My family always knew how to do things with great “heart”.  When we laughed, we laughed heartily.  When we fought, we fought the good fight.  But we could always come together and enjoy each other’s company.  And we could have fun like no one else.

My mom said many times during the course of the day, “It’s not easy”.  She is usually referring to putting up with me teasing her or telling her to “be nice”.  All in good fun but she likes to tell people that it isn’t easy for the sake of conversation.  It was easy this Saturday family get-together; albeit some of our missing family members, my dad and Colleen & Pat’s mom, but we knew they were there.  My cousin spoke of a trip to Italy and waiting for a sign from her mom to let her know that it was all right for her to be where she was and to enjoy herself. – her husband pointed out a street sign that gave direction to another town they were near. “Guadagno”, which was our grandmother’s maiden name – sign enough for all of us.

I don’t know if anyone else saw the same sign I did but as I sat at the dinner table for a bowl of pasta with a few meatballs, I thought of how simple things would be if everyone just took a day, did something they never did before with people they haven’t spent enough time with in forever.  You begin to see each other in a different light – with everything else stripped away, just a good old time, wine and meatballs for all!

Getting back into the “Flo”

My Aunt and Godmother - never to be forgotten!

My Aunt and Godmother – never to be forgotten!

The title will hopefully make you curious. I want it that way.

An ordinary woman with an extraordinary life – no, not someone you would know – not famous, no movie star, not a political figure. This woman was a daughter, a sister, a wife, mother, aunt and godmother – friend to many, mentor to some, protector and as my cousin said, even part “Super Hero”.

Last week, my family lost one of its more colorful characters. My Aunt Flo – Florence Sullivan. Born in Long Island City, Queens, New York, a resident of Dumont, Ringwood and finally Brick, New Jersey – not a world traveler, Ivy League graduate but one of the smartest, fiesty and formidible woman I have had the honor to have in my life.

I could make a list of stories: my godmother, held me in her arms at my “blessing”; cared for me on many a weekend/week long trip; summer vacation in Ship Bottom, New Jersey; at every life event – communion, confirmation, graduations, business opening; deep conversations as I got older; trips to Pennsylvania to visit with my parents at their campground retreat; holidays and other days to meet up and spend time as our family often did. So many things and times that left indelible marks on me as I grew up.

My mother’s family has been through this battle before – before “Alzheimer’s” was the unfortunate diagnosis of the week, my grandmother suffered from memory lapses, then loss, wandering back to her old neighborhood, going missing and making for frantic searches which I remember as a 5 year old. She was “just getting old” and “this is what happens” were the things I remember hearing about my grandmother. She passed in 1973 – her other grandchildren, my cousins had been spared most of the gorey details of how she could no longer communicate, becoming bed ridden, every need to be tended to by my grandfather and mom – even an “opportuntity” for me at the age of 6 to give my grandmother dinner – baby food as she could no longer chew or swallow. Now you may think that that is not something a 6 year old should be doing – you can have your opinion. Because she could not speak, she would grab onto you when she became cognizant of who you were and held on with all her might. I am not saying it was a wonderful experience but, as they say, it built character. My grandmother was lovingly cared for by her husband until the night she passed, at home, peacefully.

My aunt, my mother’s sister, my grandmother’s daughter was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago. I watched again as a woman who was tenacious, fiesty, vocal, and at times, demanding and strict, slipped away from our world, with only brief, fleeting moments of recognition. This time, it wasn’t just “this is what happens when someone gets old” – it was clinical, medical and diagnosed – ALZHEIMER’S. Even the word sounds like a throw back to some Gestapo torture briefly hinted on in a World War II documentary. Same things… same robbed life.

Retirement should have given rise to years of rest, travel, grandchildren and walks on the beach. But this was not to be for my aunt. Her daughter, Colleen, spoke at the funeral Mass yesterday and paid homage to everything her mother had done for her. Aunt Flo had done so much for her son, Patrick and her daughter, Debbie after their father’s untimely death in the early 60’s. She began a new life with my Uncle Mort and as he told me yesterday, “saved him”. He loved her more than any of us ever realized; as Colleen said, he cared for her through every step of this horrible disease – at home, by her side, where she passed.

Over the last two days, I have heard all the same words used to describe my grandmother and now, my aunt. Their caregivers, their husbands, did more than they ever thought they could.

I don’t know who has it worse – the person who losses the ability to know people, things, events and more or the people who have to watch the long fading and try desparately to hold on to every piece of normalcy. I had to apologize to my cousins as I did not form a tough skin from my experiences as a child – I should have been able to tolerate the progression and lend more of a helpful hand in the process, but I could not bear to see such a strong figure in my life fade away. I am sorry for that. Colleen asked me when it gets better – my dad had passed away in 2007, so maybe she thought I had some wonderful words of wisdom on this matter. I wish that I did. All I could definitely say to her was that it “gets different” – once you start with your normal routine, get back into the flow of your regular life, you’ll remember but it will be different. Enjoy people, places, things when they present themselves to you – be open and spontaneous – treasure the family that you’re born into, the friends you let into your life and every experience that comes your way. Whatever it is, make the best of it.

I keep with me my memories – good, old and recent – a blanket, crocheted by my aunt years ago even though she could barely hold the needles as arthritis and Carpal Tunnel made it a true “labor of love”. My last visit with her, when she saw me and immediately put her hand to her opened mouth and said, “I can’t believe your here!” with the biggest smile ever. She extended her hand, grabbed mine and held on ever so tightly – I felt the same way I used to when my grandmother would do that but I came to the realization that the tight hold was the hug they could no longer give – holding on to what my grandmother, now my aunt, remembered that they loved.

My aunt gave me the best gift she could that day as she allowed me to do something I had not done in over 40 years – I sat right next to my aunt, held her hand and told her that I loved her. She looked away sheepishly, turned back, then smiled with a tear in her eye. She remembered.

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