Guest Columnist Lin Joyce: My Grandmother, Recalling San Francisco In The 1920s

Lin Joyce grandmother Frances photoLin Joyce, a personal historian based in Washington, D.C., is wife to Bill and mom to Annie and Susie and grandmother to Emily, Cameron and Jacob. She is head interviewer for Reel Tributes, a company that produces personal history documentaries that combine personal videos, pictures and music WWW.REELTRIBUTES.COM. Lin is also Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for the Association of Personal Historians. Three years ago, she founded The Life Stories Program for Capital Caring, a hospice serving the Metropolitan Washington D.C. area, to train hospice patients to preserve family memories. She believes everyone has a story to tell, and loves playing a part in helping to tell those stories.

Dear Annie and Susie,
In the mid 1990s, I paid my grandmother, Frances, a visit in the city of my birth, San Francisco. I would visit her at least once or twice a year, usually for eight to ten days at a time, but this particular visit was to be special. It would ultimately change the course of my life.
It was an overcast morning and we had nothing particular to do that day. We sat leisurely eating our breakfast of hot cereal, stewed apricots with cinnamon, tea and toasted Parisian sour dough bread.

Soon she began to tell me about the year she saw San Francisco for the first time. Now in her 90s, she spoke of being 21 years old and more than ready to leave home and become an independent woman. Her family lived in Sellwood, Oregon, just outside of Portland, and this was a big move for her.

My grandmother decided in 1923 to move to Los Angeles together with a school friend named Nora. Quickly my grandmother obtained a job as a secretary at Selig Zoo and Movie Studio, both located near Lincoln Park in East Los Angeles.

Colonel William Nicholas Selig had shot the first motion picture ever produced in Los Angeles. He also had a famous private zoo on that site — in reality a home for the animal actors. While she worked there, she saw a crew shooting scenes for the picture “Abraham Lincoln.”

She recalled getting to know the elephant trainer, the lion trainer and Blossom Seeley, an ex-vaudeville star who operated the studio cafeteria. The elephant trainer let my grandma ride the elephant bareback, and the lion trainer showed her his scars. My grandmother was always slender and she recalled Blossom trying to persuade my grandmother to fatten her up.
One lunchtime, my grandmother recalled seeing actors in costume eating in the movie studio canteen. Amusing, she said, to see people eat lunch while dressed up as cowboys and Indians.

As I listened to my grandmother speak, I thought, “What will become of these stories about an age long gone when she passes away?” It dawned on me that as her oldest granddaughter, I had to do something. And I got an idea.

“Grandma,” I said, “what would you think about me tape recording some of your memories while I’m visiting you? I think your stories are really wonderful and the rest of the family would love having your stories preserved.”

“Really?” she said. “Do you think anyone would really care about what happened in my life?”

“Absolutely! Would you allow me to ask you some questions about what you remember?”

“Well, okay then. It might even be fun.”

That afternoon I drove to a nearby Radio Shack in Westlake Village and bought a three pack of Sony’s highest quality recording cassette tape. My grandmother already owned a simple tape recorder. I knew I had everything I needed to begin.

That very day we began a most pleasant task that, unknown to me, would began my new life as a personal historian. Up until that point, I had had no idea of what a personal historian even did.

Over the next eight years, I went to San Francisco many times to visit my grandmother. I recorded 15 hours of memories in all – stories of war and peace, vastly expanding technology, social change, travel and her reflections on living to be 104 years old.

Oh, how I loved to hear her reflect on days long gone. Each and every minute with her turned into treasure.

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

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Guest Columnist Lin Joyce: My Grandmother Recalls San Francisco In The 1920s (part 4)

Lin Joyce grandmother camel
Lin Joyce, a personal historian based in Washington, D.C., is wife to Bill and mom to Annie and Susie and grandmother to Emily, Cameron and Jacob. She is head interviewer for Reel Tributes, a company that produces personal history documentaries that combine personal videos, pictures and music WWW.REELTRIBUTES.COM. Lin is also Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for the Association of Personal Historians. Three years ago, she founded The Life Stories Program for Capital Caring, a hospice serving the Metropolitan Washington D.C. area, to train hospice patients to preserve family memories. She believes everyone has a story to tell, and loves playing a part in helping to tell those stories.
Dear Annie and Susie,
In 1981, at the age of 79, my grandmother, Frances Louise Meyer Macken, wrote her memoirs (little realizing she would live another 26 years and reach the age of 104. Here are still further excerpts about her life in the San Francisco of the 1920s:
Altogether it was a fun time for a young single woman to be living in San Francisco. We were “flappers” and followed all the styles of the time – daring short dresses, high heels, lots of makeup, short hair, cigarettes and dancing the Charleston. Until the First World War, no nice woman would have dreamed of cutting her hair or smoking and drinking in public. We thought we were sophisticated, but we were really very innocent, at least I was. No one I knew lived with the opposite sex out of marriage, and most young women had high moral standards.
Ruby had to return to Portland and the night before she was to leave, a friend of hers from Portland dropped by to say goodbye. He brought with him an acquaintance from the Army days at Fort Lewis, Washington, in 1918, whom he accidentally encountered on Market Street on the way to our apartment. They hadn’t seen one another since leaving Fort Lewis and it seems like fate that they met that night because the acquaintance was Ray Mackin, whom I married four years later. I decided that night that Ray was a real good and generous person because he immediately invited us to dinner and paid the bill for all four of us!
In 1926 I changed jobs again, going with Standard Oil Company of California at 200 Bush Street. I was in the Land and Lease Division, where we mostly wrote leases for prospective oil-bearing lands. I can recall writing leases for land in Saudi Arabia not realizing that the Saudis would one day control most of the oil production of the world. Standard Oil was a good place to work – the surroundings were pleasant and my fellow workers high class, educated men and women.
Our office was on the eleventh floor and we were able to watch the construction of the new high-rises. In the early twenties there were only a few tall buildings in the financial district, most of the buildings being only one, two or three floors. In the three years I was at 200 Bush, several tall buildings were erected, the most interesting being the Russ Building at Bush and Montgomery. When it was completed, it was the tallest building in San Francisco.
After Rudy returned to Portland, I moved around from guesthouse to guesthouse. These guest houses were all in old S.F. mansions and for $60 a month, I had a private room (shared bath), two meals a day and excellent service. These guest homes were mostly staffed by Filipino men who knew what the word “service” meant. The guests were generally young, single people with an occasional married couple. It was an ideal living situation – we had pleasurable times together and many romances developed.
I dated Ray Mackin on and off for several years. He always took me to good restaurants; the best plays, sporting events such as baseball games, college football, hockey games, etc. He was very good company, being witty and somewhat more affluent than most of the young men I knew. Ray gradually edged out the competition until I was going only with him. Neither of us was in a great hurry to marry but we sort of drifted into it and were married at the Star of the Sea Church on Geary Street, San Francisco, on September 7, 1929.

Guest Columnist Lin Joyce: My Grandmother Recalls San Francisco In The 1920s (part 3)

Lin Joyce grandmother restaurant

 

Lin Joyce, a personal historian based in Washington, D.C., is wife to Bill and mom to Annie and Susie and grandmother to Emily, Cameron and Jacob. .She is head interviewer for Reel Tributes, a company that produces personal history documentaries that combine personal videos, pictures and music WWW.REELTRIBUTES.COM. Lin is also Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for the Association of Personal Historians. Three years ago, she founded The Life Stories Program for Capital Caring, a hospice serving the Metropolitan Washington D.C. area, to train hospice patients to preserve family memories. She believes everyone has a story to tell, and loves playing a part in helping to tell those stories.

Dear Annie and Susie,

In 1981, at the age of 79, my grandmother, Frances Louise Meyer Macken, wrote her memoirs (little realizing she would live another 26 years and reach the age of 104. Here are more excerpts about her life in the San Francisco of the 1920s:

We found an apartment in a new building on Ellis Street, near Hyde.  Later we learned we were living in the heart of the then “red light” district of the city and we took a lot of kidding about it.  However, we were never bothered and it was a very good location – close to downtown theaters, shopping and not far from the financial district.  I found a position with the North British Insurance Company.  And made some friends, one of whom I still see now and then, Pearl Pickering.  It was a good fun-loving group in that office and I soon became initiated into the life of the jazz era.  If I had known then it was an “era,” I might have paid more attention. Prohibition was the law but not greatly observed by San Franciscans.  I was never much of a drinker and was wary of anything except wine, but we thought it smart to drink and I usually indulged moderately at parties and dinners at the North Beach cafes.  The wine was always hidden under the table and served in coffee cups.

We loved to go to the French and Italian restaurants where we could get a full five-course meal for 50 cents, 75 cents on Sundays when half a chicken was the main course.  We continued our love affair with the movies.  All the downtown movie houses had live entertainment besides first-run pictures.  The Warfield, the Granada and others on Market Street vied with one another each week to produce the grandest extravaganzas so the public got its 50 cents worth and more.  The California Theater was famous for the organ concerts by Max Dolin and the Warfield for the shows produced by Fanchon and Marco, a San Francisco dance company.  We often went to the Orpheum Theater on O’Farrell Street to see the latest vaudeville shows.  Across the street from the Orpheum was the famous down-stairs after-theater club, Coffee Dan’s, where everyone pounded on the tables with wooden mallets whenever new guests arrived.  Next door to the Orpheum was Morrison’s Restaurant where we loved to eat before the performance – it was considered chic to sit at the counter! 

A short distance away was Marquard’s where there was tea dancing on Saturday afternoons.  On Powell Street was Tait’s famous coffee shop where one could get a good meal for a reasonable price amid a cosmopolitan atmosphere.  The city abounded in cafeterias that served excellent food amid tasteful surroundings.  Another gustatory delight, especially for women, were the numerous tearooms, mostly in downtown alleys and upstairs in buildings, that served better than home-cooked food.  There was almost no limit to the number of restaurants in S.F. where one could get delicious food.  These restaurants were concentrated in the downtown and North Beach areas until the 60’s when a few began to appear in the outer reaches of the city.  One exception at that time as a cafeteria called Noah’s in Burlingame that was famous for its ham.  We would take a streetcar from downtown and ride all the way to Burlingame just to go to Noah’s.  Yes, there was a streetcar from S.F. to Burlingame for many years after I came to S.F. in 1924.  The right-of-way is still there and should have been utilized for a rapid transit system long ago.

There were many nightclubs where there was dancing, good food and entertainment.  Our dates would bring a bottle of bootleg liquor, which was kept, discreetly under the table.  The club usually charged one dollar for a ginger ale “set-up”.  Our favorite nightclubs were the Lido on Columbus Avenue, Bimbo’s 365 Club on Market Street and Shorty Robert’s at the beach.

P.S. – Please see part 4 tomorrow.

Guest Columnist Lin Joyce: My Grandmother Recalls San Francisco In The 1920s (part 2)

Lin Joyce Grandmother as girl

 

Lin Joyce, a personal historian based in Washington, D.C., is wife to Bill and mom to Annie and Susie and grandmother to Emily, Cameron and Jacob. She is head interviewer for Reel Tributes, a company that produces personal history documentaries that combine personal videos, pictures and music WWW.REELTRIBUTES.COM. Lin is also Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for the Association of Personal Historians. Three years ago, she founded The Life Stories Program for Capital Caring, a hospice serving the Metropolitan Washington D.C. area, to train hospice patients to preserve family memories. She believes everyone has a story to tell, and loves playing a part in helping to tell those stories.

Dear Annie and Susie,

In 1981, at the age of 79, my grandmother, Frances Louise Meyer Macken, wrote her memoirs (little realizing she would live another 26 years and reach the age of 104. Here are excerpts about her life in the San Francisco of the 1920s:

I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with my life in Portland and in 1923, over the objections of my family, I left for Los Angeles with my friend, Nora.  We took passage on a steamship to San Francisco where we stayed for two days.  I loved San Francisco from that first visit and even then regretted that I was not staying there.  We continued our journey by ship to San Pedro.  We stayed with my mother’s oldest sister, Polly, for a week or so until we found a one-room apartment in the Westlake District of Los Angeles.  It was all so exciting to us – the palm trees, the balmy climate (no smog then), and the beautiful clean beaches.

My very first job was as secretary to Col. Selig, who owned the Selig Zoo and also the Selig Motion Picture Studio.  During my lunch hours, I became friendly with the elephant trainer, the lion trainer and Blossom Seeley, an ex-vaudeville star, who operated the studio cafeteria.  The elephant trainer let me ride the elephant bareback, and the lion trainer showed me his scars, and Blossom fed me.  While I worked there, the picture Abraham Lincoln was being made and I watched them shoot many scenes.  The actors collected their paychecks at our office and although I knew most by sight I always made them tell me their names.  I refused to let them know I was impressed!  I stayed there only a few months because the office manager had very handy hands.  Even then there was sexual harassment.

I immediately found another position with the Union Oil Company in a brand new office building in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.  All the best stores were nearby, good places to eat, and exciting events happening.  Los Angeles was a beautiful city at that time and there I was right in the heart of it.  I could even walk to work!  My job was not at all that demanding – in fact I often wonder what I was paid for doing.

It was shortly after coming to L.A. that I met a young man with whom I had my first serious love affair.  He was very nice and pleasant but did not have much ambition.  His sister was a famous opera star; I cannot now remember her name.  I never met her, as she did not come to L. A. while I lived there.  Eventfully I became unhappy with the progress of my romance and decided to return to Portland, a decision I regretted.  I learned you can’t go home again.  Living at home after being on my own was unsatisfactory (I am sure my parents felt the same way although they never said so).  I found the climate of Portland very depressing after sunny California and in less than a year I took off for San Francisco with my friend, Ruby Christensen.

P.S. – Please see part 3 tomorrow.

Guest columnist Michaela Gagne Hetzler: The Fine Art Of Being A Mom

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Michaela Gagne Hetzler lives in Fall River, Massachusetts with her husband Josh, and three children: Lorelei, 9, Evan, 8, and Andreas, 10 1/2 months. Michaela is a public-school adjustment counselor and art therapist assisting youth in need. She is a national spokesperson for the American Heart Association, and speaks in public about being diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition and undergoing surgery at the age of 17. Michaela held the title of Miss Massachusetts 2006 and competed to become Miss America 2007. Most of all, she enjoys creating art, playing soccer, and going on vacation with her family.

Dear Lorelei, Evan and Andreas,

Soon after I was unexpectedly diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition at the age of 17, I opened my college acceptance letter. Opening that envelope was a moment to treasure, affirmation that life would move forward and that I still had so many positive qualities to offer this world, despite no longer being able to achieve my life-long dream of playing Division I soccer.

My mom was so excited for me. She hugged me tightly. “So you’re going to major in Art, right?” she asked.

I remember being startled at her question. I’d thought only a little about what I wanted to spend the next four years studying. Yes, I loved art. I could draw and create for hours on end, and in retrospect it helped enable me to survive the last few months of pain and confusion at suddenly being told I could no longer perform as an athlete.

My answer was a quick, “No.”

Her face dropped as she questioned why. I went into my rational explanation of how majoring in Art was going to give me a foot forward in any career only if you counted the job of “starving artist.” The conversation reversed the usual situation, with the parent trying to convey that the arts are a practical post-secondary option.

My mom then asked me a simple question. “If you could major in anything you wanted, without worrying about what was to come next, what would it be?”

I closed my eyes and knew, but she sensed my hesitancy.

“Follow your heart,” she said. “The rest will work itself out.”

I entered college as an Art major, and loved every minute of it. During my junior year, my mom called to tell me about a career she had just heard about and she thought I would love: Art Therapy. In speaking to a colleague, she learned about this field in which art was brought into the counseling process. I was sold. It perfectly combined my two big passions, helping children and creating art.

I went on to receive my Master’s Degree in Art Therapy and Mental Health Counseling, and I currently work in a high school as a counselor and art therapist helping youth in need. I love my job. It seems the “rest” certainly worked itself out.

I thank my mom for encouraging me to follow my passion. She has helped me understand that it is taking on challenges that make life worth living. I’m sograteful for her love and support. She has shown me the kind of mom I want to be, and as you three grow, I hope to come close to being the rock she continues to be for me.

Thanks, Mom. I love you.

Guest Columnist Vivian Kirkfield: The Grandmother You Hardly Knew

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Vivian Kirkfield is a mom of three (Jason, Peter and Caroline) and an educator and author who lives in the Colorado Rockies. She’s passionate about picture books, enjoys hiking and fly-fishing with her husband, and loves reading, crafting and cooking with kids during school and library programs. She’ll be flying to Singapore soon to speak at the 2013 Asian Festival of Children’s Content to share her ideas about using picture books as effective parenting tools to build self-esteem and strengthen the parent-child connection. To learn more about her mission to help every child become a reader and a lover of books, please visit her Positive Parental Participation website or contact her at vivian@positiveparentalparticipation.com 

Dear Jason, Peter and Caroline, 

You might not remember too much about my mother because she died while you were all still young. I think it’s important for you to hear about what made her such a special person.

When I was growing up, if you said you were an SAHM, no one would have known what you meant. Most moms WERE stay-at-home-moms, and my mother was one of the best. She had been a nursery school teacher and she loved doing arts and crafts with me and my sister. She also loved reading to us. That’s where my love for picture books started, with me sitting on her lap, listening to books like The Little House and The Little Red Caboose and Madeline.

If you wondered why I was always happy to help you with homework during your school days, you can thank your grandmother. In my own school days, I would sit on the floor, notebook and pencil in hand, mulling over an assignment.

“What do you have to write about?” she would ask. No matter what the topic, Mom was ready to help.

Nibbling on the eraser I’d say, “But how should I begin?” The beginning was always the hardest for me.

To get me going, she spoke faster than I could write and I often had trouble reading my handwriting when I went to copy it over. No, she didn’t write it for me, but she gave me the spark of an idea. More importantly, she gave me confidence in myself. I knew that if my mom was there, I would do a good job.

My mother and I got along well for the most part, but we did have a couple of rocky times. Even though it may be hard to believe, I was once a teenager! She was strict about curfews. She worried that I would get too serious with my boyfriend. She was afraid I wouldn’t finish college. I know now that she was just being a mom.

She was a practical person as well as a philosophical one. Her favorite poem wasthe Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can
and wisdom to know the difference.

She also wrote poetry. Do you remember how every birthday card from her came with a personal verse she had written? Perhaps that’s where I get my desire to write rhyming picture books.

One of the most important lessons I learned from her was to be a hands-on mom when kids are young, but to be a hands-off mom when they become adults. Let me share what happened once.

It was a hot steamy day in early August and we were at a county fair. Jason, you were only six weeks old, dressed in a little sleeveless outfit, well-shaded and resting comfortably against me in the baby carrier. Your grandmother didn’t say a word at the time, but years later she told me that she had wanted to “advise” me to put a blanket on you, but had decided to “hold her tongue.” I hope I never forget that as I watch each of you raising your beautiful children.

With so much love,

Mom

 

Guest Columnist Alicia Sokol: “If Words Could Kill”

Alicia Sokol photo

Alicia Sokol, a photographer and writer, lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, Andy, and their two sons, Matthew, 7, and Gabriel, 4. Alicia writes the cooking blog, Weekly Greens (www.weeklygreens.com), which she developed to help busy families take the guesswork out of planning and creating fresh, seasonal weeknight meals.

Dear Matthew and Gabriel,

When I was three years old, I told my mom “I wish you were dead.” (Can you imagine me saying such a thing to your sweet grandma?) No one remembers what injustice she had inflicted on to me to elicit such a response.

Stung by my words, she told my father about the incident later that day. “Alicia told me she wished I were dead,” she said.

“Well, that makes two of us,” he replied.

My mother was shocked, interpreting his words to mean he also wished she were dead. She began to rethink her life. Why was she married to someone who wished her dead? Why stay in a house with people who wanted her gone?

So she grabbed her coat and purse and headed to the mall.

“Just pretend I’m dead!” she said as she pulled the door closed behind her, leaving my father to care for my younger brother, your Uncle Tony, and me.

She milled about the mall as she turned the caustic words over and over in her mind. Finally, she returned home, still quite upset. She found my father seated in an armchair with a child on each knee.

“She arose!” he said, daring to make light of her dramatic exit just hours before.

In response to his joke, her anger grew hotter. And yet there she let the matter lay, carrying on with life and motherhood.

Several weeks later, though, my mother brought up the incident. At first my father had no idea what she was talking about.

“You said you wished I were dead,” my mother reminded him.

“What? I never said such a thing,” he said, confused by her accusation. “Of course I don’t wish you dead. How could you believe I’d say something like that?”

“I told you Alicia said she wished I were dead and you said you did, too,” she shot back.

“That’s not what I said. I said, ‘That makes two of us,’ meaning that she’d told me the very same thing earlier that day,” he explained.

“Really? That’s what you meant?” my mother stood before him slack-jawed and stunned. “I misinterpreted your words and then I was mad about it for days! That’s why I went to the mall that afternoon. And I was furious when I returned and you made a joke of it!”

She had endured needless suffering over a few misinterpreted words.

“Did you really think I wished you were dead?” my father said. “I love you. I would never say such a thing.”

They laughed about it and vowed to communicate more openly going forward.

I was reminded of this story just last week. You, Gabriel, wanted something — a toy, a treat, five more minutes to play, I forget exactly what. And I said “no.”

And then you, frustrated at being denied something to which you felt entitled, objected. Angrily, you said, “I want a new mama.”

Ouch.

Now, I know that you no more meant you wanted a new mother than I meant I wished my own mother dead. I never truly believed anyone would love me more and take better care of me than my mother, just as I hope you realize the same about me.

But that’s how it sometimes goes between parents and children. We say stuff. We disagree with each other, we get disappointed in each other, we misunderstand each other. And someone gets hurt. And nobody really wants to hurt anyone.

All this illustrates an important lesson. We have to talk with each other and share our feelings. We’ll all feel so much better if we do. After all, it never pays to assume anything, least of all that each of us always means exactly what we say. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes we’re actually trying to say something else.

Here’s what I want you to remember most of all. I’m imperfect, same as my mother, and only human. I always try my best, just as my mother did. You’re loved no matter what, just as I was loved no matter what. I always have your best interests at heart, guided purely by my desire to protect you.

I love you even when you’re naughty — and yes, even when you say you want me replaced.

Guest Columnist Vincent DeNigris: The Mom You Lost

Vincent DeNigris photo alone

Vincent DeNigris, who lives in Hancock, New York with Samuel, his partner of 24 years, and his English bulldog Bella, is the father of Vincent, 35. He is a retired New York City police officer who worked the same streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn where he grew up. He was on duty on September 11, 2001 and lost 23 of his friends that day.  He has raised pigeons as a hobby for 42 years – learning how from the old Italians and Jews in his neighborhood – and is now widely known as a master breeder of English carrier pigeons.

Dear Vincent,

I met your mother, Barbara, on Devoe Street, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her grandparents lived around the corner on Humboldt Street, and her Aunt Nettie and  cousin Elvira lived two houses over from there. Barbara and I became childhood friends.

Your mother was funny and bright, and none too bad on the eyes. She loved music and loved to dance (you’re so much like her in that respect). We always enjoyed being together.

After you were born, everything just started to fall apart. I was holding down three jobs. I was a stationary engineer for the Minkskoff Theater family, a part-time stagehand on 44th Street and Broadway, and superintendent of our apartment building in Kew Gardens. While I was out making a living so that we could buy a house close to Uncle Nick and Aunt Marilyn in Bethpage, your mother started to do hardcore drugs.

The rent we collected for the landlord, your mother would take and spend on heroin.

She always told me she used that money because she was running short, and that I was bringing home too little money for us to survive. She did a good job of covering up.

I would be up for work and out of the house at 6 a.m. every day, and your mother would give you breakfast, take the bus back to Williamsburg, drop you off with your grandmother Carmela, and go do drugs with her friend Irene.

I finally caught on to her and we got divorced. I could no longer live with myself knowing you were living with her while she spiraled out of control. I got full custody of you when you were three years old.

Because I always loved your grandmother Carmela, I would let you go to her apartment to visit your mother there. I would bring you there on a Friday night with the promise you were going to see your mother, you were always so happy and excited about that.

Sometimes your mother would show up to see you.

But more often she failed to make an appearance.

Carmela would always plead with me to let you stay a little longer so that your mother could see you. At first I did that for the both of you. But your mother had a habit of showing up to see you just when I was about to take you home. Depending on my mood, I would either let you stay a couple of hours more, or I would just take you home because most of the time she showed up, she showed up high. This went on untill you were nine years old.

During all that time, my heart would just tear apart for you. When you were sick and cried for your mother, it was my face that you would see hovering over your bed. When you woke up screaming from a nightmare, it was either me or your grandmother, (my mother Maria) who picked you up and comforted you. Your first day of school, you proudly waited for your mother to show up at our house to see you off. She never came.

Your mother died when you were only nine years old. I waited three days before I could get up the courage to tell you. She died from AIDS-related complications brought on by intravenous drug use. It still kills me to remember how badly you took that news.

I know you have gone through hell, my son, and I wish I could just take away all your pain. I wish I could have been a mother to you. No matter how much a father does, a child wants and needs a good mother.

Neither of us care to acknowledge Mother’s Day. Your Mom is still a very hard topic for us both.

And so, my son, I did the best I could for you with what I had.

Love,

Dad

Guest Columnist Francine Brevetti: My Pantyhose Confessions

Francine Brevetti mother

Francine Brevetti, a longtime journalist, writes clients’ biographies and conducts workshops teaching people how to write their own. She calls her business Legend Crafter, www.legendcrafter.com. A San Francisco native, she worked as a reporter for newspapers and magazines around the world and is the author of “The Fabulous Fior — over 100 Years in an Italian Kitchen,” the history of America’s oldest Italian restaurant (http://www.fabulousfior.com/book/, available on Amazon.com).  Here she pays tribute to her mother, Tecla Brevetti, formerly Puccetti, who died in 2011 at the age of 99.

On the morning we would bury my mother’s ashes – I had slept badly the night before and awakened  depressed, sure I would lose control of my emotions at her grave – the pantyhose I picked to wear looked unfamiliar and somehow went on too easily.

By the time I met my cousin Linda at her office, the pantyhose were sliding down to my buttocks. I had to hitch them up several times. I actually had to pull up my skirt and rearrange them over my nether parts.

Only then did I realize that they were mamma’s pantyhose. I had taken them 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, I ducked 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. The trees that line the paths are sculpted into halos so the sun casts intriguing shadows of the branches onto the ground.

Linda, Stanley, Bob, my dog Lola and I walked towards the lot housing my grandparents’ crypt. The damned hose kept wiggling and slipping, making me extremely uncomfortable.

I then told everyone my little secret, whispering, and they roared with laughter.

“Why don’t you just take them off?” Linda asked.

“I don’t wear panties underneath,” I said.

“Too much information!” someone said.

Every few steps I gripped my skirt and hoisted my hose up under it, staggering all the while like Quasimodo or Frankenstein’s Igor. What could’ve been a solemn occasion – and perhaps should have been – was instead slapstick

My grandparents’ grave was open. We looked down a shaft of some eight feet leading to a flat surface. Underneath that were the caskets of my grandparents and their two infant children, Albertina and Albertino.

Mamma’s ashes lay in a white plastic container about the size of a microwave oven, her name, “Tecla Brevetti,” emblazoned on 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 had forgotten to do — and Stanley extracted the one red rose. He had remembered that Tecla’s favorite color was red. He threw the red rose down into the crypt and, luckily enough, it landed right on mother’s box of ashes.

“Tecla is running the show today,” Stanley said.

We all looked at each other and wondered what we should say or do now because I had decided we would have no ritual prepared.

“Should we sing something?” Linda asked.

We sang two lines of the Italian song “Mamma.”

Mamma, la canzone la piu’ bella sei tu/
Sei tu la vita e per la vita non ti lascio mai piu’.

Yes, we sang the son in Italian. Translated, the lyrics mean: “Mamma, the most beautiful song is you/You are life and for life I shall never leave you.”

And that was that.

And we returned to the cemetery office with me still staggering from wearing my mother’s ill-fitting pantyhose.

Later I wondered about the reason behind this little misadventure. Maybe my mother had somehow guided my hand that morning to her pantyhose. Maybe, in the end, she wished for us to bury her with a laugh rather than a sob.