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.