“Hi, Guy!”

My grandparents lived in a two-bedroom, one bath, California bungalow, built in the 20s. The 1920s. Pastel green stucco with three large arched windows across the front, and creamy white trim. 

Their spotless bathroom sparkled with white fixtures and small white octagonal floor tiles. The old tank on the toilet was huge when compared to today’s, six or seven gallons of water that made a mighty woosh when flushed. We grandkids were still adept at clogging the plumbing causing an Italian uproar when Grandpa was called to fix it.

There was an obscured glass double hung window with a deep sill next to the commode. Through it I could see the swaying shadow of large hydrangea blossoms outside, and the outline beyond of the house next door. Fresh air flooded the room from the window’s lowered upper pane. In the center of the room was a flat, white cotton rug. Utilitarian and pristine, reflecting the values of its owners.

Out in the hall next to the bathroom door was an identical door. It opened to reveal a large linen closet. The closet could be accessed from inside the bathroom to grab a towel, or from the hall. When the bathroom door was open, the inner closet door was hidden. Only when inside the bathroom with the door closed could one see the other door. We called the closet the “Hi, Guy!” as we could open both doors at once and amuse each other, which didn’t take a lot as children.

“Hi, Guy!” came from a Gillette Right Guard deodorant TV ad where someone opened a medicine chest to see the neighbor next-door also opening his, an apparent shared cabinet. The greeting was, well – you know. My brother and I thought it hysterical to each open a side of Grandma’s closet with an enthusiastic, “Hi, Guy!” salute.

When we grew taller we discovered one could open the hall side, climb the lowest shelf, reach across the tablecloths and napkins, over the sheets to the towels and twist the interior doorknob to push open the bathroom side without the help of a partner in the bathroom. Unlimited possibilities.

I don’t know what brought this memory back so vividly and I’m not an able enough writer to accurately describe the hilarity of my brother or me quietly creeping into the closet to scare the crap (no pun intended) out of the person (usually Grandpa) sitting on the toilet. Grandpa, with his little bald head and messy morning comb-over, who seemed about 150 years old to us, enjoyed a quiet sit in that gleaming old bathroom. He’d have his tazza di caffe on the window sill, a neatly folded copy of the San Francisco Call Bulletin in one hand, and an unfiltered Camel in the other. As smoke lazily rose from his cigarette, he was undoubtedly perched peacefully and unsuspecting until the bathroom closet erupted. My brother and I stayed only long enough to hear the string of Italian cuss words and spy his near fall from the commode as he scrambled to cover himself while manacled by the long johns gathered at his ankles.

Whatever else happened I can’t say because the two of us beat feet out of there. There were a limited number of children in the house on which to blame the deed but if the escape was clean there was no way to know which devilish one was the culprit. We’d crumple to the floor with laughter in a far-off locale.

This story is long ago in the rearview mirror yet every time I attempted to capture it in writing, or retell it to loved ones, I had to stop for a round of giggles so brisk I nearly wet my pants.

The day I recalled the Hi, Guy! escapades I texted my brother at home in TX. “Do you remember when we’d push the Hi, Guy! open and scare Grandpa off the throne?”

Standing alone while typing my message put no damper on my laughter. I awaited a rousing response from my long time accomplice as I attempted to regain composure. Disappointed I received only an “I’m driving” auto-reply. I was revived shortly after when he parked and transmitted his simple answer. “YES!”

I’m pretty sure it really doesn’t matter how far away a location is in our rearview mirrors. If it contains kids pranking adults (especially Italian nonnos) and a sprinkling of toilet humor, it never loses its magic.

My Other “P”

I have been encouraged by some to publish this piece written about my cousin, Paula, her life and death and their meaning in my life. It is truly a rearview mirror story as she is among my earliest memories.

Inasmuch as posting this will automatically trigger its publication elsewhere, too, I have not mentioned living persons by name to preserve their privacy. You all know who you are and how Paula loved you. That gift is ours forever.

My Other “P”

In the time of Covid someone can slip away without being noticed. In a house. In a hospital. Long-term care facility. Who knows where. In the time of Covid.

Some have evaporated without a good-bye. Or even hello. So I am saying hello and good-bye to my cousin. Out loud. Where I can hear it. 

She was my oldest and only girl cousin; it is because of Paula, partially, that I am a “P”. My parents decided not to give me a family name but an American one. Paula was the baby who made them an auntie and uncle. They adored her and showered her with affection during her early life. And they gave me a name to go with hers. Paula and Pamela. That’s where our story begins.

Paula, 13, and me, age 7

There were six years between us which made a huge difference when we were young. There were times we didn’t see each other at all. When we did she was on her way to teenage fun and I was in elementary school. I longed to go with her friends and her. Wanted to be in on her secrets. To make her laugh. Her lyrical laugh. A laugh like no other. 

I was eight or nine when I found out, by accident, how babies are born. I snuck up on Paula and her girlfriends huddled and giggling over a big picture book, a big black and white photo of a newborn emerging from its mother. She snapped the book closed quickly. I ran horrified. 

Cousin life.

My uncle, my mom’s brother, was of modest means and irresponsible with the money he had. He was a dandy and his paycheck was gone before it ever hit the bank. Sometimes Paula’s home had power, and sometimes not. They didn’t live in a safe area. Paula had folded newspapers inside the bottoms of her shoes to protect her feet from the holes in the soles. When Paula had new shoes or clothing it was usually purchased by our grandparents, Fanny and Pete.

Her mother became ill when she was a child and died when Paula was about 11. I was in kindergarten. I barely remember Marguerite but she was petite like Paula. I don’t remember her laughing. In memory I see a serious face, tight dark brown waves around her face. And very thick eyeglasses.

My parents considered adopting Paula and her brothers, adding to the three children they already had. I vaguely remember overhearing the discussions between them and my grandparents, whose financial help would have been needed and gladly given. Later I was told that it was my grandmother who stopped the conversation. She thought keeping his own children as a single parent would finally push my uncle into responsible adulthood. Certainly he would care for his three grieving children. 

He did not. 

He already had a girlfriend whom he’d been dating during his wife’s illness. He’d lost his job when his employer found out he was a blatant adulterer. Back in the day, a no-go. The 1950s. My parents had seen my uncle and his paramour at a movie theatre. My dad never warmed to my uncle after. I didn’t know why from earliest memory Dad was distant with Uncle Frank. Usually had a particular scowl. 

My uncle quickly remarried after Marguerite’s death and Paula was in charge of her two younger brothers. She went to school, cooked and cleaned, did the laundry and shopping. 

It was much later when I was told that Marguerite, as she lie dying, secretly confessed to Paula that my uncle was not her father. She did not tell Paula who her father was, only that Marguerite’s older sister, Rose, knew him and would reveal him “one day”. Apparently my uncle was privy to this conversation which gave a self-centered man reason to be more so. It was easy to distance Paula, to make her the family maid.

Graduation, 1964

By the time she reached high school my uncle had Paula paying rent because along with her other duties she also had an after-school job. Her maternal grandmother had left money in trust for her college and Paula saved her wages to add to it, hoping one day to leave home and complete higher education. Because my uncle demanded so much of her time, and then payment for a place to live, Paula moved to the home of a high school friend where she stayed until graduation. It was while planning for college that she found my uncle had spent her trust fund.

There are details about going to medical assistant school, our grandmother’s death, but the significant occurrence is that Paula fell in love and married at the age of 18 or 19. I was 12 or so and only remember the excitement. I met her fiance and he seemed nice enough. At my age, it was all very romantic. I mostly recall my parents being happy for her. There was no talk that she was too young and should wait. She’d seen so much. Been through so much. Everyone wanted her to be happy.

By then there were whispers that my uncle was not her father. Or perhaps it was then I became aware of them. I heard my grandfather and my mother talking. My dad and mom. 

Paula was quickly pregnant and didn’t tell anyone that her husband beat her. Hit her often, pummeled her belly and when the boy was born he had seizures. Seizures so severe they significantly affected his development. It wasn’t long before Paula left her husband, her ill baby boy in tow, to make their own way. She told my parents all that had happened. 

Paula remarried within a year or two, a sweet man named Ray, and two more children were born. Girls. First, to much joy, baby Lisa, and then Tami. Lisa was perfect. Tami had a genetic defect that would keep her a child for life. Paula then had two children with disabilities. Her boy was growing and growing violent, still seizing and now a danger to Paula and the little girls. An anguished Paula allowed him to become a ward of the state, to be cared for in a group setting where he and others would be safe, while she spent as much time as she could with Lisa, and much of her time caring for Tami. This while she helped at her husband’s restaurant and had a full-time job in banking. In the beginning she visited her son often but with her presence he became agitated and more inclined to violent episodes. Paula was asked to stay away.

Paula was tiny like her mom. I always called her little cousin which made her laugh because she was the elder. “Some respect! Show some respect!” Tami grew bigger than Paula. No longer could Paula lift her into the bathtub and dress her. Lisa, an adolescent, had begun to bridle at the time her mother was unavailable due to her sister’s disability and again Paula made the excruciating decision to put a child into a group home. She and Ray kept Tami nearby and brought her home on weekends when they together could manage her care.

I was in high school and college as this played out, unaware of the mounting sadness, pressure, sheer adversity each day brought Paula. Unaware that the whispers were now a roar as Paula searched for her father in a time before DNA testing was available. She asked questions. Who did her mother know? Who did she work for? Did our grandparents notice anyone around? What did my mom see? And Aunt Rose. Would she tell Paula as her mother promised? An old man showed up at Ray’s Café one day. He asked for Paula and left without leaving a name or contact information when Ray said she wasn’t there. Was it her father? Would he come again?

Aunt Rose stalled. Gave reasons not to tell Paula who the man in the café might have been. Paula loved Aunt Rose as her only living blood relation from birth, and rather than allow a wedge between them, Paula backed off. Elderly Aunt Rose promised to write the name in a journal which Paula could have but said Paula would need to wait until her death to see it. Paula didn’t push. 

Though the background music of Paula’s life contained two themes, tragedy and search for answers about her father, the Paula we all knew was funny, a prankster, talented, quick-witted, hardworking and devoted to the family she created. Rarely did she let her past spill into her present such that it overtook her mood, when I was looking anyway. She plodded forward with the belief she had purpose and giving into sorrow would impede it. If she complained it would be about hot weather, the high price of goods, working too much, husbandly messes, getting gray hair and wrinkles, squirrels messing about in her vegetable garden, and finding pants for someone as short as she. There was no complaining or massaging significant issues.  

Her melody was sweet and lighthearted; the undertones bass violin. 

The intervening years I believe were her happiest. Lisa married and had three children of her own. Paula and her husband lived on a huge property in the country where Paula plied all the gardening knowledge she’d learned from our Italian grandfather. She grew fruits and vegetables, canned and cooked and shared it all. Tami still came home on weekends and loved the country home. Paula often had the grandchildren there and enjoyed them immensely. She achieved success in her profession managing a credit union branch. She worked with people she loved and respected who remained her life-long friends. Life had leveled out into a hum of satisfaction and pleasant ordinariness Paula had never known. 

Loss intruded. Our grandfather died. Her husband died. She left the country house alone for something small and manageable in town. 

Her Aunt Rose died. Rose’s son George gave Paula the promised journal. In the midst of losses there would be one gain to be found in Aunt Rose’s notes. Instead there was nothing. Page after blank page. Empty. Not one entry. Her aunt took the name of Paula’s father with her.

As we aged, Paula and I in our 40s and 50s, the six years between us no longer had meaning. We were both widowed, me with a teenager, her children settled into adulthood. We kept in close touch and I was there for the surrendering of the empty journal. The sadness. Disappointment. Reconciling the likelihood she would never know who her father was. 

Paula’s one healthy, beautiful child had divorced. Lisa had a secret, too; she tried to keep it from her children, and her mother. Her ex-husband knew but in his love for Paula, his mother-in-law who never became an “ex”, he kept it until he could no more. Lisa was a drug addict. A drug addict with many arrests; her ex-husband filed suit for sole custody of his children. He hoped this would be enough to shake Lisa out of her situation but if it were not, he was prepared and willing to take total responsibility for his children along with his new wife. 

Paula was stunned at the news. She did all she could to help her daughter who pleaded and promised she’d do better. On occasion Lisa was able to gain sobriety but she couldn’t maintain it. Paula pledged her support to the man she held as her son and took his side in the custody issue. The bitterness Paula withstood from her daughter was as painful as the losses she’d already endured. She watched her daughter devolve into drugs, steal to pay for them, and engage in behaviors to ensure continued access. 

Paula’s life soundtrack now became the white noise of constant worry for the well-being of her grandchildren who missed their mother and the knowledge that the phone could ring any moment with news of Lisa’s death. Most of the time Paula was unsure of her daughter’s whereabouts.

Lisa died from a treatable cancer left untreated secondary to her addiction and life on the streets. Though mother and daughter were reconciled in the last weeks of Lisa’s life and Paula spent many days with her at the hospital, Paula never shook the guilt of having distanced Lisa in order to both self-preserve and refrain from enabling. Of all that Paula had experienced, this pain was her greatest. 

Paula, her grandchildren, “son and daughter-in-law”

Simultaneously Paula was treated for breast cancer with a grueling course of chemotherapy. Her beloved son-in-law and his wife walked with her through it all. They lived close by and made themselves unflaggingly available to her. Even his new wife called Paula her mother-in-law. Paula adored them both and felt grateful to have such love and devotion in her life. Rarely had she known it though she gave of it freely.

Through it all Tami continued to spend some weekends with her mother. Though Paula’s chemo had weakened her substantially, and she couldn’t take Tami on the same schedule, she called Tami her “ray of sunshine” and drove to pick her up as often as she had strength. Tami was then 45 years old. A year after Lisa’s death, Tami, who had long outlived her life expectancy – who had a joyful life at her group home and equally so with her mother, died unexpectedly of an aneurysm. Paula had been prepared to lose Tami much earlier, but once Tami lived into her 40s all of us had forgotten this could happen. It was a shock.

The state was Tami’s conservator yet as any mother would, Paula wondered how Tami would fare if Paula predeceased her. What would she think if her mama didn’t come to get her on the weekends? Now Paula’s reason for being was gone.

Tami died on Paula’s 72nd birthday, the Saturday before Easter Sunday, two years ago. It was the end for Paula.

Paula cried in my arms when I came to visit, usually right after I entered her home in the midst of our hello hug. She was tiny and I so much bigger would wrap myself around her. After a few minutes allocated to tears, she’d push away, blow her nose, wipe her eyes and say, “Let’s go to lunch.”  

She always ordered a patty melt. Me, too.  

Paula, mischievous one

She rarely revisited these events in conversation and certainly didn’t dwell on them. She believed that one puts a foot in front of the other and marches into the future expecting the best, prepared for the worst. That’s what she always did. 

Paula lived for two years after Tami’s death but was markedly different. Her health failed and she didn’t put up a fight to save it. She took her medications and participated in physician conferences but her commitment to seeing her future dissolved.

During our last few years together 23andMe came into being and confirmed what Paula’s mother had told her more than a half century earlier, what our family had whispered about, my uncle was not her father. Paula and I were not related. Paula wasn’t one cell Italian though every meal she made reflected our Italian upbringing, the flavor of our childhoods.

A half-sister bubbled to the top of genetic relations and they made contact. The sister didn’t know her father either. They couldn’t help each other. Apparently Paula’s father had gotten around… She would never know who he was.

Paula said it didn’t bother her that we weren’t really cousins but our Italian grandparents, Sunday dinners at their house, being chased in their vegetable garden and orchard, pasta al fresco in the summer lath house – these were the seeds of our memories together. Our grandparents were no longer “ours”. I asked if she needed anything from me. If she still felt like my cousin. Cousin to my brothers. If we were okay. If she was okay. It was different seeing it in black and white, she replied. She had wondered why her mother had taken her past from her with the confession. But seeing the test result, a future Marguerite could not have imagined so many years before, Paula was glad it hadn’t come as a shock. Merely a confirmation. 

Nothing had changed for me. She was my other P. Paula to my Pamela. 

We both said we were the same, and it was true. Mostly. In the months that followed she bundled the items that came from my family and one by one gave them back to me. Our grandmother’s gold signet ring from Italy was first. 

Paula gave her granddaughter some family heirlooms and I loved that she did. I loved that our family’s heart held in the tangible was more important than blood. Dishes from Italy, wedding gifts to our grandparents moved along with Paula’s history to someone she loved and fiercely protected.

Every bit of this story is true as I know it, but some of the memories are over a half century old and that of a child. There are details of sorrow and loss I haven’t included because truly, no screenwriter could’ve imagined sadder. Betrayals and deaths, some similar to what most of us experience, others too much to absorb. I omitted them because this is enough, too much.

One cannot say a proper good-bye to Paula without understanding to whom hello was said. That her smile and laugh, generosity and devotion – all real, never a façade – emanated from the deep belief that we create our lives. That nothing can stop us from building a satisfying one, from being good and loving people generating joyful opportunities. Only we stop ourselves from doing that.   

When she couldn’t live by her own tenets, she asked to be put in hospice care, to have life-saving meds withdrawn, to maintain only comfort care, to quietly say good-bye. She thanked those she loved, each of us in a different way. Then she slipped away from us leaving the sound of her laughter, that special laugh, echoing in memory, and her example of backbone. A commitment to live and love, to stand tall no matter one’s physical stature. 

I haven’t been able to shake the anger that permeates my sadness. In the time of Covid there was no formal good-bye. No memorial as she had asked for. With the “people and food I love most” as she had written into her will. She was buried alone, tucked into eternity next to her husband, Ray. We who loved her texted, called, emailed and Facebooked our grief at having to go on without her. 

I have lost my other P who was cheated in life and then in death. She asked for a lemon meringue pie which I so gladly made for her while alive and would do so again for her friends, fulfilling a last request. She asked for simplicity. Nothing grand yet even that was denied. 

Paula and her dear ones

I couldn’t go another day without chronicling the stamina of spirit I witnessed in one small being who built her life by herself from such a young age. She was buoyed by those who loved her and whom she greatly loved. She cherished lunches with friends, art classes, Mexican Train afternoons, [patty melts] and her family. Her “son and daughter-in-law” and her grandchildren. Many of us don’t distinguish between close friends and family. Paula did as only someone could who spent a lifetime seeking the people from whom she came. 

She appreciated every little goodness in life.  It’s small wonder she could so clearly see them in contrast to their opposite. It is however a miracle she could celebrate each as she did. 

In the time of Covid, we wait. We wait until there’s a time when we can celebrate her as she deserves.  Until then, I try to emulate her and walk into my future, creating as I go.  Like my other P. 

Paula and me, her birthday, 2016

I Love A Parade!

My grandmother, Vivian, grew up in a Jewish orphanage in San Francisco, sent there with her sisters by their father after the death of their mother. This, my great-grandfather assessed, was the best he could do for his girls. The women in charge would do better for them than he could. He was a struggling haberdasher nearing the end of the first decade of the 1900s.

My grandmother didn’t like to talk about her time in orphanage. The youngest of the three girls she was left behind when the other two married early to escape. She made a few intermittent stops but by the end of 1930s she was settled in Redwood City, CA, then a small town on the Peninsula, south of the big City. A place that boasted “Climate Best by Government Test”, as well as the oldest and largest Independence Day parade in the state.

I have no actual evidence that either statement is true but when you’re homegrown, you go with it. I grew up there and never missed that parade. Each year my dad took us downtown to see the marching bands, baton twirlers, mounted regiments, floats, veterans, scouts, and color guards strut proudly down Main Street and Broadway as we wriggled through the crowd for a better view. As long as my grandmother lived in Redwood City, we stopped at her place to take her with us.

She was an old-fashioned patriot. She could be moved to tears at the playing of the National Anthem. For one who saw so much pain in her early life she told me many times her saddest days occurred at the news of the murders of John and Robert Kennedy. I saw her cry with grief, outrage, and defeat when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. Heinous acts committed against patriots, men who died for their country. She considered these the darkest days of the nation because they were “inside jobs”. Americans killed by Americans.

Each time the flag would pass our outpost on parade day, my grandmother would stand, remove her hat, and put her hand over her heart. For every bar of the Star Spangled Banner she stood, posture erect, until the last note had rung through the crowd.

Not to make light, but imagine how many times at an Independence Day parade the flag would pass and the anthem play. My grandmother was a human jumping bean. Amazing reflex action for an old woman. My dad, her son, and my brothers and I all followed her lead, without question, because it was proper. With her on that day, we were all patriots, thanking the men and women everywhere throughout the years for the gift of freedom.

No doubt this daughter of eastern European emigre, born the year after the big quake of ’06, raised in an orphanage, having survived the Great Depression and two world wars, understood better than I ever will the meaning of the day. She understood the depth of courage and decency, resilience and devotion to freedom that parade represented, and all the parades throughout the USA, in cities and townships, villages and suburbs. On floats and in wagons. Fancy and not.

She didn’t live long enough to meet my son. Had she, she would have seen us walk from our house to downtown on July 4th each year. She would have witnessed him skating the parade route selling Boy Scout flags to bystanders, the fourth generation to carry out our annual tradition at the state’s largest and oldest parade

I now realize that what I have held as a family event, is a trek which renews our ties to each other and our tradition, and also to our community, city, and country. In the generational repetition the lines have blurred between personal and national history. They are intertwined.

Gen Five now adding to the fun and the tradition

The little girl from the orphanage created the family she longed for and the tethers she craved. Each time the flag passes before us in the city where (apparently) climate is best by government test, we will stand as though no other possibility exists as we will again for the National Anthem. Many, many times. We will stand for the patriots who came before, and for my grandmother.

What are your family traditions? Stories? Menus? Rituals? Just please don’t tell me your parade is larger or weather better. You know it would break my heart.

Enjoy your holiday weekend. Be safe. Please remember those who sacrificed all for all we have today.

The Lath House

Thanks, Wiki

Out back was a yard that stretched fully from the house to the street behind. It was a very deep lot that first had a paved tar and gravel area for play and drying clothes, and an entrance to the cellar under the house. Then there was a step up to a large cutting garden for flowers and herbs, and abundant vegetables. Through the last gate was a fruit orchard with apple, peach, black and white figs, walnut and loquat trees. Down the center, dividing the orchard ran blackberry vines. Among the tools left from tilling and trimming was a rusty oil drum used for burning paper trash before its ash was turned into a compost heap at the furthest point of the yard.

My grandfather was in charge of the garden. A little bull of a man, immensely strong, short compostand compact, hairy golden arms and chest, a gray-blonde comb-over, light skin and blue eyes. His stature was exactly what one would expect of an older Italian gentleman while his coloring was the opposite. One of his jobs was to ride herd on the grandchildren and keep order in the yard. With our unwanted help horse beans grew in the daisy and gladiolus beds, and avocado trees (launched from seeds on the kitchen window sill) sprouted almost anywhere. None of this made Grandpa happy.

On the first level where the grandkids played (and Grandpa sought to contain us) was the lath house. Set on a concrete foundation it was a rectangular structure covered with wooden, white diagonal lattice on three sides and a large stage-like opening in front. It 80a6627eee27a640f9460d7371e06b3a--climbing-roses-cecilebacked up to a thick hedge that created a border between my grandparents’ yard and the Bonaccorsi’s, next door.  Sometimes the vines in the hedge played a weaving game, tangling with other greenery then poking through into the lath house. Pink and red climbing roses grew at its sides among blue hydrangea bushes. Nature provided all the adornment needed against the crisp white back drop of the lath house.

The lath house sheltered a long table my grandfather had built, with benches running its 1599px-walnuts_01length on each side. During the winter the table was covered with newspapers and screened racks for drying walnuts and fava beans in their variegated pods. As warm summer days slipped into chilly late autumn, walnuts dropped from the orchard trees. The nuts spent winter drying in the lath house and those not carried away by the squirrels made their way inside for shelling, sorting and storing.

The table had other uses for the children. It provided not-so-secret shelter for games of hide and seek, and easily became a fort with the addition of a worn green, woolen Army blanket found in the old garage. Sometimes little bodies hidden below it stretched arms high to the table top and puppet shows were born. When school was out for summer, the lath house served as a stage for fledgling performance art, while Mom and Grandma served lemonade to the cheering local audience who arrived on two and three-wheel bikes, dressed in their finest flip-flops and ribboned pigtails.

In the rearview mirror nothing seems more important in lath house lore than its ritual spring purge. After all, its real purpose was to seat the entire family for outside summer dinners. As days began to lengthen into spring, holding promises of future al fresco dining, the last of Grandpa’s cool weather bounty was harvested and the lath house was emptied of its winter work.

man-hand-garden-growthI believe calling it merely spring cleaning would be to understate the energy and enthusiasm poured into lath house purification. All furniture was removed as walls were swept clean and spiders left homeless. The tangle of vines and webs and crunchy fall leaves trapped between them was removed from the lattice. Debris was broomed from the roof, the concrete floor mopped and rinsed with the hose. The table and benches were scoured before being returned to the lath house.

Grandma, Grandpa, Mom and kids participated in the event though I can’t say the pexels-photo-1437267grandchildren were much actual help. I wasn’t. The idea that soon the table would be covered with lively print oil cloth and set for a family meal invited excitement on par with Christmas dinner. Memory of summers before, Grandma emerging from the back door and down the steps with a platter piled high with steaming pastasciutta fomented the fervor.

In the lath house we could be a little messier without Dad’s evil-eye, we could be a bit noisier without a stern shushing. Unnoticed we could linger a tad longer after dinner listening to adults moving between English and Italian, switching to the one we couldn’t understand when they talked about us. There they would drink Zin from small juice glasses, and have after dinner tazze di caffè. The lath house represented summer. And family.

As dusk tip-toed into sundown my brothers and I slipped away from the table to ride bikes in the paved area between the house and lath castle, to run and chase away the day before being loaded into the family car and taken home for bed. There were evenings of Pinochle, wine, whiskey shots in strong caffè, Italian cigars and desserts of fruit and cheese, but we were left out of those; only sometimes were we lucky enough to spend the night at Grandma’s where we could hear grown-up laughter on the breeze through our bedroom window not knowing then that these memories would become so vivid in the rearview mirror.

italian-feastThe lath house no longer stands behind the home on Myrtle Street. A snoop on Google Earth revealed it’s been replaced by a Victorian-type gazebo. In my dreams I buy the little bungalow back for our family, my brothers and me, our children and grandchildren; we erase all evidence that it ever slipped from our hands, or that time has passed. There the lath house stands tall, awaiting the spring flurry that brought summer and stories of clinking glasses, shouts of Salute!, laughter and love. As it is in my rearview mirror, the lath house never ages in my dreams. Instead it provides the tales future generations will tell.



The Lath House

Wood strips, cross-purposed into lattice, made
this nursery of interstices—a place
that softened, then admitted, sun with shade,
baffled the wind and rain, broke open space.
It’s now more skeletal, a ghostly room
the garden seemed to grow, in disrepair,
long empty and well past its final bloom.
Less lumbered, though, it cultivates the air
by shedding cedar slats for open sky.
As if, designed to never seem quite finished,
it had a choice to seal and stultify
or take its weather straight and undiminished,
grow larger but be less precisely here,
break with its elements, and disappear.