Tonight I spent a few hours at a wake of one of my family members. She was a first cousin but we always called her Auntie because of the age difference. You see back in the day when my Catholic Italian grandmother was having her younger children her older children were already starting their families. That was how it was back them. There was a 27 year age difference between my cousin Connie and I and she was closer to my father in age than me. The younger generation of today have a hard time grasping that and when I say there were 11 children it damn near drops them to the floor. At least I think there were 11. Nancy, Nellie, Grace, Anna, Dolores, Pam, Lena, Jimmy, Tony, Joe, and Graziano (my dad). They all had Italian names, not just my dad, but tonight they will have their American ones.
Tonight I sat with the cousins that I grew up with. Cousins that were like my sisters, though we have certainly grown apart over the years. Not because of any differences, merely because we grew up, had our own families, and got busy. I miss my cousins.
Then there are the other cousins that I didn’t grow up with. Their ages are in between mine and Auntie Connie. Closer to mine, but still old enough to have been grown when we came along. They were from Italian families (unlike mine which was half Irish). They grew up in Italian speaking households and they stayed living in the same city. They stayed close. We always referred to them as “the cousins” when we were growing up because we could never be a part of them. I’m not sure why, but they were different. I always remember them being nice, polite, and proper with my mother, but I think I was just a kid to them. Now we are all adults. With the exception of Auntie Dolores, we are now the oldest generation of the family. Everyone, all of our parents, are gone. Now I realize I missed out on being a part of that family. We are blood related and man can you tell just by looking at us, but we are not close. Thankfully they pulled off a family reunion a couple of months ago and we were able to get together for something other than a funeral. I realize now that even though we did not grow up togetherand we are not close, I feel this bond with them. They are family and I wish I knew them better. I wish we were closer. I miss my cousins.
If you have never witnessed an Italian family get together in person just think about the stereotype. Not The Godfather or Sopranos, but the hugging, kissing, hand gestures, and noise, that is my family. I find myself listening to the way they speak and I’m not sure if it’s the Italian or if it’s the Worcester, but I usually laugh at the way we sound. We all sound da same. We talk da same way to each udda. My name becomes Amarie, Auntie Connie is Arni Connie, Auntie Dolores is Arni Dolores, and so much more that I can’t write phonetically. All I gotta do is tink about da family and my brain sounds like dem. This is not a put down. I am very proud of my Italian roots. My father was 1st generation American and he learned to speak in an Italian born household. Til the day he died he pronounced certain words differently than we did. I remember this very fondly and I miss my dad.
Wakes and funerals are a time to pay respects to the family members left behind but it also a time for remembering. There are so many stories, so many memories. I hope when it’s my turn to leave this earth there will be people eating, drinking, and remembering.