All Hail Aunt Agnes!

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The photo is of a floral arrangement from Aunt Agnes’ birthday party. Her daughter Ann Marie made the tabletop arrangements. She kindly gave me one of them. One of our cats decided to re-arrange the flowers one night. I tried to put them back together, alas , with less baby’s breath, thanks to the feline attack. – tangledpasta.net

Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

This past weekend the maternal side of my family celebrated my beloved Aunt Agnes’ 90th birthday. Her children planned a festive party in Kettering, Ohio, which did not disappoint. The birthday resulted in a fun-filled family reunion!

My mother and her two sisters, Agnes and Adelaide, remained close as close could be throughout their lives, in spite of any geographical distance between them. When my mother worked in Washington, D.C., the three sisters penned letters back and forth. When Aunt Adelaide and her family moved to the Detroit area, numerous trips back and forth ensued among the sisters. Aunt Agnes lived for some years in Philadelphia, and then later in Kettering and in Dayton, Ohio. Never did the letters writing and drive trips cease.

The sisters and their families convened for summer vacations at the family cottage the three sisters jointly owned on Eagle Lake in Michigan. Those riotous summer days remain emblazoned in my memory. The three sisters could have been chefs at uptown restaurants such amazing cooks they were. When Aunt Agnes obtained her degree in Home Economics from the University of Dayton, her two sisters affectionately dubbed her “The Home Economist”. We clamored for her recipes, too, for she knew her way around a kitchen. Aunt Agnes is also beautiful: with killer blue eyes she is stylish, smart, funny, and kind. Her sisters told me she was always the Belle of the Ball. I doubt it not. She has kept me in thrall of her talents, and of her unique take on life.

What I cherish most about my darling Aunt Agnes is her kind, sweet nature. Yet make no mistake: she is a velvet hammer. Passionate about her beliefs, causes, ideals, and family, she puts forth sound arguments and logic. As the eighth of nine children, she learned early on how to hold her own with her brothers, and with my mother, Kitty (Catherine) who had twelve years on her youngest sister. Aunt Adelaide, my Godmother, is seven-and-a-half years older than Aunt Agnes. She too delighted in this family event for her younger sister. Uncle Jim, the youngest of the brothers and sisters, had a grand time and beamed his dazzling smile throughout the party. Older brother, Uncle Barney, was forced to miss his kid sister’s 90th due to his sudden hospitalization (he is now fine). Out of the original nine, live these four fabulous aunts and uncles of mine at ages 97, 95, 90, and 88. Let’s hear it for longevity!

We reveled in honoring Aunt Agnes. Good wishes abounded, drinks flowed, and high spirits combined to make her 90th birthday a memorable one. As we say in Italian, Cent’ anni (a hundred years), yet in this case, I toast her Vent’ anni più [20 years more) because 100 years is not long enough for my dear Aunt Agnes.

Ciao for now,

A Big Birthday

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Various kinds of pizza are needed to celebrate a birthday! – tangled pasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Yesterday we honored my paternal uncle in celebrating his 98th birthday. He is the last of my father’s siblings, a family of three sisters and three brothers. My Italian immigrant father passed away just shy of 96, long after he had later brought his two younger brothers to the U.S. For various reasons, his three sisters remained in southern Italy. From 1933 onwards, my father’s family became geographically divided. Yet they always remained in touch throughout those many years.

Last night at the pizza party my cousins held for their father, I thought about how brave my father and his brothers were to come to a foreign country without having learned any English prior to their arrival, and with little money in their pockets. Granted, my father had a cousin who encouraged him to come to his newly adopted town, but to take that ship from Naples and sail to New York’s Ellis Island required a great leap of faith. Yet the three brothers all built new lives here, married, raised families, practiced their faith, and prospered in their own ways.

Last night my uncle looked on cheerfully as we circulated among one another, talking, laughing, and having a fine time. I thought about how much my late aunt, his wife, would have loved having the family together. Her good nature would have embraced the festivities. We all miss her very much, especially my uncle. Sometimes when I visit him, he says, “I don’t know why I’m here! For what?” I answer that he is now the patriarch of our family, that we need him to lead us. He tells me that I’m crazy, that no one needs him anymore. But he is wrong: he is the living link to our past, not that we think of him as a museum specimen, rather to know that we can turn to him for our family history and anecdotes. He reminds us from whence we came, of the struggles, the milestones, the essence of what makes us, for all intents and purposes, us.

Ciao for now.

Congratulations, Jimmy!

Making a point at the end of the line is not to be taken lightly.-tangledpasta.net
Making a point at the end of the line is not to be taken lightly.-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

For some weeks I had been happily anticipating attending my cousin Jimmy’s retirement party. His amazing wife sent one of the most creative invitations I had ever seen: A brown-tone rectangular card with a train engine roaring toward the reader. The back of the card made me smile too, for it was the caboose of said train traveling into the distance, leaving in its wake all sorts of train tracks veering in different directions. Speaking of the caboose, I always wondered why the trains did away with the caboose. It always seemed like the exclamation point at the end of the train, a moment to wave as the train roared on to its destination. The overarching aesthetic behind this most eclectic of invitations was, in fact, Jimmy’s retirement from the Norfolk Suffolk Railroad after 42 years of fantastic work.

Jimmy went to work “on the rails” when he was 18 years old. It seemed wildly romantic to me to think of him as he traveled the country on a train. Of course, I had been reading a lot of Agatha Christie at that time, and Murder on the Orient Express, one of my favorites, beckoned me to travel by rail. Ultimately, I became familiar with European trains during my years of traveling back and forth to Europe. As far as train travel went in this country, I really could count only the South Shore electric train that I would board to go into Chicago. While Jimmy’s climb up the railroad ladder, both on the trains and in the corporate train sector became second nature to him, I harbor the notion that to have worked 42 years with the trains means he must have genuinely loved his work. I do not believe anyone knows the ins and outs of the railroad business like Jimmy does.

Jimmy has three brothers and three sisters, in-laws, and lots of nieces and nephews. He and his family are grand, and I love them all, for I know too that Jimmy is good to us all.  The fact that they are converging tonight to celebrate Jimmy makes me smile. How I wish I could join them! Sadly, I had to have emergency oral surgery on both sides of my mouth last week. The periodontics and implant specialist said by May or June all should be well. I’ve been on large amounts of prescription medication, and can eat only soft foods and liquids. No alcohol, no spicy foods, no crunchy foods, no salty foods, and no hard foods – the list seems endless. The silver lining is that all of my clothes fit better, and I am becoming a smoothie-making expert of sorts. Aside from the food limitations are the speaking constrictions that I had not anticipated. My mouth aches after prolonged conversations. My pronunciation is carefully articulated because I know I have trouble articulating ‘s’, which made for an interesting class I taught on phonetics this past week. Since I am from a family of great talkers, we all have the “gift of gab”, as my dear late mama used to say, it would be arduous at best to not be able to converse at length with my relatives tonight, pain factor aside.

Returning to the man of the moment, Jimmy is a person of varied interests, most of which have to do with motion. He pursues an avid interest in sports cars, particularly those of a vintage variety. Motorcycles continually offer him the promise of the open road [very Jack Kerouac]. Vacationing at his family’s Florida headquarters gives him continuing opportunities for boating. He is a man in motion, though I have seen photos of Jimmy lounging in his picturesque backyard simply enjoying being in the moment. Another of his talents is digitally remastering old Christmas songs, putting them on CD’s, and giving them to us as Christmas presents.  Throughout the years, I have acquired a fine collection of Jimmy’s CD’s, which always ring in Christmas cheer.  He is a wizard at all he does. His many talents continually impress me.

All I can do is raise my strawberry, banana, mango, Greek yogurt, soy protein powder smoothie to my dear cousin Jimmy tonight in my home, and toast him with a hearty, “Well done, Cousin! You leave an impressive legacy and lesson to us all: Find something you love, and go for it! Congratulations, Jimmy! I am with you in spirit tonight with love. You really are the exclamation point at the end of the train!”

Ciao for now.