Congratulations, Jimmy!

Making a point at the end of the line is not to be taken
Making a point at the end of the line is not to be taken

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.


Missing Mama

"Kitty" Violi in the middle, with her sisters Adelaide [left] and Agnes [right] circa 1943-
“Kitty” Violi in the middle, with her sisters Adelaide [left] and Agnes [right] circa 1943-
By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Eleven years ago today, June 20, 2002, my mother, Anna Catherine “Kitty” Violi, died.

She had complained of chronic weariness for some months.  As the sister to three IU Medical School graduates who had done their Residency at the Mayo Clinic, Mama was careful to follow the proverbial “doctor’s orders.”  She had regular checkup. Each morning she took her high blood pressure medication, thyroid medication, acid reflux medication,  multiple vitamin, and baby aspirin.  She ate healthy, as most Italians do, with little meat, lots of shade and dark leafy green vegetables, fish, fruit, and little processed food.  Mama also walked her neighborhood nearly every day. Granted Mama was 87, but she looked more like a 70-something with lovely, unlined skin, clear blue eyes, and silvery gray hair.

I loved her dearly.  She was my  mother, best friend, confidant, oracle, anchor, source of family lore, the dearest grandmother to my daughter, the lynchpin of our family.  Her laughter, sense of fun, delight in family and friends, merriment in the sheer joy of life infused those around her with added spirit.  An outstanding cook whose interest in new recipes piqued her interest throughout her life, we ate with brio at her table.

Emblazoned upon my memory is the warmth of her smile, the lilt of her voice, our daily kisses of adieu, of telling one another, “I love you.”  After eleven years, one would think the memories would fade, the sound of her voice would dim.  That has not, however, been the case.  She made me a better person, even after her death.  I strive to recall her feisty spirit, how she faced challenges head on.  I try to emulate her compassion, her kindness, her celebration of family.  Several years after my daughter Anjelica was born, I told Mama I had come to the realization that a great part of being a good parent is getting over oneself.  I said that while having a child was a humbling experience, it was also the most rewarding, how this toddler had enriched my live beyond measure.  Mama smiled, nodded her head, and whispered, “Yes.  Exactly,”  and she gave me a hug.  We both understood I had finally  grown up myself, finally, in my mid-30’s.

The 2002 Father’s Day weekend stroke that rendered her silent was deafening when her flame passed 72 hours later.

I miss her hugs, yet she is present everyday in my heart, and that makes me smile.

Ciao for now.

The Wedding, Part 3: “Goin’ to the Chapel…”

Lauren's getting married -
Lauren’s getting married –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

The wake-up alarm sounded all too soon last Saturday morning.  Yet the day dawned with golden sunshine set in dazzling blue skies.  On the late night heels of the rehearsal dinner the night before, came this morning’s call for scheduled professional makeup and hair appointments in Broad Ripple.  It is a rare day indeed that I imbibe coffee but I felt I had better partake of potent caffeine.  I wanted to be cognizant when my niece exchanged wedding vows with her worthy groom.  Fortunately, friends of the bride’s mother had provided nutritious breakfast food to help us jump-start the long wedding day.

We all emerged from the salon airbrushed and glamorous.  After scrutinizing myself in the mirror, I contemplated how an airbrushing device might not be a bad investment since it could, like vintage wine, help me improve with age.  The bride was the belle of the salon, as she should have been, for my niece, a beautiful young woman by any standard, glowed with happiness in her enhanced airbrushed state.  The wedding planner hustled our entourage back to The Conrad in Indianapolis to change into our wedding finery.  My daughter donned her JCrew Newport Navy bridesmaid dress, nude patent leather shoes, jewelry, and stuffed salon lip-gloss, brush, compact, and tissues into her new ivory jeweled dress clutch.  Off she went to the suite where Lauren the Bride and the bridesmaids were gathering for photos.  Soon the bridal party would board the wedding trolley to Saint Mary’s Catholic Church for the 2:30 p.m. nuptials.  The professional photographer had been snapping photos at the salon, in the suite, in the classy foyer of The Conrad, and now of the bridal party on the wedding trolley.

Alone in our hotel room, I savored the silence as I carefully pulled the new black tea-length dress with side slits over my head.  I stepped into my stylish black leather shoes with the black patent trim.  The black and white lace jacket I put on added a dash of panache to my dress.  Lovingly, I placed my late mother’s double-strand of pearls around my neck.  How she and my father would have relished their eldest granddaughter’s special day. After placing my pearl earrings in my pierced ears, I put tissues, lip-gloss, and pressed powder into my black dress bag with the jeweled accoutrement [borrowed from Anjelica], t glanced in the mirror, said a prayer for this happiest of happy days, and descended in the elevator to catch the second wedding trolley bound for Saint Mary’s.

I took my place with family members near the front of the church.  Soon enough, the bridesmaids began their walk down the aisle.  When I saw my daughter, tears welled in my eyes, but a smile also took over, for it struck me forcibly that she was an elegant young woman, on the brink of graduate school, who could easily be making this same walk in the bridal gown within a few years.  And the enormity of it all took my breath away. Suddenly, the music change heralded the arrival of the bride and her father.  Lauren’s elegant gown, veil, flowers, joy, coupled with my brother’s dapper appearance in his tux and, gasp!, his well-polished black cowboy boots, made the tears appear again.  Had I not been so afraid of mascara running down my face, thereby ruining the airbrushing, and fearful that my makeup would not last the dinner and reception that night, made me take a series of deep breaths to regain my composure.  After all, I had to read the second Epistle!  As Aunt and Godmother to my dear Lauren, I had to pull myself together and rise to the occasion.  All of those years of musical performance provided a discipline that had taught me how to rise above emotions and focus completely on the task at hand.

The sheer beauty of Saint Mary’s was a magnificent setting for this splendid wedding.  Yet this was all secondary to what transpired there that day.  I had rehearsed reading Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, 12:3 -13:8a, the one where most people remember only the line, “Love is patient; Love is kind…” A dear friend, Sister Marie Morgan, of the Order of The Sisters of St. Francis, had sent me not only the text of the passage, but our Bishop’s commentary on its significance.  As I read and re-read Saint Paul’s words, I wanted to stress the significance of how Love transcends romantic emotion, how Love affects all relationships, “For without Love, we are nothing…without Love, we gain nothing…It [Love] bears al things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.”  So too is this my wish for my darling newlyweds, for my beloved daughter and nephew.

Ciao for now.

Wedding Weekend, Part 2: The Rehearsal


Wedding preparations -
Wedding preparations –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

We awakened last Friday morning, checked our lightly bronzed selves, showered carefully, preened, and drove northwest from Indianapolis to Zionsville for the bridal luncheon.  Partaking of a delectable salad accompanied by intriguing and tasty appetizers, we dashed off to a salon for a manicure.  We had our pedicure at our salon back home.  I am still uncertain why I bothered with a pedicure since I was wearing close-toed shoes for The Nuptials.

Beating a hasty retreat to Indianapolis, we donned our new Talbots dresses [my daughter’s a black lace confection, and mine, a vivid white and turquoise floral] and new pumps [nude] for the rehearsal at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church downtown.  The church is a large Roman Gothic structure replete with elegant stained glass windows, inlaid terrazza marble floor, vaulted ceilings, and a breathtaking Sacristy.  In short, Saint Mary’s was the perfect place for the Big Event.  Anxiety was evident among the bridal party as they practiced walking up the aisle.  Some moved at a breakneck pace, while others strolled regally.  As one of two readers, I practiced the long walk from a carved wooden pew, and up the highly polished steps to the lectern.  After familiarizing myself with the mocha satin ribbon marking my reading passage, I realized I would have to adjust the microphone on The Day since the first reader was quite a bit taller than I.

We then piled into cars and sped off to Lorenzo’s Ristorante, where the groom’s parents were hosting the rehearsal dinner for the bridal party.  It was a memorable repast with family and friends, not to mention mouth-watering Calamari Fritti, Bruschetta, Chicken Marsala, and bottomless glasses of vino.  Justin the Groom-to-Be made touching speeches about each of his groomsmen, giving each of them gifts [tasteful barware and coffee table books].  Lauren followed with heartfelt sketches of what each of her bridesmaids meant to her.  She then distributed gifts of elegant Kate Spade jewelry to each.  The groom’s father created a poignant slideshow of Lauren and Justin’s babyhood to adulthood.  Seeing my late parents smiling and laughing with Lauren, and later with her brother and my daughter, brought a tear to my eye.

It was a night of joy and laughter that boded well for tomorrow’s Main Event.

Ciao for now.


Wedding Weekend, Part 1: The Arrival

Action figures in downtown Indianapolis =
Action figures in downtown Indianapolis =

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

We arrived in Indianapolis this past Thursday later than planned.  After quickly checking in to The Conrad, we made a beeline for the spa for our appointments.  An hour later we emerged more golden in color, yet  fretful about smearing our new semi-bronzed look.  Although this was the first time I had attempted such a spa treatment, it proved not to be an altogether unpleasant experience.

After hanging up our wedding weekend attire, paying particular attention to my daughter’s bridesmaid’s dress that had been professionally pressed and swathed in protective plastic, we next contemplated a light dinner.  Tastings Wine Bar appealed to us on the warm June evening.  The fact that it was located just off the foyer of The Conrad tantalized us even more, for we were weary.

The outdoor patio afforded us much people watching, as did The Arts Garden, which loomed above and straddled either side of the street.  We ordered wine, of course, and several plates of assorted tapas:  two kinds of flatbread pizzas, and a platter of Irish and English cheese with fresh fruit.  Suddenly I glanced up and saw Batman crossing at the intersection.  Spiderman appeared, followed by the Incredible Hulk.  A short time later, a woman strolled past walking a miniature horse that wore a small hat on its head and sneakers over its hooves.  The mini-horse walked stiffly in its sneakers.  We had the distinct impression that the small stead either was afflicted with arthritis, or simply disdained wearing sneakers of a plaid variety.

A white carriage pulled by a white workhorse pulled up across the street.  While I am against use of horses in urban settings for entertainment purposes, this white full-sized horse appeared more content to clip-clop-clip-clop along in his own iron horse shoes.

Ciao for now.

“Gloriana, Frangipana…”

Anjelica's decorated college mortar board cap -
Anjelica’s decorated college mortar board cap –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi   

   We awakened at 6:22 a.m. on Saturday, May 4, 2013 for Anjelica’s IU Bloomington graduation, scheduled for 10:00 a.m.  IU was graduating over 4,000 undergraduate students on that day.  Students had to be organized to process into Assembly Hall according to their School or College.  I trekked into Assembly Hall with streams of other parents at 8:10 a.m.  I was directed to entrance G, near the School of Journalism graduates.  I saved a seat for my brother. 

We listened to the speakers and waited for The Moment.  When the Provost announced that the School of Journalism Class of 2013 had fulfilled the requirements for a Bachelor of Arts degree, Anjelica pulled the burgundy tassel atop her mortar board cap from the right to the left.   The number 2013 she had fastened diagonally in clear glass stones across the top of the cap sparkled under the lights of Assembly Hall.  Thousands of students of the Class of 2013 stood up to cheer and shout, as did their families.

I tried to hold back joyful tears of four years of watching my daughter navigate the campus I so loved as she made it her own.  Four years of observing her transform from a shy introverted first year college student into a poised self-assured young woman.  Four years of cheering her on with coursework she embraced.  Four years of seeing her make friends, reveling in sorority life, its philanthropy, and in campus jobs.  Four years of guarding her from afar with prayers and wishes.

On Friday evening, The School of Journalism hosted a reception for its graduates.  It was a pleasure to meet professors whom Anjelica admired so much:  The Ernie Pyle scholar with whom she and a select group of students traveled with abroad “In the Footsteps of Ernie Pyle” to London, Paris, and Normandy; the professor from whom she learned much about magazine and newspaper editing; the media lab professor, for whom she has worked as a lab assistant the past year; and the audio story-telling course professor who opened new vistas in radio for my child. After good conversation with these particular professors, I understood better how much they had come to mean to my daughter.

With heartfelt embraces, she and her sorority sisters bid one another adieu.  They planned to see each other in their own different states. They helped us pack up both of our SUVs.   The rain poured in deluge fashion, soaking us to the bone as we raced up and down the stairs, and back out to the cars, vainly attempting to keep everything dry.

Anjelica leaves her John Hancock for posterity -
Anjelica the graduate leaves her John Hancock for posterity –

Hungry and thirsty, we decided to grab a bite at Mother Bear’s Pizza, “for auld lang syne”.  As I finished my Stromboli and eyed the graffiti scrawled on the wooden walls of the booth, I asked Anjelica if she had carved her name in Mother Bear’s time-honored tradition.  She hadn’t.  I handed her a pen.  Might as well leave a bit for posterity, I replied.  She took the pen and immortalized her name on the wall.

We hugged one another, and climbed into our roadsters to commence the long rain-soaked melancholy road north.

Ciao for now.


My Alma Mater, Part IV

The Oliver Winery, 1970's photo displayed in the Wine Tasting Room -
The Oliver Winery, 1970’s photo displayed in the Wine Tasting Room –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

As an IU college student in the 1970’s, I managed to attend classes and learned to cherish life in colorful Bloomington.  As I trekked to Ballantine Hall for my English literature classes, I was forced to tread lightly in my 3-inch wedge sandals worn with a maxi-dress.  My long hair was a halo of frizz since I braided my wet hair immediately after towel-drying it.  It was the ‘70’s; most of us had long hair parted down the middle, a’la British pop groups.

In 1972 buzz circulated about a new winery located 20 minutes outside of Bloomington.  A Professor of Law, Bill Oliver was the force behind a Heartland vineyard.  As the daughter of an Italian wine-maker, my curiosity led me to the Oliver Winery.  A  nondescript building, scrubby vegetation, a trio of stoned students banging on tambourine, small drum, and finger cymbals greeted visitors.  On the other side, I noted a petite vineyard, the first I had ever seen in The Heartland.  Friendly voices called us over to an enormous wooden vat.  Hippies ladled some kind of “wine” that I had never seen nor smelled before called Camelot Mead into plastic cups.  I took a swig and nearly choked.  After drinking the full-bodied, dry Italian red vino my father made, this brew was enough to choke an Italian horse.

“First time drinking Mead?” the hippie with a ladle asked me.

“[Cough, cough, cough, choke] Yes,” I spluttered, “and possibly the last.”

She laughed and ladled up some more of the brew into the cups of unsuspecting others.

I didn’t drink a drop of Oliver Wine until the late 1990’s when I was at IU Bloomington on business.  A wine-tasting evening at the Oliver Winery had been organized.  I begged off from the sunset field trip.

“C’mon,” the event planner argued.  “The Oliver Winery has undergone a metamorphosis since the ‘70’s.  Check it out.”

In front of the Oliver Winery -
Anjelica in front of the Oliver Winery –

I succumbed.  To say that the winery had changed was an understatement:  I didn’t even recognize it.  The evolved Oliver Winery now not only housed a classy wine bar inside a beautiful structure, it also offered an extensive selection of wines, along with its Camelot Mead.   I tried envisioning Beowulf and his entourage feasting, wenching, and pouring mead into their gullet, but even this literary allusion failed to overcome my dislike of honey mead.   When I asked the sommelier for the driest of the red wines, I purchased a bottle for my parents.  The following Sunday, my parents concurred that this wine smacked of an after dinner one.

On Mom’s Weekend in April 20, 2013, my daughter signed us up for her sorority’s wine tasting event at the Oliver Winery.  Anjelica prefers the mildness of the Oliver Wines. The Creekbend Vineyard Chambourcin 2012 tasted so good that I purchased several bottles at the winery, along with a bottle of Sangria for fun. But not the honey mead.  I’ll take my wine and my honey separately.  Salute!

Ciao for now.