Getting out the door with two kids, to arrive at a destination on time, takes some skill. Today didn’t disappoint. Marcus planned the first of many Mudder trainings with a four mile and change run in the Parkway. The turn out, weather and people, was better than I expected. Our run started at 10 am which left me plenty of time to freshen up, change and get on my way. Mom and Dad planned to pick me up around noon for a quick, turnaround trip to Jersey. My brother Matt walked into the house for a ‘hello’ to the girls, the dog and Marcus. I threw on my coat, said my ‘goodbyes’ and followed Matt to the car parked in my driveway. Joe, my other brother, was already cozy in the back seat. I piled in next to him and Matt soon followed. We exchanged pleasantries while Dad backed out into the road. Within seconds we were cruising on I-78.
So, there we were…the Original Five, the reunion tour. I can’t remember the last time that the five of us were together, without spouses, children or friends. It made me feel like a kid again – such a comfortable feeling. Ah, the memories… We joked around while playing games. The time passed in what felt like a few blinks of my eye. Dad navigated off Route 3 and headed towards Lyndhurst. We parked illegally next to the white house on the corner, spilled out of the car and waited at the side door. The wind blew in all directions forcing half of us back to the car. It wasn’t until the screen door opened that we got back out and rushed inside.
My uncle had greeted us and advised caution as we carefully climbed the stairs. The lift was parked at the top, so I needed to lean on the rickety banister to pass the chair. We walked into the front, window-filled room to greet the host. My grandmother poised in a recliner overseeing a half eaten English muffin with peanut butter bashfully said ‘hello’. I can’t remember the last time I saw her and I know she couldn’t remember either. She looked lost. We were reintroduced while NCIS blasted in the background. The Original Five only stayed for about ten minutes. We had a strict agenda to follow; Dad served as the timekeeper. Each of us hugged and kissed her goodbye – I, with the feeling it would be the last time.
Within minutes were were on our way to the second stop. We drove down Stuyvestant Avenue past Levy’s Pharmacy, where my Mom had worked in high school. I instantly looked to the right in hopes of seeing the liquor store. Sure, I needed a drink right then, but the store was more of a memory than a necessity. When I was much younger my grandfather would walk me down there to hang out with the owner. His name escapes me, but we’d hang out in the back alley while they smoked cigars and shot the shit around. He was so proud of me – loved introducing me to his friends. I was his baby girl’s daughter; there’s something sweet about that relationship. The liquor store had closed years ago, so I was told. Places looked different, but still looked the same. We made a left onto Court Avenue, parked the car and shuffled across the street.
Mom yelled (ahh, good old Jersey) for us to not ring the bell. There’s something about my family in Jersey; they think that we don’t have common sense. They still think we’re kids, young kids. Mom pulled the key from her overstuffed purse and unlocked the door with frustration. And, to mention, there’s something about Jersey that brings the aggression out in my family. The memorable scent of Frieda’s house hit my nose as I scaled the steep stars into her kitchen. Her table had been transformed into an office of sorts. Stacks of papers, magazines, cereal boxes and other miscellaneous items were scattered around the portable phone and address book. She emerged from the rest room, hobbling over to the kitchen sink. Her hair was not done – something I have NEVER seen in my life. The Original Five lined up for hugs and kisses while Frieda exclaimed how big we all got. The last time I saw her, if memory serves, was about five and a half years ago.
We all offered our condolences at the loss of her brother, which triggered a long face and a faucet of tears. She would not be joining us at the funeral home due to her inability to walk well. Her arthritis is winning the war on her joints, leaving her homebound. She continued to express her joy in seeing the Original Five together again. She could not believe how much we had grown – we’re adults now (I think) with our own families, creating our own memories and traditions. She’s all alone and I feel like we’re leaving her behind…moving on with out her. Mom rummaged through her weeks-old mail and tried to organize some of the piles. Dad went through her medication, again, and re-labeled the bottles. Joe nosily perused through the home, soaking up as many memories as he could while Matt and I stood in the kitchen. Frieda has pictures of all the great-grandchildren plastered all over her walls. She looks at them frequently, as they put a smile on her face, she tells us. Then, without warning, she looks at my Mother and says, ‘Mary Ann, please whisper in my brother’s ear that I love him.’ I had to walk away. Dad, keeping time, got us moving again. Just as we did upon arrival, the Original Five lined up, said goodbyes and disappeared down the steep stairs. It won’t be the last time I talk with her, but I’m sure it will be the last time that I see her.
As soon as we got out of the car, we were headed to a town about ten minutes away. Hoping we made it to the right funeral home, we parked and briskly walked to the side entrance. Wow! What a showing. There was a hell of a line to pay respects to the family. During our wait, my brothers and I nervously cracked some jokes. A priest requested that the remaining people in line cram into the parlor for a little service. We scattered like ants and picked an inconspicuous spot at the back. Maybe inconspicuous isn’t the right word considering we took company with the Good Fellas of the bunch. Strangely enough, I took comfort in having them watching my back. Ahhh, Jersey Italian. Damn, there was a lot of hairspray and gold in the room.
The ten minute ceremony concluded with a prayer and the sign of the cross. We immediately rose from our seats and lined up again. The smell of flowers became overwhelming as I got closer to the front of the room. My Mom, a wreck, stared intently at every arrangement looking for the flowers we sent as a large family. Today, I hated the smell of flowers. Mom and Dad knelt down first and the rest of the kids would follow behind in order of age. I approached and kneeled down by myself. At this point maintaining composure went out the window. There was no care that I only invest in non-waterproof mascara; nor did it matter that a graceful crier, I am not. I said some things to myself, things I don’t understand, things that didn’t make any sense. I pushed myself back to standing and fell in step with another line.
My brother Joe slithered in after me and two minutes later Matt kneeled down. He’s a big guy, as in jacked, and he looked funny kneeling there. It’s as if the area wasn’t big enough to accommodate him; I couldn’t help but stare. He pulled away from the casket and turned toward the rest of the family. His eyes welled with tears as a fat one rolled down his right cheek. I’d never seen him cry before; I didn’t realize that this was his first family funeral. He was too young to attend when my grandfather passed – still hurts after all these years. We did some socializing the rest of the time and caught up with some distant family. For one more time that day, the Original Five hobbled to the car and made way for home. Is this the last time that the Original Five goes on tour?
I’ve been back for about five hours now. Those five hours comprised of Chinese take out, football, baths for the kids and bedtime rituals. With some time to myself, I decided to write and drink a martini. So, here I am with a cold, damp crumpled tissue contemplating life. Why does this have to happen? Why do people have to forget or get sick? Why do people die? I’ve always had a difficult time getting older, and today supports those feelings. I just want to be that cute little girl with pigtails running in the sand or fishing with my Grandpa. I want my Grandmothers to see my little Allison, for they’ve only seen pictures. I want to be okay with getting older, but I just can’t get over it. I don’t want to go through this with my parents and I want to see my grandchildren. There is no answer and that’s, I think, the most difficult for me.
So instead here’s my plan: Drink this martini, maybe make another. Get sleep. Do yoga tomorrow. That’s as far as I got. One day at a time, I guess?