By Rosalie Tirella
This Memorial Day I’m wistful for my loved ones who’ve died. The older you get, the more loved ones you lose! A sad fact of aging you’re never told about in the ladies beauty magazines, during the Botox commercials on TV or in the WARNINGS printed on the millions and millions of tubes and small bottles (all so beautifully packaged!) of anti-wrinkle creams and serums you buy. You’re in your 40s and surrounded by your crazy posse – all that love!!! – and you think it’ll last forever. So you home in on what the media tricks you into believing about aging: saggy breasts and jowls, crows feet above your eyes, lines across your forehead and down your cheeks. Aging means age spots on your face and hands, the commercials tell us! OH, NO!!!! WE CAN LIGHTEN, ERASE … FIX IT ALL FOR YOU!
The advertisers never tell you aging means losing your posse! One by one, sometimes in clusters, THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE YOU FEEL ALIVE – YOUNG! These losses will make you feel like a jaded and tired survivor. A warrior whose steed’s gone awol. OLD. And all the tubs of cold cream in CVS, or even MACY’S, won’t smoothen away the wrinkles on your heart.
You’re not “gone” (yet!) but a big chunk of you is! The nurturing side of you (Ma), the salty/punky side of you (Tony Hmura), the fearless side of you (Auntie Mae), the wild child in you (Bapy). Especially today it feels lonely out here in the universe, looking into the stars at night and wishing on them, missing my late mother’s gravelly, sexy voice and veiny hands. Tony Hmura’s short stature and little hitch in his walk, left side. My little Polish tough! Auntie Mae’s LOVE YA! LOVE YA, Rosalie! and her big hug and sloppy, jowly smooch before and after each encounter – from childhood right through to my late 40s. My Auntie was the only girl in her family who learned to drive and owned a car – a long brown Elektra, black hardtop. She drove her big, bada*s car right foot on the gas pedal, left foot on the brake pedal. A sight to behold!
Here I am, in the infinitely dark and mysterious universe, in old
Worcester, without all that love, all my great people. Now they’re stowaways in my heart! Forever! Strong-willed immigrant voices who taught me, entertained me, inspired me. Daily. Their personalities and values embedded in the mundane stuff: talking on the telephone with Auntie; sitting at Bapy’s feet when I was a little girl, watching Ma braid her long, fine silver hair in our Green Island kitchen; popping over at Ma’s for a cup of coffee and “sweet”; meeting Tony at Breen’s Cafe on Cambridge Street for a bowl of cheap but excellent home-made soup.
Missing Tony Hmura, my World War II vet/ace gunner and his old bomber jacket – the one with his WW II plane painted on the back. He wore it fall, winter, spring and even summer. It grew smelly of Tony’s b.o. – miss that smell! I picked up some fake posies for my old friend’s grave site at Notre Dame Cemetery …
… but never got around to sticking them in the grass by his humongous, big, gold-lettered, front-row head-stone. All his egotistical choice! Tony had picked out the massive stone and designed its engraving (his World War II fighter plane with him in it, poking his head and machine gun out its rear window). Tony chose his gravesite (first row, right in front, practically on Webster Street!) He chose where his gravestone was to be erected and its in-your-face font: HMURA painted big and bold and with real gold leaf. Old Tony – full of himself even in death! He showed the gravestone and site – all ready for his little corpse – to me when he was alive, five or so years before he died. Standing with him at that grassy spot, sun shining on us, I listened as Tony bragged that he paid thousands of dollars for the whole package and that everyone who drove by into Auburn could see it. He asked me to write a column on him and his gravestone. He wanted me to take a photo of him standing next to his big monument to himself. I said: NO, TONY! THIS IS TOO MORBID! LET’S GO TO BREENS! I didn’t understand that to Tony, my old sign maker (Leader Signs, Canterbury Street), his tombstone – designed by him – was the last cool “sign” he’d make!