I’m going to get called Judianne a lot this week. That’s how names were when I was a kid…they were a mash-up of your first and last names. Not necessarily your full names or I would be Judith Anne and I can never EVER once remember being called Judith by any member of my family. Judith is my doctor’s office name. My brother was Joeymark and my cousin was Donnypaul…mash-up names.
My beloved uncle passed away yesterday, poetically, on the golf course. He was my mother’s brother-in-law and we lived next door to them nearly my whole life. We lived in this Kennedy-esque first generation Italian American suburban grouping of homes built by my uncles. My mother had two sisters – one lived next door to me and the other one, across the street. Their mother, my grandmother, lived next door to me on the other side. My mother also has four brothers, three of whom lived in the neighborhood within a short walk or even shorter bike ride.
One of the best things I can say about our childhood is that we didn’t know how lucky we were. If we did then we knew other people didn’t live with their relatives and have cousins more like brothers and sisters. I didn’t live in a house with a real neighbor (one I wasn’t related to) until I was 25 years old!). We were loved, protected and blessed with comforts of life. The in-ground swimming pool was in my back yard. The basketball court was next door and the fort was behind my cousin’s house across the street.
My hair was never dry all summer and sometimes we got to swim with the light on late at night (probably 10:00pm!). Every weekend, and I mean EVERY weekend in the summer there were hot dogs and hamburgers eaten in the breezeway with all of my cousins. There were 19 of us and we were together all of the time. We laughed and we fought, we played games and we got in trouble for horsing around. We were in each other’s weddings then life happened and we grew apart.
This picture is in the breezeway in 1962. My sister was not born yet and I was the youngest of the “older” cousins. Seven boys and two girls…from top left: Joeymark (my late brother Joe), cousins Donny, Davey and Donnypaul…second row from left: cousins Richard, Michael, me and cousins Sharon and Benjie. Uncle Ben was Davey and Benjie’s dad. He was a bricklayer by trade and a contractor by profession. He was loud and soft-hearted (always cried when I sang Ave Maria!) and I loved him with all of my heart!
But, when something like a death or other disaster happens, we sit together at someone’s kitchen table, comparing notes about life today then reminisce about those breezeway days long ago.
Uncle Ben – it’s Judianne and I want you to know how much I loved you, even when you yelled at me at the pool. You will be missed…
Life is good!