I thought I had something ready to say this week but I find myself needing to give the person I wanted to write about more of a tribute; I will have to work on it.Instead, I’ll give a tribute to two other ladies in my life. And I am just plain tired, so I will copy and paste another story concerning a celebrity, my mother and, yes, (once again), spaghetti sauce. I hope you enjoy it:
Sometime in the sixties we started getting letters to attend family reunions in
North Carolina, promising good old-fashioned Southern hospitality. My father was estranged from his family most of the time. We seldom had contact with many
relatives, and some of them were unaware of my existence, or had
forgotten me, for many years….until I started calling them a few years ago. But back then, one of the letters was from an “Aunt Amy”, (of
whom I’d never heard), saying that she was “sure that your boys are grown by
now”, (one boy, two girls; two teens, one younger ), and saying that “Uncle
Floyd”, (another new one on me ), was failing and that this might be his last
reunion, so wouldn’t we come to the reunion? To my knowledge, my father never answered the letter.
Then one of my cousins, again, whom I did not know, started calling our house,
speaking with my mother. My mother was incapable of saying a clear “no”
to anyone, including those who begged her for an answer so that they wouldn’t
have to pay a caterer for a meal that she would not attend, but she would never
directly turn anyone down. My mother talked with the cousin
extensively… what a nice time she had when she had visited North Carolina,(she was a Pennsylvania girl), how fond she had been of my grandmother and assorted relatives . Yes, it would be nice to see everyone and the children that everyone had, and of course it would
be wonderful to take we children down, etc. They even got into it about food,
as my cousin’s parents and several others had told her what a fantastic cook my
mother was, so speculation about making spaghetti sauce at the reunion came into
play. If you only knew how little chance of my mother making spaghetti sauce
in someone else’s kitchen, with in-laws around yet, well, you DON’T know.
Heck, we were even more likely to GO! We never vacationed, never traveled as a
family. This would NEVER happen. Never. Not ever. Martians could invade. The
dinosaurs could return. Mom could become president, but the spaghetti had no
chance of ever being made in front of anyone else.
Every once in a while one of my father’s brothers, whom I saw once in my
life, would bend an elbow, remember my mother’s spaghetti sauce, and call for
the recipe. She never sent it. One time, he was so insistent, and not too smashed
to remember that he had asked before and not received the promised formula,
that she gave my sister an Italian cookbook, (which Mom never used ), and told
her to type out any spaghetti sauce recipe in it to send to him. I don’t think
that letter got sent, either.
My mother kept putting the niece-by-marriage off every
time that she called, grumbled that “that girl couldn’t take a hint”, and she was running out of excuses.
Finally, my mother told her that “she didn’t think that we be going”. After all
the time that she had put into speaking with Mom, the girl was not going to give up easily.
Mom complained to everyone. One of my sister’s friends had become very close
to our family. As a matter of fact, there are still people who think that she is a
half sister, as that is what she and my sister told them. She even put up with
being made the older of the two, although actually a year younger, to make the
story believable, as she was a strong girl with a hearty voice. My sister and I were slighter, looked much alike, and our brother resembled us as well.. She had always
called my mother “Mom”, (and Mom later became “Mema Joyce“ to the girl’s
Clearly speaking, Brenda is a character; smart, but a character. A book could be
written on her teen years alone. She was around quite a bit at that time, and she
heard Mom on the phone with my frustrated cousin, and then listened to Mom
But back tot he story: Mom was Frank Sinatra’s biggest devotee. Hands down. No one
comes near in competition. Frank could do no wrong. Even when he did do
something well, not apparently for the best, he must have had a good reason, so
we just were not to question his mysterious ways. We were raised on his music; I can sing any of
his songs, with every intonation, every inflection. Never mind that I have no
voice. I know how it should go. ( Do you know what his theme song was? You might think that you do but unless you said, “Put Your Dreams Away” you’re wrong.) In fact , Frank, (oh, yeah, Frank
was so much a part of our lives, he was referred to just as Frank, and we knew
who she meant; he was just “with us ”. Coincidentally, Frank even had a daughter, a son and then another daughter, just as Mom had, but apparently there had been so much unwanted publicity surrounding “Nancy, Junior” when she was young that Frank and “Nancy, Senior” had kept the rest of their children’s lives relatively quiet.
Mom didn’t even know that Frank, Jr. existed until a few years before this, (and
cried when she saw him), nor did she know until then of Tina,(whose
birthday is, strangely enough, the same as mine).
Frank had no equal. Mom would never have cheapened her ”relationship” with Frank by following his life through tabloids. To have tracked his family through magazines and gossip columns would have lowered her status to mere “fan”; no, their spiritual bond transcended mundane notions such as their earthly lives. I am certain that she would have turned down any opportunity to meet him ,as that would have been akin to looking God in the face. It would also have been too hard to find that he may be only human after all.
Now, you understand that we are going back before cable TV, even before VCR’s, and Frank wasn’t on the tube much. He was, however, going to be on The Tonight Show one evening during this time, and he was going to sing one of Mom’s favorite songs, to
boot. Just as Frank came on, the phone rang, on the other end was a familiar
accent, asking one last time if my mother was sure that we wouldn’t be going to
the reunion. My mother was beside herself; the girl gave it her best shot to get her to agree to go to North Carolina,
and finally gave up, just as Frank was going off. The next day, Mom could not
contain herself. Her only chance to see Frank sing whatever-it-was! How could
she not have gotten through to that girl? She hadn’t called in days, and my
mother thought for sure she’d given up. Mom had even had to come right out and tell her that we would not be going! And she called so late, and during FRANK! Brenda roared with laughter.
It had not been my cousin at all. Brenda had put her young sister-in-law, whom
Mom did not know, up to making the call. Mom was shocked. It had been a young woman’s
voice with a soft southern accent. It seems that sometime when my cousin called, Brenda had answered the phone and gotten an idea of my cousin’s voice. Mom had only been half listening the night before;
she had been trying desperately to hear Frank, and that was exactly what Brenda
had been banking on.
Brenda still needed something to pull. She couldn’t upset Mom any further, so she
had told her sister-in-law that my mother was angry with her, furious that they
had carried off that stunt. Months later, we ran into Brenda and the girl and Brenda ceremoniously introduced her sister-in-
law to Mom, knowing the effect. Mom’s eyes widened. “Oh, Mrs. Joyce!” the
girl cried, taking my mother’s hands and throwing herself on Mom’s mercy,
“Don’t be mad at me. I’m so sorry about calling you that night, but Brenda
made me do it. She said if I didn’t that she was going to put in a false alarm
and send the fire engines!” Brenda roared again. But she felt bad, as Mom never
let her live it down, so years later she
bought Mom the complete” Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music”. She was,
however, still Brenda. She said that she told the clerk that it was for “an old
lady”; Mom was in her fifties. Mom had always threatened to get even with
Brenda, but never did. Before we moved out of state, Brenda would come over
often when Mom made spaghetti
and Mom would send some home with her in our best casserole dishes. The day
Mom died, I talked to Brenda for the first time in years, and reminded her. She
had wondered where she had gotten all the flowered Corning Ware.
Later that week, Brenda emailed me. My mother loved what she called, “hard
rolls”; firm, brown Kaiser rolls with poppy seeds. She remembered Mom
with her cold, strong coffee and hard rolls; had Mom still enjoyed them? She had just been to the store, passed by a display of rolls and started to cry.