During the service for Aunt Marion at Holy Rosary Church this morning, the priest, whom none of us knew, brought up the notion of "home" in his opening remarks. Indeed, we all live in distant places from one another: Uncle Bob and Aunt Marion lived in Florida, cousin Mike and his wife Karen in North Carolina, their son Daniel in Florida, cousins Richard and Steven in Westchester, and all of us are scattered on Long Island, but the Bronx is our common ground, a place where we all began and where many of our earliest memories lie. Though we no longer have any ties to the place, it is still in a way, home.
Yesterday morning, before I left for the wake, I put a status on Facebook: "Off to Da Bronx," and one of my friends responded with a "hope you're wearing a bullet proof vest under your shirt." I laughed off the comment. I mean, yeah, when you don't visit a place and the only things you hear about it are in (not so good) news shorts, of course you're going to have preconceived notions about the place, but I'm here to say that the Bronx isn't all that bad. In fact, in a way it is home, and even though I don't think I'd ever live there again I do feel a connection to it.
So, today fifteen people got together to remember one of our own, and along with all the catching up on our lives, we collectively remembered those ghosts whose presence remains in this northernmost borough of New York City: Nana and Grandpa, Aunt Vi and Uncle Tony, Mema, and all the other aunts, uncles and cousins who once were a part of our lives.
As we passed in front of Holy Rosary, we saw the street where grandpa got run over by the fuel truck, dragging him almost a full block, in a terrible accident that he miraculously survived. Mom saw her old school across the street., as well as a dozen hangouts where she and her friends used to spend their afternoons. We remembered walking down the street from nana's to watch the subway trains come by under the bridge, getting excited in our childhood exuberance at that first glimpse of the train's headlight.
We passed familiar street names, Allerton Avenue and Pelham Parkway, on which Pelham Bay General Hospital once stood, the birthplace place of me and my first three siblings. We remembered the Bronx Zoo and Carousel Shoes, Irene's Bakery, where nana used to work, and the old projects where my Aunt Anna and Uncle Larry used to live near St. Raymond's Cemetery, near Throggs Neck.
Holiday dinners, of course came to pass through all of our minds. For the first fifteen to twenty years of my life, Christmases, Thanksgivings, and Easters were spent in my grandparents' small two-bedroom house on Eastchester Road. We didn't appreciate them at the time, but those were some of the best of times, thirty or so of us cramped into a makeshift dining room where the living room usually sat, eating nana's stupendous Italian cooking, we kids at a small 'kids' table in the kitchen making mischief as the adults laughed and drank and ate inside.
Yes, a great many memories came flooding back into my mind today. Not all, but most of them were good. It's funny how time makes you remember things differently than when the events were happening, isn't it? I never really appreciated all of those things when I lived through them, and though I've had my issues with my family over the years, there was a lot of good in remembering these times today, for even though we may not see each other very often, and we do not by any means have the perfect, loving family, we are a family, and every once in awhile in times like these, I get reminded of that.
As I said goodbye to my cousin Michael this afternoon, I wondered to myself who's death would bring us into one another's company again. The last time we saw each other was at grandpa's funeral back in 2007, which is too bad because I kind of like him, lol. Since he lives so far away, it' inevitable that the next time will be at another funeral, since there seem to be no upcoming nuptials in our family, which is too bad. But I guess that's one of those things about weddings and funerals...