Unexpectedly, my Zia – Italian for aunt – passed away in the hospital at 3am in this morning after brief illness. I’m not going to get into the condition or what happened because that’s not what this post is about. I want to share some memories of my aunt and think about some happier memories.
When I think of my Zia Lucrezia, the first memory I have is spending Thanksgiving at her house. The 3 major holidays of the year went like this: We went to my Zio Raniero’s house for Easter; to my Zia Lucrezia’s house for Thanksgiving; and, for Christmas, both sides of the family came to my mother’s house.
If you’ve heard the phrase “from soup to nuts”, then you would know that such a phrase was actually a reality in our large, Italian holiday dinners. Out of all the dishes, I remember a few in particular. Her turkey and stuffing were moist and delicious. Zia made the best holiday dessert: lemon cake – spongy white cake with lemon and sugar. I remember waiting with anticipation all year just to be able to taste her lemon cake again. I recall sitting around the dining room table cracking nuts – walnuts, almonds, and, of course, hazelnuts. Shells were strewn all over the place. What a mess!
I remember Godzilla movies playing on the TV. Or was it football? I seem to remember football in later years, but I would swear to you we watched Godzilla movies on TV all afternoon. I remember sitting in the living room, post feast, and watching my crazy boy cousins running around, going in and out.
By the time I moved back home last year, my aunt was elderly and ill. She’d had at least two open heart surgeries that were very hard on her. A once chubby woman, she had become thin, frail, and could only speak in whispers. But she still had her mind and her spirit.
One day after my Zio Luigi died in July, my husband and I took my mother and my Zia Lucrezia out to lunch at a diner. We had a good time, just the four of us.
In the last few months since my uncle died, my aunt accompanied a son and his family on a trip to Canada to visit her cousins. Then, last month, relatives of hers came to visit. They toured NYC, and my aunt and her sons and their families, in rotation, went sightseeing all over the place.
Saturday night, she fell ill before going to church and was taken to the hospital instead. My husband, mother, and I went to see her that evening. She was awake, and we got to tell her how much we loved her.
When we came back on Sunday, she was much worse and ailing. We left with heavy hearts, and woke up to news that she was gone. Right now, we are in the calm before the wake and funeral storm. Watching someone decline is difficult. Having someone die after a brief illness feels like a slap that wakes you from a dream.
I love you, Zia Lucrezia. I wish I had asked you for your lemon cake recipe and been able to make it for you for once. Just once.
Blessed be and peace to you, dear readers.