On the ninth day of Christmas. . .

Happy 2012! Can it really be five months since I wrote my last post? I’ve thought about writing so many times and, yet, I did not make the time. When I began writing, it was a way for me to find the quietness that seems so elusive in my life.

I spent this evening re-organizing my home office. The cold and snow seem a world away as I find warmth and solace up here in my special room. How fitting, I think, that I write just a short note to rekindle the spark within me that yearns for quiet.

Today is the ninth day of Christmas. My true love gave to me, “Nine ladies dancing.” Did you know that “the Twelve Days of Christmas is probably the most misunderstood part of the church year among Christians who are not part of liturgical church traditions. Contrary to popular belief, these are not the twelve days before Christmas, but in most of the Western Church are the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany  (January 6th; the 12 days count from December 25th until January 5th).” (Dennis Bratcher)

It’s been suggested that this otherwise silly song was intended as instructional for the early Christians. Mr. Bratcher contends that it may be a myth, but still, it’s worthy of consideration. Hence, the partridge in a pear tree represents Jesus Christ, whose birthday we celebrate December 25th; two turtle doves represent the Old and New Testaments, and so on. How fitting that I decided to start writing again on the ninth day. The nine ladies dancing represent  the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23). This is one of my favorite Bible passages. For me, it is the greatest guide for living and, of course, not always easy to espouse.

I will take it as serendipitous that I am writing on the ninth day of Christmas for the first time in five months. I like the idea of events and circumstances being signs, so I’ll take all of this as a sign that I will recommit to pursuing the quiet moments of reflection I find when I write.

I’ve made just one new year’s resolution: I will be kinder to myself in all circumstances and I will stop any negative self talk. That may seem trite but for me it will be a challenge.

I guess that’s it for now. Just a starting point. I have so much to write about…but there will be many winter nights ahead for that.


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A Champagne Birthday for Marcus Aurelius!

Mark at Uncle Andy's for July 4th 2011 festivities

Earlier tonight Frank and I joined our daughter, Julie, her hubby, Scott and the kids – Mark, Cameron and Ella for dinner. The occasion? It was Mark’s special birthday dinner. Many years ago, Julie and Scott started a family tradition. As part of their birthday celebration, Mom and Dad let the birthday child pick a restaurant to celebrate. Mark picked Friendly’s.

This was no ordinary birthday for Mark. He turned 17 on the 17th.  Sometimes referred to as a “champagne” birthday, “Urban Dictionary,” defines it:

Another term for a “golden birthday” which means you turn the same age as the day you were born;

Mark is our oldest grandchild. He’s a special kid for a lot of reasons. He is probably one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet. He’s smart, respectful, athletic, good looking and did I mention almost perfect? 🙂 All kidding aside, it’s difficult for me to describe the special bond we share. You know the old saying, “there are angels among us?” Well, in many ways, Mark is my special angel and he doesn’t even know it.

Moma and her special angel, Mark

Mark was born just before midnight on Sunday, July 17, 1994. He came into our lives at a very important time. I fell in love the moment I saw him. He was so tiny in the hospital bassinet. I knew he was an angel God sent to bring Julie and me together again.

I met Julie in the summer of 1984 when she was 10, the oldest of Frank’s 3 biological children. She gushed over me and begged me to marry her dad. I was instantly enamored of this pretty little girl who seemed to adore me. Who wouldn’t be? We had a great time together as we forged our new life. It seemed perfect for a few years.

But somewhere between her 16th and 17th birthday things between us started to change.  We argued constantly. During those years I tried desperately to be her mother. But her biological mother was in her daily life. I felt totally insecure. I spent  hours in counseling trying to figure out this teenager who lived with me. In hindsight I can see how it might have been normal mother/daughter teenage trauma. Except I wasn’t her “real” mother and I hated the term, “stepmother.” The resentment between us was bigger than the Berlin Wall. I felt like Lady Tremaine and she was poor Cinderella. A bit dramatic maybe, but have you met me?

I get sad when I think of those days when Julie and I were estranged. She moved out of our house when she was 17 and went to stay full-time with her mom. It broke Frank’s heart. I faithfully continued my counseling and avoided her as much as possible, thereby reducing the likelihood of confrontation. It was a painful couple of years. I wondered how we would make it through.

I look back and wish I had done things differently, though I’m not sure I could have.

When she was 18, Julie met Scott. She seemed to fall head over heels in love. When she was 19 and he was 20, they announced they were getting married.  Frank and I worried. They both came from divorced families. What were they thinking?

Silly goose!

And then came Mark. Beautiful, angelic Mark. The love of our lives. The baby who would mend our broken hearts and finally make us a family.  For years I tried so hard being Julie’s “other mother.” I never seemed to get it right. But when Julie became a mother, things began to change.

Julie watched me change Mark’s diaper in the hospital.We still brag that I was the first family member to change his diaper. She was just 20 and seemed to appreciate all the help we were willing to give. She also seemed to see me in a different light. It was almost as if she understood my pain and insecurity. I certainly began to understand hers. Somehow, with Mark a part of our lives, all was forgiven and we knew it would be okay.

Mark spent so much time at our house. Frank and I loved it. I couldn’t wait to see him between visits. I used to call him “Pumpkin Baby.”  I remember making a sweatshirt with that lettering. When he started talking, Julie would ask him what I called him and he would say, “Punkin Baby.” When I wasn’t calling him by that nickname, I would refer to him as a “silly goose.” He giggled in delight when I chased him around the house or cuddled him. Julie and I began to understand each other in a way we never had. Our connection seemed secure and unbreakable and we had Mark to thank.

Mark gave Frank and me our grandpa/grandma “names.” Frank is Ta and I am Moma. It stuck. Ten grandchildren later we are still Moma and Ta.

Over the years Mark and I have shared many special times. When he was too big to call, Pumpkin Baby or Silly Goose, I started to think of other nicknames. I call him “Marcus Aurelius” to this day. Just me. I like that. I hope he doesn’t mind. I don’t think he minds. And, if he does, he’s too much of a good kid to say so.

The summer he turned 12, Mark and I went on an adventure. He picked. We packed up my car, and the two of us set off for Chicago to visit my brother and his family. Our road trip was nothing short of eventful. We played the usual car games. We looked for and recorded as many state license plates as we could find. I don’t recall how many we found but I remember he seemed pleased with our finds. We even inadvertently went through a toll plaza in Chicago! Dazed and confused by the Illinois toll road system, I called Chuck who let me know I should probably pull over and figure out how to get the toll paid. Mark and I finally figured it out and had a good laugh over it.

While we vacationed in Chicago, Mark loved having Uncle Chuck and Aunt Kathy fuss over him. We went into the City to the Museum of Science and Industry. We spent time at Navy Pier and forced Mark and his cousin, AJ, to ride the gigantic ferris wheel. Uncle Chuck treated us to a Chinese acrobatic show. We went to the beach with his cousin, AJ. Uncle Chuck made Mark a special birthday dinner and Mark got to pick the menu. We even went up to the top of Sears Tower. Unfortunately it was a foggy, rainy day but we did it anyway!

A couple of years later Mark got to see a skyline from a skyscraper when he went to the top of the Empire State Building with his Uncle Bryan and cousin, Anna Rose. The three of them went to a Yankees game when the new stadium opened. Mark was thrilled to go with Bryan and I was thrilled for him!

So now this little guy is a big guy as you can see by the picture. When he was little, I used to tell him I was going to put a brick on his head so he would stop growing. Now he’s taller than I am. He is finishing up his Driver’s Ed summer course and soon he’ll take his drivers test. How did this happen?

I need a glass of champagne. A toast to a special kid who will always be in my heart. I love you Mark, (Marky, Pumpkin Baby, Silly Goose, Marcus Aurelius). Thanks for loving me the way you do. You will never know what an angel you are. And to your beautiful mother, Julie, and your wonderful father, Scott, thank you for doing such a terrific job! I love you all.

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Once Upon A Time: The Story of Us

Today was a special day for me, and I want to tell you the story that made it special. Here goes.

Once upon a time in the early 1950s, a little girl with black curly hair went to kindergarten and met a little boy with light brown curly hair. The little girl was 5 years old and the little boy was 4. The little girl was much taller than the little boy. Of course, the little girl ignored the little boy (and all the other little boys), choosing instead to play with all the other little girls on the playground and in the class room.

The little girl and the little boy moved from kindergarten to first grade, then to second, third and so on until they reached the eighth grade. During these years they saw one another every day but most days they didn’t speak to one another. There was the time in the second grade when the little boy decided to kiss the little girl. When he did this, the little girl was mortified and responded to his ardor with a “yech” as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. The little girl walked home after school and told her mother what the little boy did. The little girl’s mother laughed and it was forgotten. Or was it?

As their grammar school days passed, the little girl and the little boy grew. Well, the little girl grew – taller and taller until she was taller than many of the boys and most of the girls. In fact, the girl often stood at or near the back of the line as the children waited to go into school or church. The little boy, however, didn’t grow. He stayed pretty little and was always in the first or second row. These physiologic facts made the boy and the girl a little unhappy since the boy wished he were taller and the girl wished she were shorter.

The boy and the girl went to different high schools. The girl stopped growing taller by the time she was a sophomore and the boy started growing taller when he was a sophomore. The girl went to an all-girls Catholic high school and the boy went to an all-boys Catholic seminary in Pennsylvania. After spending hundreds of hours and days studying the same subjects, listening to the same teachers, attending the same church, celebrating the same holidays and playing with the same children, the boy and girl went four years without seeing one another.

Fate brought the boy and girl together again in their freshman year of college. From working class families with limited income and for other reasons not important enough to mention here, both the girl and boy enrolled at the local community college. They did not, however, see one another in class every day. In fact, they were unaware that either were attending the same school. Then one day, the boy and a couple of friends from grammar school walked right by the girl and her friend from grammar school. The girls saw the boys approaching. As you might expect, the girls giggled at the sight of the approaching boys.  The “meeting” consisted of greeting one another by their formal first names – no nicknames or abbreviated versions. I don’t think there was much visiting.

The boy left college, got a job and eventually married a girl from his neighborhood. His dream of being a priest gone, he knew he was expected to get married and “settle down.” It seemed natural to follow in his father’s footsteps and seek employment at the then largest employer in the city – known worldwide for capturing  “the times of your life,” on film. The girl decided to drop out of community college and focus her attention on gaining secretarial skills from a local secretarial school. The girl believed that her career choices were limited to three professions: being a secretary, being a teacher or being a nurse. In high school she wanted to be a teacher, but she opted to become a secretary as she viewed her need for employment to be short-lived. Once she married and had children, she planned to stay at home caring for her family. At the ripe old age of 20, she got engaged and two weeks after her 21st birthday she said, “I do” to the man she thought she would love forever. She was blissfully happy and believed she was about to live the life of her girlish dreams.

Both the boy/man and the girl/woman planned to honor their marriage vows when they said, “I do.” The man and his wife had three beautiful children; the woman and her husband had one beautiful boy. Life doesn’t always go as planned however. One day the man found himself divorced and the woman also found herself divorced.

The next few years, the man and the woman went about rebuilding their lives. They made some foolish choices along the way and they made some good choices. Each loved their children with their whole hearts and each yearned to be part of a traditional family. Since both were raised by devout Catholic parents, each of them felt disappointed that they were unable to make their marriages work. Still, they persevered in raising their children and making life the best it could be. Each of them lived in the city in which they were born and raised. And, although always living within a few miles of each other, their paths never crossed.

Then one evening in the summer of 1984, their paths crossed at a grammar school reunion. Many of the almost 80 students from their grammar school attended the reunion. It was a wonderful night of reminiscing and reconnecting, a night to remember. The man and the woman visited briefly but drifted in and out of each other’s company as they partied with their former classmates. They didn’t know that fate was about to step in.

When we became a family-June 1985

You can guess how the story ends. The boy/man and the girl/woman eventually got together. They married on June 29, 1985. They blended their families and worked hard to raise their four children to be happy grownups. After 26 years, they are still together. People who know and love them may scratch their heads and wonder how they’ve managed to make it work. Sometimes they do the same thing. Yet, when they are alone and they share their innermost feelings, each of them acknowledges their love and commitment to one another, to their children, their family, their friends and their Creator. Strongly steeped in Catholic tradition, they’ve done what they needed to do to be full participating members of their Church. They believe they’ve instilled good values in their children. It hasn’t always been the life of Ozzie and Harriet. Yet, they celebrate their years together, enjoy the love of their children and their children’s spouses and bask in the joy that their many grandchildren bring.

Life is good. They are blessed. And they all lived happily ever after. The End.

Happy Anniversary to my one and only, Franklin, (known affectionately by many other names: Nilk, Link, Ta, Bud and Budzo). I love you now and forever.

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Pomp and Circumstance, Kindergarten Style!

Today was a special day for my precocious five-year old granddaughter, Anna Rosie, and her kindergarten classmates at Holy Family School in LeRoy. It was, in fact, their graduation day.

The sun streamed through the windows of beautiful Holy Family Church this morning as parents and grandparents eagerly awaited the arrival of these special little people. As we waited, the first through eighth grade classes filed in and took their seats. In typical Catholic school fashion, there was the usual amount of shushing from teachers as they corralled their charges into pews. White bows marked the first three pews reserved for the graduates.

Holy Family makes a big deal out of this moving-up ceremony, and I absolutely loved that Ta, Moma and Grandpa Winters could share Mommy and Daddy’s joy and Anna’s happiness. Just after 10 a.m.,  the graduates processed into church as the organist played  “Pomp and Circumstance” from the choir loft above. The music filled the church as the little ones walked down the aisle, single file, some sheepishly and others (like Anna) with purpose! Everyone was smiling and cameras flashed everywhere.

Father Mike, a short and portly priest, celebrated mass. A jovial and holy man, he is wonderful with the children. He held their attention throughout and especially as he talked with them during his homily. After mass, Mr. Rob, the principal, announced the graduates.

Mr. Rob and Anna Rosie

Mr. Rob told the congregation that he had spoken with the children before today to ask them what they wanted to be when they grew up. He introduced each graduate by describing the vocation they had shared with him. Each time Mr. Rob announced a graduate, the children from the other classes  cheered loudly. Witnessing this sense of community reinforced my feelings about Catholic education. There is a sense of caring and sharing, a love for education and family that exists among the students and families at Holy Family.

The awarding of diplomas continued. One little girl wanted to be a cheerleader because she said she was good at it; another little girl wanted to be a singer because she said she was good at that. There were future fire fighters and police officers, teachers and even a veterinarian. Anna Rose was second to last to receive her diploma. Mr. Rob introduced her: “This graduate told me she had two things she wanted to do when she grew up. She told me she wanted to work at a school, but if she didn’t make enough money doing that, she would also work at Tops.” (There is no Wegmans in LeRoy!) A burst of laughter followed and up to the altar with the biggest smile ever went Anna Rosie. With the smile apparently glued on her face, she happily accepted her diploma from her teacher and shook Fr. Mike’s hand and then took her place at the altar.

My son, Bryan, sat next to me. When I wasn’t watching Anna Rose, I watched his proud, smiling face. My mind drifted back thirty years and I thought of him as a little boy. He had lots of ideas about what he wanted to do. Once he told me he wanted to be a police man. Another time, he wanted to be a “gas station man.” I’m guessing that might have been because of his love of cars from a very early age that continues to this day.

Daddy, Mommy and Anna Rose

The memories passed and I was back in the present. Everyone took lots of pictures after mass. Then the school picnic began. The playground was the first stop for many of the littlest ones, including Anna and little brother, Daniel. I noticed the bigger kids begin to cluster in groups by sex. A small group of girls passed by, pretending to ignore a group of boys. The boys didn’t seem to notice them. Amazing how some things never change. Back in the early sixties, my St. Andrew’s girlfriends and I behaved the same way during our annual “Field Day” at Genesee Valley Park.

In the school gym, long tables were arranged in rows, covered with red, white and blue tablecloths. The graduates and their families were served first. Lunch was a hot dog, with sides of potato chips and tater tots! A small wedge of watermelon completed the feast. Later, there was cake. A mobile ice cream truck from LuGia’s arrived and everyone waited eagerly in line, graduates first of course.

Mr. Rob honored his bet with the students. It seems that he promised them that if they made their magazine drive fundraiser goal, he would shave his head at the end of the school year. Joe the barber, was there to shave Mr. Rob’s head to the delighted screams and shrieks of the kids. A small “HFS” was shaved in the back of Mr. Rob’s head.

Eventually, the festivities began to wind down. It was time to think about heading home. It was almost 2:30 p.m. Anna Rosie and Daniel began to show the unmistakable signs that let you know it’s time to leave. They had a great time running around and playing with everyone, but they were tired from the excitement of the day.

This entry would not be complete if I didn’t mention the closing hymn the children sang. It is “Blessed Be Your Name,” a song they sang at their recent spring concert. Their young voices filled the church and, of course, I got the chills as I always do when I hear children sing. I found a children’s version of this beautiful hymn, sung by the India Children’s Choir, on YouTube. I hope you take a minute to listen.

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It took me 53 years to write this one. . . .

Last week I wrote a blog about how quickly time passes. May passed so quickly I didn’t make the time to write. Instead, I summed up the entire month of May in the post with a list of some of my month’s personal highlights.

One reason I blog is to document as many of my special memories from my life as possible. Sometimes, in the course of my daily living,  an event will trigger such a memory.

One such case is my granddaughter, Ella’s First Communion. On Wednesday, May 11, 2011, Ella received her First Holy Communion. She is eight years old. She received the sacrament of Confirmation the same evening. The mass was celebrated at Sacred Heart Cathedral in the City of Rochester, even though Ella’s church is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Hamlin. Nowadays, at least in the Diocese of Rochester, several area churches come together for the receiving of these sacraments.

In preparation for this special and holy occasion, my daughter, Julie, purchased Ella a beautiful white dress and veil. Ella’s outfit included white tights and white dress sandals. A couple of hours before church I called Julie to see how things were progressing. With frustration in her voice, she told me she was “in negotiations” with Ella about wearing her veil and tights. It seemed that at the last-minute Ella didn’t want to wear her veil or the white tights. I smiled as I listened to Julie’s lament, knowing full well who would be the victor.

Sure enough, as we walked into the Cathedral, Julie came up with Ella in tow. Ella looked absolutely beautiful. Julie had fashioned Ella’s hair in a beautiful up-do. In place of the veil, a small spray of white flowers adorned the back of Ella’s hair. It looked perfect and she looked as innocent and beautiful as she could be. She was stocking-less in her pretty white sandals. And off we went into church with her Grandpa at her side. He was her Confirmation sponsor.

The next day I got to thinking about Ella and the veil. I remember when I made my First Communion I could not WAIT to wear a veil. In fact, I’m certain all the girls in my class couldn’t wait. We thought we were little brides of Christ or something. Our pictures were taken professionally, complete with our rosary beads draped between our clasped hands as we looked up angelically from our prayer kneeler. I recall receiving a First Communion “kit” that included gloves, rosaries, a prayerbook and our veils. Consistency was critical back then; we girls needed to look as alike as possible. I also seem to remember that either my mother or her sister, my aunt and godmother, made my dress.

Wish I had my picture - we had angels not just priests, but this is pretty close!

It was all so very special. I received my First Communion with the entire second grade from St. Andrew’s school and the kids from public school who attended religious instruction. We received communion on my 8th birthday, Saturday, May 10, 1958. The next day was Mother’s Day. I even remember the special hymn we learned just for such a holy occasion:

Jesus, Jesus, come to me,
All my longing is for Thee.
Of all friends, the best Thou art,
Make of me Thy counterpart.

Jesus, I live for Thee,
Jesus, I die for Thee,
I belong to Thee
Forever, in life and death.

When we were young, my Dad’s free time was pretty limited given that he was a self-employed grocer. I’m not sure the term, “disposable income” was widely understood back then, but he certainly didn’t have much of that either. Yet, my Dad found a way to make things special for us when he could.

For many years, the store was open seven days a week. There were other years when he would only open from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. I’m not sure what the schedule was in 1958, but I’ve always had fond memories of that weekend. On Saturday I wore my beautiful dress and veil to church to receive the body of Jesus Christ for the first time. I was always wrapped up in the mystery of it all when I was young and I was probably thinking I was halfway to heaven back then. I don’t remember if we had a party afterwards, but it was likely we did as that was typical.

The festivities didn’t end on Saturday. The very next day, Mother’s Day, I got to wear my dress and veil to church again! Later that day Dad took the family to an Italian restaurant on Canandaigua Lake called “Caruso’s.” We went there a few times when I was a child, and I always remember it being very “fancy” as I would have called it. It felt like we were transported to a special place when we went there. Dad would order us “Shirley Temples” to drink. I don’t remember what I ate. I only remember feeling very, very special that day.

I don’t remember thinking about my First Communion when my children were receiving their sacraments. Maybe I was too busy with the flurry of activity at the time. Growing older has its advantages. You have more time for reflection and recollection. In any case, here I am 53 years later remembering feeling like a princess in God’s eyes and my Dad’s. I’m glad I finally took the time to capture this memory. There may come a time when I won’t remember it, and I will be happy that I recorded it.


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Friends, Romans, Cousins (forever). . .

Maryann, Rick and Nick at our hotel in Florence.

It’s late. I can’t sleep. I am coughing from this nagging sinus-laryngitis-whatever I seem to have. I slept for 4 hours earlier today so that could have something to do with it. Sitting at my computer will likely not help me with my insomnia. A few minutes ago I scanned my Facebook homepage. There, about halfway down the page, I read the words my friend, Rick, posted on his Facebook wall:

June 2, 2006 We sat there five years ago…The test showed she’d to have to fight to live…I broke down and cried.

Along with the status update he posted a song, “Tough” by Craig Morgan. He posted it yesterday too. I watched it then and I watched it again tonight.

Five years ago Rick’s wife and my friend, Maryann, was diagnosed with uterine cancer. I was barely in remission from my breast cancer. When she called to tell me her news, I didn’t know what to say. I thought she was calling to give me the latest details of our upcoming trip to Italy.

Maryann and I met in an Italian genealogy chat room sometime in 1997. We were both searching the surname Passaro. We found out that our grandparents were from the same hamlet in southern Italy, down the Amalfi Coast, Ogliastro Marina. From the moment we “met,” I knew our friendship was special. Some months later I was in New Jersey for business and we sealed the deal – we were cousins from that moment on. Maryann decided she was going to Italy not long after we met. She, Rick and her son, Nick, visited Italy twice before she convinced me to go.

Over the next few years Maryann did more research on my family’s genealogy than I did. Determined, she attacked the search for the missing links to my family as she seemed to do everything in her life. She was a spitfire, always up for speaking her mind and taking on a challenge. One year my brother, Chuck and his wife, Kathy, along with my mother and my aunt, all went to visit Maryann and Rick in New Jersey. We went to New York City and spent time in the Village, Little Italy and other notable sites. The time in Little Italy, though, was the best as we were there during the feast of San Gennaro.

No matter what adventure I took with Maryann it was just that. An adventure. A time I would never forget. We knew each other a short eleven years and yet I have so many memories of her. She insisted that whenever I visited I stay at her home. She planned lavish dinners and her brothers and their families came for dinner. It was always wonderful. She was a throwback to my childhood. She was an Italian American girl from New Jersey. How could I not fall in love?

I met her entire family and many of her closest friends. I was part of her family now. When I was in New Jersey, she would take me shopping at the fabulous Mall at Short Hills. We went to the City (New York) often and she dragged me all over Manhattan. One time we used her points to stay at the Plaza Hotel. On another visit, with Chuck and Kathy, we dined at one of Mario Batali’s restaurants. She and my brother, Chuck, shared a passion for Italian cooking, especially Mario’s.

Early in the summer of 2006, just a couple of weeks after her diagnosis, we left for Italy. I flew to Newark to meet Rick and Maryann. She gave me a seat in Business class using Rick’s frequent miles. He traveled internationally for his job. That was Maryann. She was generous to a fault. I was nervous about the long flight. Maryann made Rick sit with Nick and she parked herself next to me. The flight was wonderful. We drank wine, laughed over meals and watched movies. She fussed over me the entire time ensuring I was comfortable. She had just been diagnosed with cancer and she was fussing over me! We were hopeful on that trip and convinced she would beat her cancer just as I had. The trip was to be the first of many. She decided she wanted to retire in Ogliastro. I remember her telling me her dream was to spend six months in Italy and six months in Savannah, Georgia. I think Rick loved Savannah and so did she.

Nick, Maryann, me, Kathy, Rick in Florence

Italy was incredible. We landed in Milan, met Chuck and Kathy in Florence. From Florence we went to Tuscany. We visited Pisa, Lucca and Siena. All beautiful places. We spent a week in Ogliastro and also went to Castellabate and Santa Maria, the birthplace of my grandfather. While we were in Ogliastro, we made a day trip to Pompeii, practically in the backyard of the Castellabate region.

Maryann’s cousin in Italy, Antonio Passaro, was the local historian. I could write an entire blog about Antonio and how he helped us find our family in Ogliastro. That’s for another day. Antonio took one look at the picture of my grandmother’s passport and knew exactly which Passaro family we needed to meet. Keep in mind the entire village was filled with many Passaro families. It turns out we were not cousins as we thought we might be. No matter, we called each other Cuz anyway. Chuck and I got to meet our family. Incredible story for another time. Our Italy adventure ended in Rome. We had a wonderful, unforgettable time.

We got back from Italy and Maryann began the fight of her life. She fought hard for the next two years. We cried together many times over the phone. I didn’t get to see much of her during her battle. When I suggested visiting, she would put me off. She got sicker and sicker. I still remember her telling me, “I’ll have this until it kills me.”

I went to visit Maryann the week she died. I couldn’t believe it was my Cuz. Emaciated, I barely recognized her. She wanted to die at home. While I was there, the priest came to anoint her. She was angry at Rick about this. I’m guessing because she still wanted to fight. That was Rick’s girl – a fighter till the end. I sat on her bed and tried to talk to her. The first day I was there she could speak to me, but by the last day she could not. When we were alone, I laid next to her in her bed. I tried to talk to her. I burst into tears and couldn’t stop. I told her I loved her and I would never forget her. It was one of the most awful times of my life. I will never forget those moments.

That Saturday Rick called midday. Maryann died that morning. Chuck and I drove to New Jersey for her wake and funeral. I miss her to this day. I will never forget her. Whenever I see pictures from our trip, I smile. I hope I see her again some day.

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Are you headed for the beach or the office?

Today was one of those work days. The ones that make me question my relevance to today’s employees. It was the kind of day that reminded that the volumes written about multiple generations in the workplace should be required reading for managers.

Case in point: I am the senior HR person at work. That gives me the responsibility for setting policy. Well, truthfully, I get to recommend policy based on trends, laws, etc. to my fellow senior leaders. Once we agree to set a policy, I get the happy (or in this case unhappy) job of making sure it gets written and communicated.

So, what does policy writing and implementation have to do with multiple generations?

A little background for context.  I started working in 1969 as a medical secretary, working 40+ hours a week and raking it in at $80 a week. I spent several years as a legal secretary at Rochester’s most prestigious law firm. The secretaries, all female, were addressed by first name. The attorneys, who numbered about eighty, were all men, except for two female associates. The attorneys were addressed by surname. We adhered to a strict and formal dress code. We had important, wealthy clients. We made sure our shoes and purses matched. Sometime in the early seventies, we were allowed to wear “pant suits.” They were lovely polyester numbers, and if you lived through the seventies you remember what I’m talking about. And, the slacks and jacket had to match. We were required to wear our jackets when we were away from our desk, escorting clients, getting coffee and taking dictation. Can you just imagine a young Gen Y woman doing any of that?

Thank goodness times changed. So did work dress codes. Over the next two decades, workplace fashion changed with the quality movement, the feminist movement, the start-ups and, of course, the generations.  I’m pretty certain that the technology boom and people like Bill Gates are responsible for the popular white-collar dress code that has become known as “business casual.” The nineties saw a big movement to business casual dress, even for higher-level positions.

Since I was experiencing hourly hot flashes during these years, I was happy that blazers and suits were replaced by slacks and blouses or sweaters. Professional and business journals touted the increase in worker productivity, a direct result of dressing more casually. We were business casual comfortable but still maintained a professional look.

Somewhere during the last decade, business casual changed. It’s closer to what I would call picnic casual or beach casual or going bowling casual or going to the club casual. Which brings me to today’s work day (finally).

Back from the Memorial Day holiday, I guess folks are ready for summer. In fact, in my work area (the executive offices), many looked like they’re getting ready to go on a picnic or to the beach. Exaggeration? Maybe. I couldn’t believe what (mostly the women) were wearing! Fitted capris, tank tops and flip-flops (some with bling). I felt like a fuddy duddy when I talked with my Director and managers to get their impressions. They’ve probably never even heard the term “fuddy duddy.” I guess they agreed, but they seemed puzzled that I was so appalled. Harrumph!  It’s bad enough I can’t put two spaces after a sentence anymore and now they want me to let them wear beach clothes? I think not. Off with their heads!

I’m a boomer who heard the message loud and clear as I worked to advance my career: “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Translation: be as professionally dressed as you possibly can, BE the ball, fake it till you make it, etc. These days there are many more Gen X and Gen Y folks around me. They’re not buying any of it, especially the Gen Y people (affectionately dubbed “millennials”).

Being the seasoned and wise HR boomer person that I am, I whipped up some fancy language to stop the insanity. Ok, I’m exaggerating and being silly. Alone in my office, I stared at the words on the page and thought about the situation. It was then that I reminded myself that the generation to which we are born affects our paradigms. I realized that maybe the appearance of different workers is a clue to how different we are. And, isn’t that a good thing for the workplace all you diversity lovers?  Gen X and Gen Y people are our future. They are smart and ambitious. They want to learn and they aren’t afraid to ask for what they want. They grew up in a different time, especially those from the Y generation. Good for them. They keep us boomers on our toes. And we share — they teach me and I teach them. They have new information and I have experience. A good combination and good for business.

Yes, boomers, we may have the wisdom, but Gen X and Y have the future. It’s just too bad they don’t know how to dress for success. 🙂

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