On a small field outside of Naples, my grandmother, Maria Michele (also known as “Mimi”) was born in 1927 to her loving parents and sister. Upon immigrating to Brooklyn on a steam liner from across the Atlantic, she welcomed three additional siblings. Mimi came from humble means, but was rich in love both given and received in the traditional southern Italian household in which she was raised. Although she appreciated her heritage, she learned to change her ways in order to adapt as a “modern” American girl.
Not only was she incredibly beautiful, but also her vivacious personality dazzled many with her signature laugh, grace, and vibrancy. Many a time, she was referred to as the cat’s meow during her days of swing dancing and attending various big band performances and events at the local social halls. Her passion was the famed Glenn Miller until she met the love of her life, Joey—who was the most desired bachelor on the block. Although Mimi and Joey knew each other from the old neighborhood, it wasn’t until their chance encounter at Lowes Movie Theatre did Joey ask to escort her home safely. After a first kiss in which Joey exclaimed, “Where have you been all my life?”
The young couple soon married and started a family of their own—moving out to the “country” in Long Island in which they made their home for over 60 years. Suburban life became the norm and Mimi and Joey took great pride in raising their most special and beautiful children, Lillian and Sammy. Mimi devoted her life to her little ones and so proudly watched them grow into wonderful individuals they presently are—from teaching them the everyday manners of “please” and “thank you”, through instilling prayer, to invaluable life lessons of maximizing their potential to achieve anything their hearts’ desired. She was most generous with sharing her personal experiences and guided her family through sound and sensible strategies for cherishing the simple beauty of life and faring its difficulties with integrity and sensitivity—being kind to themselves and others on their paths.
But then the most impacting events happened in Mimi’s world—the arrivals of her beloved grandchildren. With profound sadness of losing her first grandson at birth, she was the source of strength for her daughter and her son-in-law to heal from such tragedy. Her patience and love for her daughter was the biggest gift she gave her and in turn, Lillian repaid her mother ten fold.
I had the unique experience of living next door to my grandparents for the first eight years of my life. As an infant, Mimi cradled me in her arms from the time I woke until the time she would rock me to sleep. The only time I was returned to my own mother was for when she nursed me…and once she finished, I was all Mimi’s once again. As I got older, I became more of a little companion; listening attentively to the stories of her youth, swing dancing with her to all of her favorite songs, and admiring her so when she would get dressed up and put on her make-up at her vanity before Saturday night dinner dates with Joey and their friends.
Although it was initially difficult to leave my grandparents upon my family’s move, it was soon realized that they were only a 10-minute car ride away. Over the years, both Mimi and Joey frequently attended school functions, performances, baseball, soccer, and volleyball games, dance and piano recitals, science fairs, art exhibitions, and graduations in support of all their grandchildren…as they couldn’t be more proud of our accomplishments and successes, yet providing us with unconditional love, support, and comfort in all aspects of our lives. What I truly admired most in my grandmother was our long talks about love, life, and everything else in between. I confided in her regularly and was most appreciative of her non-judgmental, truthful, and sensible advice. Later on, not only did we converse in English, but also we tried our best between her old Neapolitan dialect and my “proper” Italian.
She had a great understanding of the workings of the world and how to handle anything that came her way. Most impressive was her battle with cancer…spanning 22 years of her life. Not once did she ever complain or have self pity. She fully trusted God and her beloved saints and whole-heartedly appreciated the devotion of her husband, children, and grandchildren—as we all banded together to make it as positive as possible. In her final days, she was more loving, gracious, peaceful, and kind of heart…receiving immense love from her family and giving it back to us in return. She peacefully slept hand in hand with her husband, Joey, surrounded in his love and devotion as she passed away…the most beautiful ending to a love story surpassing 62 years.