My mother is from Youngstown, and her younger brother and sister still live there, as do several of my cousins. The seventh of ten, my mom left Youngstown a year after graduating from Catholic University in Washington, DC. She met my father there, thanks to her brother, George, being his roommate, and my dad liked to joke that the only reason she married him was to get out of Youngstown.
Driving to Youngstown, i took Route 11, the scenic route, and enjoyed the back roads, wondering where i was going to stay when i got to Youngstown. My aunts knew I was coming, but Jayne and Tom were attending their granddaughter's wedding out of town, and Carole and Jack were in Chicago with their son, Mike, and his family. Things work out, though, and I finally got a hold of Jayne, and found my way to their house with no trouble.
Uncle Tom ordered pizza and Mike Evans, my cousin Jayne Marie's husband, and their daughter, Erika came over. We drank wine (a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon called Dark Horse) and chatted before all going to bed.
Monday morning, I woke to the best alarm clock, the smell of cooking bacon. I made my way downstairs and had coffee, eggs, and bacon with Tom and Jayne. It is so moving to look at my uncle's face and see my mother. My aunt Jayne married my uncle when she was eighteen, and she hasn't aged, despite having six children. She is so kind, just like my mother's mother. And she is a dynamo, weeding the garden, baking pies, cooking for her big family.
Uncle Tom is quiet, funny, and religious. He gave me a miraculous Mary medal that he had the priest bless at morning mass.
Monday evening, Jayne Marie, Mike, and Erika came over for dinner, along with my other cousin, Amy, and her husband, Jeff, and several dogs. Jayne made the most delicious pork tenderloin with an amazing ginger garlic sauce, mashed potatoes, and salad. Mike brought over peppers from their backyard garden, marinated in olive oil, salt, pepper, and a bit of parmesan, and we ate them on crackers. I was never a fan of peppers until i tried these. I am hooked.
I had a wonderful time talking to my cousins and their husbands. What nice guys Mike and Jeff are, and they are so sweet to their in-laws. Jayne Marie and Mike live next door to Tom and Jayne, and Mike maintains an abundant garden in his in-laws' backyard, filled with peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs.
On Wednesday, I found the cemetery where my parents are buried, along with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and several cousins. I miss my parents so much. No one loves you like they do, and i did not realize that until they were gone. It was comforting to see that someone (i guessed my cousin, Helen Nuth Italiano) had left little mass cards on each grave. I haven't been back to Youngstown since my dad's funeral in February, 2012, and I had to get away from the sadness of the cemetery, so I drove into Mill Creek Park, one of my favorite places in the world.
My mother and her siblings used to play here when they were children, and her happiness was evident whenever she brought us here. She told me that my dad proposed to her in a row boat on Glacier Lake, in the park below where my cousin, Karres, and her husband, Tom, live.
I found a parking lot and picnic tables at the nature center and the only sounds i heard were the cicadas and the cars driving by. It was a beautiful day, sunny and breezy in the low 80s, and, already, leaves are changing from green to orange and yellow.
Not only do i miss my parents, but i miss my aunts and uncles, too. And my sweet dog, Mimi. It was a weepy Wednesday afternoon.
Wednesday night, we met my aunt Carole and Uncle Jack Reardon, for dinner, and had a great time reminiscing about trips Carole and Jack took with my parents. My aunt Carole always makes me laugh.
Thursday, I met my Nuth cousins, Helen Italiano, Carole Petrillo, and Marlene McMahan, for lunch at Panera that was way too short for all the things we wanted to talk about. Their mother, my Aunt Louise, was the oldest sister, and passed away in late December, at age 96. She was a petite beauty and the mother of nine children. My cousins, who took care of her, are struggling with grief, and we talked about how lucky we all are to have had the experience of helping our parents at the end of their lives.
We also made tentative plans to meet in Las Vegas in the spring. We are a family of travelers. When we were children, our grandfather took the whole family (ten children, spouses, and 50+ grandchildren) to Atlantic City for several days in early July. We stayed at the Hotel Claridge, and had a blast at the beach, going out to dinner en masse, and running around the amusement park after dark, while our grandparents sat on a bench, doling out money and ride tickets. My grandmother died in April, 1967, and although we made the pilgrimage that July, it was not the same without her, and interested died out after that. But those vacations were how we got to know our Youngstown family.