Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Aunt Dolly

The Amadios to me have always been Aunt Dolly, Uncle Paul and my cousins, Sabina and Daniel (Sorry Dan, deep down you'll always be Daniel). We are not technically relatives, but I challenge any of you who tell me this is not my family. They have been a part of my life from day one and in my parents' lives before I was even a possibility.

A couple of years ago, I saw a quote - "Friends are the family you choose." And that could not be more true of our two families. Sometimes I believe that bond is even deeper because these are the people you work to keep in your lives. Example: How many of us have family members who show up at holidays simply because they have to and they feel obligated. With your chosen family, you're all there because you want to be. I'm insanely lucky the Amadios chose us and my parents chose them. They've stood beside us through so much. I can't imagine my life without them, I know I wouldn't be the same person I am right now.

Since I mentioned luck, I know that I am extremely lucky all four of them are as patient as they have been to put up with me for my first handful of years being an only child and truly acting like it(or maybe they just loved my mom and dad enough to look past it?). Little Johnene was not an easy kid to like. I've heard that I bit, hit, threw tantrums, threw shoes (on the Turnpike, I believe?) and most famously threw sawdust...

In Dan's eyes...

Still feel the need to apologize for that one...

Again, sorry Dan...

(But I also helped him expand his vocabulary! I instigated and was the aim of Dan's first swear word - for those who have heard the story, I am the 2-year-old "asshole" of legend - though I believe it was pronounced 'ath-ole' at the time.)

And yet, for all the terrible things I did to their own children, they loved me. And when they met my husband, they loved him and his family. And when we had our kids, they loved them, too. The love Dolly and Paul have given us is unmeasurable. I don't know how the world didn't stop rotating, for just a split second even, when Dolly left us last Thursday. Because in our world, we all felt the shift.

Thursday April 12th was a gorgeous morning here, sunny and bright blue skies. And all of the sudden the blackest cloud rolled over, so black I'd gone to the window to see what was happening. 30 seconds later, the phone rang with crushing news. The world didn't look the same as it did a minute ago. Aunt Dolly saying brace yourself. Things are changing.

I have a million memories of our times with Dolly, Paul and the kids. Where to start sharing is the real challenge. They will all make us laugh or cry, but each will cause a shake of the head because I still don't believe I am writing these in memoriam.

For the past 20 years, Dolly and Paul spent many Augusts here in Washington fishing and sightseeing with my family. The sights and stories that have accumulated over the years are extraordinary and could fill a book. But no one would appreciate them like the four of them (and their kids) have.

One particular trip ended up being a little longer and more eventful than anyone planned when Paul suffered a heart attack while on a fishing trip in the San Juan Islands. Just step back for a moment to imagine this scenario - 3,000 miles from home and disaster strikes. Dolly was strength personified. There have been several times I've thought of that and wondered how she did what she did with the poise and relative calm she did it with. Her world crashed and she was nowhere near her comfort zone. Unbelievable. But as the years pass and I get older with my own family, I know and appreciate it even more. Everything Aunt Dolly did was out of love. And when you love someone as deeply as those two love one another and their family, performing extreme feats of bravery and selflessness are second nature. It is something I aspire to - when the chips are down, I will be a rock like my Aunt Dolly.

Now, speaking of chips...

Aunt Dolly loved her some casinos, but I bet she rarely visited one without a little gift shopping, too. And that leads me to one of the things I loved the most about her.

Every once in a while, probably a couple of times a year, my parents would call to let us know there was a package at their house from Dolly and Paul. We'd show up and there would be a book, a piece of jewelry from Florida, a magnet from Maine, a t-shirt from the shore, a calendar, something. The best was for my daughter's 4th birthday when my mom showed up with a giant box from Aunt Dolly and Uncle Paul. When she opened it, it was a full-blown, tip-to-tail Cinderella dress. With all the fixins'. I have a picture of my little girl seeing that dress for the first time. Whenever I look at it, I know what pure joy looks like. It's a moment they weren't in the room for, but every time she pranced around the house in it, or tried sporting it with rubber boots to the grocery store, or danced circles in the living room with her dad, Dolly and Paul were here. The story was they'd found it while out shopping and there was no way it wasn't coming home with them for Maddie. And they were right, it was perfection.

It wasn't the grand gift, but the little things that let us know. It's that no matter how far apart we were, how long it had been in between visits, where we were in our lives, where Dolly and Paul were in theirs, wherever they went, they took us with them. I was with her in that gift shop when she bought that funny magnet. Maddie was with her when she bought the necklace in Florida. Parker was with her there, too when she found the 'Pirate's Life' shirt he didn't take off for 3 years, Eric was in that bookstore... I know for my parents, it was even more so. Everywhere Dolly went, she took that love with her and shared it with us.

Now Aunt Dolly, I will carry you and I will share my stories with Nina when she is older and I will see you in Sabina and Dan and I will remember the way Uncle Paul called you Migdalia when he'd tell stories about you. You and your lighthouses.

I never thought about what those would come to mean to me in your absence, I never thought of your absence ever. You and our memories of you shine in all of us and your love will be remembered. Not just in the big gestures, but in the little ones in that small moment when we let someone know - we are apart, but I love you and I carry you with me.

I love you, Aunt Dolly.

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